My Hip Injury

I thought I’d share news on my hip, since so many people have asked for an update. I hiked most of the Pacific Crest Trail with pain in my hip, which in retrospect was probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

Doing any kind of extreme endurance sport requires a certain amount of stubbornness, and we learn to put up with a certain amount of pain, which is part of what you sign up for. I’ll never forget a phone call I got from my mother several hundred miles into my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. “You must feel amazing, and in the best shape of your life.” She said. “I hurt basically all over,” was my reply.

Many hikers are familiar with “hiker hobble,” the strange gait that hikers acquire when they stroll around town or campsites due to various foot and leg pain. It’s comical because after an hour of rest, you would think by the way most hikers start limping around that they couldn’t conceivably walk more than a mile or two the next day. Yet they’ll be easily doing 20-30 milers day in and day out.

So, basically it’s tough for hikers to tell an injury from every-day pain. And even harder to tell a serious injury form one that just needs a couple weeks of rest. In my case, I looked back in my journal and found that on day 1 I complained about pain in my right hip. Not a good sign. But I wasn’t in pain for the whole hike. It definitely progressed and got worse and worse with the miles, and particularly bad when I stopped for a day.

Finally after the hike was over, I decided the best course of action was to rest for several months and hope that my injury would disappear on its own. It really never did. Even after two or three months, I couldn’t walk more than a mile or two without pain, and I would have pain at night too. Finally, I decided it was time to see an orthopedic surgeon. The post-trail depression was setting in because of lack of exercise and I was going bonkers.

A few weeks later, after an inconclusive initial visit with the surgeon, I found myself in the hospital having an MRI. The results stated “probable subtle partial tear of the anterior superior labrum”. So basically there is probably a small tear in the cartilage around my hip socket. Unfortunately the prognosis isn’t clear. No one remedy seems to solve this problem, but you can start with physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. If that doesn’t work, they can inject your joint with an anti-inflammatory which sometimes does the trick. Last of all, if everything else has failed, you can try arthroscopic surgery, where they simply scrape away flapping bits of cartilage. Surgery usually doesn’t help much, and is quite invasive. The surgeon didn’t recommend it (and if a surgeon doesn’t recommend surgery, that must really mean it’s a crap-shot, since usually they’re ready to jump on just about anything with a scalpel in hand)

The good news is that slowly, on its own, it seems like my hip is trying to heal. I don’t have as much pain as I did a few months ago, and I hardly ever have pain at night. I started physical therapy a week ago, and I’ve been very diligent about doing it. I also have an anti-inflammatory creme that I apply to my hip several times a day. I have high hopes that I will slowly heal, but I do worry quite a bit about this injury. Am I going to be able to hike 20-30 mile days again? Is my age catching up with me? Will I forevermore be plagued with injuries? How would a “real” athlete deal with a problem like this?

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Trail Magic & Leave No Trace: A Hiker’s Responsibility

There are many articles and blogs about Leave No Trace Ethics with respect to Thru-Hiking.  They all have important information, but I often feel like they miss an important point.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into a debate about how to wipe your butt.  If that is really what you are looking for, just go to any of the PCT Facebook groups and ask about how people dig a hole.  It will surely start a lively debate.

 What I feel is missing from most Leave No Trace articles is a mention of what a hiker should do when they encounter trail magic.  Many of the articles I have seen place the burden of responsibility on the trail angels.  Many articles ask individuals not to leave trail magic, but to personally hand someone their little piece of heaven.  This is fair and I fully support this opinion.  Unattended food can be eaten by wildlife, which can cause problem animals that will expect food from humans.

Still trail magic is left along the long distance trails.  So, what’s a hiker to do?  The answer is obvious, consume something tasty.  What happens then?  This is where I used to stop thinking and continue on, satisfied having just eaten a honey bun or pop tart.  Free calories.  LIFE. IS. GOOD.  But it doesn’t end there.  What happens with the trash you just accumulated?  You know, the empty can of soda or candy bar wrapper.

Here are possibilities and let us imagine the magic is in a ice chest so that small animals do not get into the food:  I have put these in order of worst Leave No Trace practices to best.

1. Hitch into town and “piggy back” off the existing trail magic by putting your own treats there for other hikers to enjoy.
2. Leave the wrapper generated by consuming trail magic in the ice chest along with the past few day’s worth of trash, wrappers, and old fuel cannisters there as well.
3. Leave the wrapper generated by consuming trail magic in the ice chest.
4. Consume your caloric prize as you walk away with its associated trash.
5. Eat your treat and walk away with the trash generated by you and a little more trash from the cache.

6. Walk away with the whole cooler and deposit all the magic into a hiker box in town so that animals don’t get into it.

Trail Magic Gone Wrong

Trail Magic Gone Wrong (PCTA.org)

The first scenario is terrible, as cases like this can easily get out of control and just turn into something that resembles a garbage heap.  The second can result in an overflowing ice chest with garbage winding up far from the source.  The third, I believe, is the most common practice.  The fourth through sixth are what I would like people to consider standard practice to reduce impact.  These behaviors will also eventually lead to a cleaner trail!  Obviously walking away with the whole cooler is a bit extreme, but in some circumstances, I have been motivated to given the snowball effect of some trail magic.

While thru-hiking, you look to other hikers to see what is socially acceptable.  Just because something is common practice does not mean it is the right thing to do.  Not much thought goes into these small choices because hikers are tired, hungry, dirty, smelly, and trying to make X more miles before the end of the day.  We are so grateful to get calories that we didn’t carry 20 or more miles.  Little thought is put into these fleeting but impactful decisions of what to do with the trash.

Just look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In order to think critically of how to handle the situation, you need to be quite high on this theoretical pyramid, probably around the level of self-actualization.  All your other needs have to be met before you can think on that level.

A pyramid representing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

A pyramid representing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

You might think, “But disposing of that trash is not my responsibility!  The trail angel who left the trail magic should come back and pick it up!”

This is not necessarily what happens.  You cannot be sure that someone will take the remains of trail magic.  Sometimes people are only by the trail for the weekend and really want to help thru-hikers, and so they leave something without the intention of taking the trash away later on.  Trail angels might see “drive-by trail magic” as helping hikers, when in fact they are also creating a situation where trash is left in the woods.  This is especially true if thru-hikers do not take responsibility for the trash that they have willingly generated by eating the food.

I hope this article will help hikers think about how to handle different situations with regards to trail magic. Just remember, you are directly involved in how the wilderness is perceived by everyone who visits after you. It is your responsibility to make sure someone visiting nature for the first time sees the world for its beauty and not as a garbage can.  On many city streets, people are paid to pick up trash.  In the wilderness, we are all responsible.

Wherever you are on the Leave No Trace spectrum, please help inform other hikers who might be too hungry or tired to make the best decision.

How do you handle encounters with trail magic?  What have you done when you encounter a large amount of trash possibly from old trail magic?  Please share your ideas so that we can all discuss how to practically tackle this problem.

The Southbound Scoop: What you need to know about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound: What you need to know.
 
Everyone’s been asking me to write something about going Southbound (SOBO) since there really isn’t much out there on the subject.  Keep in mind that everyone’s experiences are different, and every year is different as well.  In particular, snow conditions vary from year to year and you should do a lot of your own research on current conditions before heading out.  Usually, the beginning of SOBO season is roughly from mid June to mid July or even later depending on snow, and you’ll likely finish your hike anywhere from October to December depending on your speed and start date.
 
Just to start with, I’ll give you a quick summary of why I think hiking Southbound is awesome and why I think more people should do it with some pros and cons, then I’ll go into the more nitty-gritty of planning a SOBO hike.
 
So…. WHY SOBO??
 
Hiking Southbound is great for many reasons:
1. You’re not going to be hiking in huge herd of hikers.  During my SOBO hike, I only met 7 other SOBO hikers (as opposed to 78 Northbounders (NOBOs) I met in one day).
2.  You’ll start your hike in some of the most beautiful scenery, not in the desert.  Let’s face it, more than half of us quit.  If you quit as a NOBO, you will have hiked in the desert, and not up in Northern Washington.  I’m not trying to dis the desert… the desert is awesome in its own ways but really, Northern Washington is more worth your time.
3. Speaking of the desert.  It is much more pleasant to walk through Southern California (“the desert”) in the late fall (late October/ early November) when the days are shorter and cooler.   Plus by then you’ll be hiking 25-30 miles a day, so you won’t spend as many days in the desert as NOBOs do.
4.  You’ll have much more of a “wilderness” experience going SOBO.  None of this fighting over tent space, falling in and out of cliques or worrying about hostels, hotels and trail angels being packed with hikers.  You’ll get a much more personal experience with towns and with Trail Angels.  You won’t need to worry about someone walking up on you while you’re peeing or whatever else you need to do while there’s no coverage.  For those of you East Coast hikers, let me warn you– much of the PCT is pretty “open”. There aren’t many trees or bushes, which is great for views and such, but for finding a spot to dig a hole and minding your business? Not so much.  I often times wondered how NOBOs found any privacy.
5.  You’ll get bugs in Washington, but not so much in Oregon where they’re supposedly worse.  You definitely won’t get bugs in the Sierras, so you’ll be able to enjoy your breaks at the gorgeous lakes up there.
6.  You’ll be following leave-no-trace ethics by not hiking the trail during the most high traffic times (which is normal NOBO season and summer holidays).  During your hike you’ll realize how much impact hikers have on the trail, especially by talking to locals in town about what it is like during NOBO season.
7.  You will always be walking up the northern face (colder and shaded), and down the southern face (hotter, and sunnier).  You’ll appreciate this on hot days.  Carrying an umbrella is helpful since you’ll be walking into the sun most of the time.
 
Hiking Southbound may not be for you if:
1. You’re not ready to hit the ground running.  Unlike going NOBO where you have the desert to “warm up” with, since there is no real time-frame for hiking in the desert, you’ll need to hit the ground running from day one.  Just as it is for Northbounders hiking from the beginning of the Sierras once the snow is manageable until the Canadian border, before the snow hits again in the fall (roughly 2000 miles), you’ll have the same time crunch.  You’ll be hiking in Northern Washington just as the snow is melting up there, and trying to make it through the Sierra before the snow hits again in the fall.  October 1st is a good date to aim to be at Forester Pass.  The only difference is you’ll get to “cool down” with the desert  with no real time restraints, rather than having the desert as a “warm-up.”
2.  You want to hike with groups of people and make lots of friends. If you’re more into the social aspect of the trail, SOBO may not be for you.  You’ll still meet people, but it won’t be the social scene that hiking NOBO probably is.  But maybe you’ll spend less time and money in town as a result.
 
SNOW:
Before you start the trail: check snowtel: http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/ and pct website: http://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps-and-guidebooks/ for current snow conditions.  I recommend not starting your hike until after the level of snow at Harts Pass has reached 0 inches.  I’d even wait a while after that.  Don’t think this’ll mean you won’t be hiking on snow.  No matter how late you start, you’ll be hiking on snow.  If you get going once the level at Harts Pass reaches 0 inches, the passes you’ll be going over for the next several hundred miles will be completely covered in snow, and unless you have some significant snow experience, or you’re simply not afraid of death or heights, you’ll probably have a few “what the fuck am I doing!?” moments.  So prepare for it.  Also, make sure the road to Harts Pass is open before you drive out there.  The people at Mazama at Goats Beard can help you figure that out.
 
Keep in mind that every year is different when it comes to snow, and a low snow year in the Sierra often times means a high year in the Cascades and visa verse.  It helps to talk to locals- preferably hikers.  Ranger stations have limited knowledge for some reason, and we’ve gotten some bad advice.  Talk to Andrea Dinsmore, the Trail Angel in Northern Washington.  She’s not a hiker, but she’ll know if it’s a high snow year or a low one.  From her experience hosting hikers, and being involved in search and rescue she’ll be able to give you some basic advise.
 
In a normal or high snow year, I would recommend the following gear: ice axe, crampons or microspikes (don’t go with yak-tracks or anything else that’s only really for walking on icy sidewalks), GPS, compass, map, and personal locator beacon.  If you want specific recommendations, let me know, but any and all of these could save your life on the snow.  Also, learn some snow skills before you get out there.  There is no use having an ice axe if you have no idea how to use it.  Google “self arrest” and watch some videos then go out and practice on a snowy slope.  You will need the skills before you have a good chance to practice them on trail.  The Northern Cascades are very rugged and actually quite different from the Sierra, and you’ll want to have practiced in a safe environment before you show up.  Here’s a good learning video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94QFImjdEAo.  Learn to walk in crampons or microspikes- in particular, learn to kick steps.  Learn to self belay.  There are great videos on all these techniques.  Learn about cornices, snow/ice bridges and post-holing.  As you gain experience on snow, you’ll slowly learn how different snow feels beneath you.  The snow will be harder in the morning and softer in the afternoon. You’re more likely to post-hole through soft snow, and you can injure yourself on rocks, sticks, etc that are under the snow.
 
In Northern Washington you’ll spend a significant amount of time traversing steep slopes and avalanche chutes covered in snow. You’ll be looking hundreds and sometimes almost a thousand feet down on one side and kicking steps into the mountain and you’ll be holding your ice axe in your uphill hand and your trekking pole in your downhill hand.  Estimate that hiking in snow will take you twice as long as normal hiking.  If you’re walking on 50-100% snow, you should plan for 10 to 15 mile days.  Best to plan for 10 miles a day when it comes to food.  The one thing in your favor here is the sunlight.  You’ll be starting your hike at the peak of the summer with the most amount of daylight, and you’ll need it!  Luckily your appetite won’t kick in for the first week or two, so you’ll get away with carrying a little less than you would otherwise, but nonetheless, you should over-pack on food, because that will be your limiting factor.  Many people going southbound in 2014 had to push hard to make it through the Glacier Peak Wilderness before they ran out of food.  We just underestimated the snow.  I never thought it could take me 15 or 16 hours to go 11 miles.  Kicking steps takes time, and navigating takes time too.  Once you get past the snow, you will be done with the hardest part of the trail.  Once you hit solid ground, it’ll feel like you’re floating along watching the beautiful scenery go by and you’ll be loving your thru-hike.
 
Starting the trail:
 
First of all you’ll need to get to the beginning of the trail, which is at the Canadian border.  There are practically speaking two ways of doing this, but legally speaking only one.  You can either hike north from Harts Pass or Route 20 (Rainy Pass) to the border to start your southbound hike, or enter from Manning Park in Canada.  It it illegal to enter into the United States from Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, and at least one hiker has wound up in jail for attempting this… not a great way to start your hike.  For that reason I recommend starting at Harts Pass.  To start your hike, go to Seattle, and find someone willing to drive you to Hart’s Pass, then hike north to the border.  If it’s a high snow year consider alternatives.  Hiking on the PCT isn’t the only way to hike from Canada to Mexico.  A great low elevation alternative is to hike along Ross Lake to reach the Canadian Border.  Then you can follow Panther Creek Trail and Thunder Creek Trail going over Park Creek Pass, which will have snow on it.  A map will be your friend here.  Get permits with the local ranger stations here because you’ll be in a National Park, and you’re required to have them.  Stash food at route 20 (we did so in a bear canister), then your next resupply will be in Stehekin.  It’s a short distance from route 20 to Stehekin (2-3 days at most), and if you used one, you can mail your bear canister home at Stehekin.
 
Bugs and rodents:
 
The worst bugs you’ll encounter on the PCT are mosquitoes.  There are many types along the PCT, and you’ll slowly learn their behaviors as you move from one type of mosquitoes territory to another.  The clouds of mosquitoes will start with you in Northern Washington.  They basically hatch right out of the snow.  You’ll be concentrating on kicking a step and not falling several hundred feet to your death, and suddenly you’ll hear “bzzzzzzz….” in your ear.  If you have a bug phobia now’s probably the time to start practicing meditation.  At least the mosquitoes in Washington are relatively slow compared to the ones in Oregon.  You have a chance in outrunning them, particularly once you hit solid ground.  The ones in Oregon can land on you while you’re at a dead out sprint, I’m not kidding you.  And wind?  No problem.  They’ll find you in 50 mph gusts.  Then in Southern Oregon you’ll meet another bread that aren’t as fast as their Central Oregon relatives, but for what they lack in speed, they make up for in size.  You’ll be slightly afraid of squishing these pterodactyl-like mosquitoes for the mess that they will leave behind.  Luckily by the time you hit the Sierra, there will be not a mosquito in sight, and you can dilly-dally at lakes taking thousands of pictures.
Also a note on mice – we were told by locals that mice would be a big problem in the Cascades of Washington.  For the most part, they weren’t since we were on snow, but when we got to lower elevation, Dirt Stew was kept up by them running on the tent netting above his head.  There is dense vegetation here, so tent sites are quite established.  Some people have had mice chew through their tents and/or food bags.
 
Weather:
 
Although you’ll be starting with snow on the ground, it won’t be as cold as winter hiking.  In late June early July up in Washington it could get down to roughly freezing, but that’s about as low as it will get.  You may wind up camping on snow, and my recommendation is to cut a few small pieces of blue foam (the kind you find at Walmart), and put those pieces under your butt and shoulders to insulate you from the snow.  Use these in conjunction with your normal sleeping pad.  You can also use these pieces to wrap your crampons in during the day.  Most likely it will be fairly warm during the day, and as a result you’ll be watching the snow melt.  We had a week or more in the 90’s and got completely sun burnt by hiking on the snow in bright sunshine.  Beware of this!  Sunscreen SPF 50 was not even enough.  Sunglasses, sunscreen, and eventually covering every square inch in clothing became absolutely necessary.
 
Through Central Oregon and Northern California our 10 and 20 degree sleeping bags were too warm, and if we had decided to switch to lighter ones, this would have been the right time to do so.  If I had done this, I would maybe have sent my lighter sleeping bag to Crater Lake, and then sent it back in favor of the warmer one at Truckee or Sierra City.
 
If you’re a normal hiker, I think you’ll do fine with a 20 degree bag for the whole trail.  The coldest temperatures for our hike happened in the High Sierra in mid to late September.  It went below freezing almost every night, probably into the low 20’s (just a guess, I didn’t have a thermometer).  I’m always cold, so I choose a 10 degree bag, and I know some who sleep more on the warm side who got away with a 30 degree bag.  I would send any extra warm clothing to Tuolumne Meadows, and then send it home again at Kennedy Meadows South.  I was happy to have an extra down jacket for this section.
 
We wound up keeping our warmer clothing through the desert because we did not know what to expect, but it did not get below freezing for us in the desert.  We were slightly ahead of the southbound “herd” and for some behind us, it did get slightly cooler, and in some of the higher mountains of the desert it could easily snow in late October or early November.  We finished our hike in early November, and never saw snow in the desert.  You can expect some hot sections where the trail is low in elevation (e.g Cajon Pass, and hiking along the Aquaduct), but there is also plenty of high elevation hiking in the desert which doesn’t really feel like desert at all and will be a refreshing change.
 
Water:
 
All PCT hikers worry about water.  For Southbounders, water starts becoming an issue in Oregon and continues through parts of Northern California, and then again in Southern California.  Water sources during the summer of 2014 were particularly unpredictable because of the drought conditions.  Data seemed often times unreliable, and “seasonal” water was sometimes running while rivers and streams were not.  My suggestion is to try to carry enough water to make it two water sources away, although this isn’t always feasible, and many UL hikers resent carrying too much water.  But I have to say, it really sucks when you run out of water and then you reach a dry water source.  After the Sierra, the Water Report becomes your bible.   Print out the latest version in each town you get to.  The website is www.pctwater.com.  Once you get to the desert, you’ll find water relatively easy to deal with because of the Water Report, having already done 30 mile water-less stretches.  I seriously think water is more of an issue for NOBO’s because they’re starting their hike in the desert and fighting for resources.
 
Sierra Resupply
 
On your South Bound hike, depending on your hiking speed, some places in the Sierras may close down before you reach them.  Definitely call in advance to find out the closing dates of Kennedy Meadows North, Tuolumne Meadows, Vermillion Valley Resort, Muir Ranch, and Kennedy Meadows South.  The closing dates vary from year to year, and also are affected by snow.  An early snow storm may cause them to close early.  It is not impossible to through-hike without these resupply stops.  You can hike out at Mammoth/ Reds Meadow, Whitney Portal (you need a permit), and Independence/Kearsarge Pass regardless of time of year.
 
If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know.  I’m going to convert this blog post into a page on this website, and the more information the better.  When we did research for our hike, information was very limited.  We had no idea where we’d find the mosquitoes, and so we sent bug netting to Oregon.  Thank goodness for Andrea Dinsmore and her collection of old gear.  We also surveyed the Southbounders we met along the way to try to determine what the desert would be like.  We had imagined that it would get very very cold at night, but in fact it never did.  I really hope that more people decide to go Southbound.  With increasing numbers of hikers on the trail, it only makes sense to spread ourselves out and minimize our impact on the trail.
Here is another resource for Southbounders made by 2016 hikers:  https://www.pctsouthbound.com/
Happy Trails!
Random picture from Sierra

Random picture from Sierra

Open Letter to the Saufley’s

The Saufley’s,

I saw your announcement this week that you will be closing your doors as trail angels. I never got to meet you, and I wish I had. We stayed at your place during our Southbound thru-hike last year, and your son and daughter-in-law were there to greet us. We were absolutely amazed at the thought that went into accommodating thru-hikers. We noticed so many thoughtful touches that I literally had to walk around the trailer with a camera and my mouth wide open. Hair clippers, disposable razors, q-tips, nail grooming, and even earplugs. How did you know I needed new earplugs!? Also the array of musical instruments, DVD’s and the fully equipped kitchen left us entertained and well fed. We spent two nights in this hiker paradise, taking one of the only 4 zeros that we took on the entire trail. I’m sure the experience was much different for northbounders who arrive in masses and fight for resources, and I’m sure the experience of seeing the trail community grow as it has—exponentially in the last few years has really made it a challenge. When I asked Joe Anderson why he decided to host hikers, he told me that he thought that anyone who stands at the Mexican (or Canadian) border and thinks they can walk to the other border, has got to be an interesting person, and he wanted to meet those people. To that my reply is- anyone who is willing to let hundreds of dirty messy and stinky hikers into their home has got to be an interesting person, and I want to meet those people!  🙂 I wish we could have met. I know you’ve met so many of us hikers over the years, and I bet there have been some interesting ones, some annoying ones, some generous, and not so generous. I can’t even begin to imagine. But let me tell you, we’re grateful.

Thanks for your generosity,

Dormouse (Christine)

Post Trail Depression

I want to discuss the topic of post-trail depression.  This is a very real phenomenon, discussed over and over again by hikers but often times overlooked by friends and family.  Not everyone experiences it, but I would say that most do.   It is very real, and should not be taken lightly.  Hikers have even taken their lives in the months following their thru-hikes.  It is a good idea to consider how you’ll manage your mental well-being after coming off a long distance trail well before the time is upon you.

The reasons for post trail depression are quite obvious once you think about the position you will be in once you finish your hike:  You will have just completed a gigantic goal for which you are proud, but few others understand.  You will likely be homeless or penniless or both.  You will likely have no job, and no sense of purpose.  You will need to redefine yourself.  You will go from exercising 8-12 hours a day to almost nothing.  You will go from warm months into the cold depressing winter.  You will be expected to adjust to a new lifestyle.  Seems like a slap in the face, right!?

When you’re hiking, your brain will be used to high endorphin levels from all the exercise.  The word endorphin’s comes from “endogenous morphine”, which means a morphine like substance produced by the body.  Their effect is to lessen pain and produce a euphoric effect, much like that of morphine.  By going from hiking many miles every day to sitting on the couch, you’re effectively taking a morphine addict and putting them in rehab.  I believe this is one of the biggest reasons for post trail depression, and why it is so widespread.  My best suggestion is to continue exercising as much as possible.  Many hikers pick up running after their hikes, and this is what I decided to do after my first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail.  Unfortunately this time around I was left with injured hips and my recovery hasn’t been what I was hoping for.

Most hikers worry about preparing for the culture shock of the trail without considering the culture shock of readjusting to “civilization”.  Once you have spent many months in nature, your values change and your view of civilization changes as well.  You can only fully appreciate these changes once you’re back.

There are the expectations of civilized life: take a shower at least every other day.  Why? Apparently it matters that my hair looks dumb otherwise.  And smelling bad is unacceptable.  What’s hard to get used to is taking a shower when you’re not actually dirty.  You know you have to, but it feels like a waste.  And speaking of waste, everything seems so wasteful and excessive!  Why is everyone’s house so big?  And why do people eat half a meal at a restaurant and throw the rest away?  And why does everything come in so much packaging!?  And just look at all those clothes you have!  Half of them don’t fit anymore, but you’re expected to change what you wear like basically every day.   And sleep in a bed, and eat three meals instead of tons of snacks all the time and sit in a chair at a table…  the list goes on.

Also, when you get back to “real life”, people will ask you about your hike, but you’ll find that they don’t actually want to know what your hike was like, they just want you to sum it up in about one sentence.  That’s like asking someone to sum up their career or their childhood in one sentence.  “How was your hike?”  they’ll ask.  Just remember that they mean well.  My response is usually just to say “it was good”, and leave it at that unless they want to start asking for more details.

Most people will be impressed by your hike, but you know that they have no actual concept of what you’ve just done.  They would have been just as impressed if you had hiked only 100 miles.  Even after two thru-hikes, I can’t really visualize 2,500 miles!

I think Dirt Stew and I have it slightly easier than most solo hikers.  We have each other to lean on, and we’re not in the position of having nobody who understands what we’ve been through.  We also enable each other to not give up on trail habits.  It took us 5 years to get a bed after our first thru-hike (yes, we slept on the floor), we tend to wear the same two sets of clothes over and over again (I’m convinced a lot of people do this though), and we don’t scold each other for not showering.

But we still feel it.  The lack of sense of purpose, the lack of sense of LIVING and the easiness and boorishness of everyday life.  I miss the natural beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail, and I miss the connection I felt with nature and the earth.

Yet I console myself by remembering that thru-hiking has truly made me a better person.  I try to be thankful for the things I have: running water, a bed (yes, I am now the proud owner of a bed), heating, my sonic toothbrush, and a kitchen full of food.  I try as much as possible not to take these things for granted.

I also try to set goals for myself- even small ones or silly ones.  Every day on the trail is a day with a goal.  You have a goal for the day, and a larger goal for your journey.  I try to incorporate some of these same ideas into my life.  It can be through exercise (maybe sign up for a half or full marathon?), or saving money, or your diet, or goals within your job.  And don’t be bummed if you don’t have one of those yet.

Also remember that the trail is always there.  I decided to move to a town surrounded by mountains so that I feel more “at home” when I step out of my door, and I can go out and experience small bursts of trail life whenever I like.>

For all the hikers out there, I hope I’ve been able to help with some ideas on how to readjust to real life.  Just remember, you’re not alone.

Whee!