It’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago we began our first, of what we believe will be many, long trail adventures. Hiking season is upon us and while this hiking season our jaunts will be relativley “short” compared to doing the 2660 mile PCT, we are still drawn to engaging in “walk-abouts”. We’ve been reading and discussing lately about what is affectionately referred to as “post trail depression”, and how disconnected and “lost” many PCT, or any long trail, thru-hikers feel after completing their trek. It’s almost a PTSD of sorts (of which I have had real and personal experience with outside trail life), but in reverse as you long to go back and embrace those experience(s) you had along the trail. Many are now engaging in or preparing for another lengthy trek. You yearn to go back to “trail life”. Many are now engaging in or preparing for another long distance hike. The “real world” is now foreign and stressful. Restful sleep escapes you. The sounds, sights and smells are overwhelming and suffocating. You feel like you do not “belong” and want to escape back to the simplicity and “comfort” of the trail and the Great Outdoors. “City” life and “Civilization” is sterile and unfulfilling. Not to dimmish the feelings of those who truly find themselves in this state, but for us this issue or dilema has failed to materialize in us. Yes there are times when we long for the absolute simplicity of trail life from time to time, especially after doing our taxes…and we’ll admit we have several long distance hikes planned and/or on our “bucket list”. But, for the most part we are enjoying the “real world”, its immenities and chaos. Maybe it’s because we are older, and many of our life experiences have taught us to cherish each moment of life “above ground” regardless of where that “above ground” experience is. Maybe it’s because we were retired when we hiked the PCT. Maybe it’s because of our strenuous athletic endevors while in our “younger” years, or because of our professional life and the experiences therin. Maybe it’s because of how we are wired. Whatever it may be, we find “trail life” and “real life” to be no different, save running water and toilets, oh ya and fossil fuel vehicles to transport us (and our stuff, cause stuff is sometimes important) to destinations we don’t want to take the time to walk to. The point being is that it is all about perspective. How YOU look at life. How YOU look at and perceive YOUR life situation to be. If YOU think you are blessed, YOU are. If YOU think your pain is debilitating, it is.
This is not to say that being stuffed into a subway train like sardines to “work” under the glow of florescent lights, or spending hours commuting to and from “work” in a vehicle whose speedometer can register up to 120mph and you are traveling at a mind numbing 10mph (if you are lucky), or spending the bulk of your day in a job you’d rather not be doing whose pay is or isn’t satisfactory, in any way trumps ACTUALLY being outside and the true simplicity of trail life, but it is how YOU frame these “off trail” portions of your life. Consider the wonderment of technology (someone cooked up that idea) and the shear feat of engineering and physical labor it took to dig that subway. Consider the innumeral life stories of the “strangers” that surround you. I used to be embarrassed by my mother who ALWAYS talked to “strangers”. Ironincally, I find myself “embarrassing” my kids as well, and frankly it wasn’t until I did the PCT that I understood and now fondly recall her behavior. Is being “stuck” in traffic (when you know it will happen) really all that bad? Imagine how much “learning” can occur, or books/stories (audio of course) that can be consumed in that time period. What is it that you want out of a job? What is it that you want out of life? How are YOU going to go about reconcilling what you actually need (on so many levels, it’s not all about “stuff”) with what you want, what you have, AND your responsibilities.
Hiking day in and day out, mostly void of ticky tack distractions allows one to ponder all these things. I guess this is where the concept or “feeling” of Post Trail Depression becomes a reality for some. But is it really accurate to call it depression? Actual and real depression is some serious shit, and is more than not being able to pee where ever and when ever you want, or that your one and practically only job is to walk X amount of miles each day…or not. Wouldn’t it be better to frame it as Post Trail Reconcilliation? Isn’t that what you are trying to really do, reconcile your wants, needs and responsibilities as you travel down life’s road, after having been, for many, “awakened” during a thru-hike or “slowing down” for a sustained period of self-reflection. Consider the words themselves. Depression vs. Reconcilliation. Which is more empowering?
Do you see what you see? Perspective. Living a thankful life, acknowledging the wonderment and resilience of nature and the human spirit regardless of the setting (top of a mountain or a skyscraper) comes from within and is, I believe a conscious decision, whose consistent practice and execution is often challenging and an internal battle. Some battle better than others. Having attended the “Celebration of Life” for long time PCT avocate and founding member of the ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero Pacific Trail Kick Off), Greg Hummel (“Strider” – PCT class of 1977), who lost his battle with ALS, the setting of a positive agenda and perpective becomes clearer. “Strider” was known to be “annoyingly happy”, ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME. Perspective.