I’ve still got plenty of entries to post from the past 6 weeks. Lots of pictures to upload and share. Stories to regale you (and myself) with about my adventures. But I haven’t done it. For the past 3 weeks I haven’t done much of anything. When I left Northern California for the city, I came down hard with a lung affliction and a wretched cough only suppressed by my friend Jack Daniels, who in turn suppressed my immune system further. That illness combined with the stresses of being in a city, many pounds of emotional grief over the loss of the most important relationship in my life, a deep need for wilderness going unsatisfied, the exhaustion of travel (despite my love for it), and getting stuck in a financial rut – all led to a flare up of Epstein Barr Virus that has literally knocked me on my ass. All the exuberance of the trail and the endless energy have left me and for the time being, I am forced to slow down and get better. I am in my hometown and have no energy to see my family or friends or even call them, and my days are spent sleeping, eating soup, watching reruns of 90210 or whatever is on the Science channel, and crying. This is the first creative thing I have attempted and am slightly embarrassed to be putting it out there.
I’m doing so because I think this is something everyone who hits the trail or goes on any sort of long distance and/or long term adventure experiences, and if I am desperately needing to figure my way out of it through writing this, maybe someone else out there will get what they need by reading it. There is talk of post trail depression and post trail weight gain, of failed social reintegration and being so changed that it becomes difficult, if not altogether impossible, to share understanding with people who haven’t done something similar. In a lot of ways, this is true for me as I know it is for some of the amazing people I met on the trail. We now view the world so differently that being in an urban area or even inside a home feels like a cage, or maybe even a zoo. Rudeness in parking lots or grocery stores, or gossip at a bar, and commercials on the radio are all so illuminated and obvious that is is literally painful to be around. Like hurts the soul and makes me want to retreat to the safety of the woods or maybe even a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York (I’ve thought about this quite seriously).
But I can’t run away…somehow I have to figure out how to utilize all that I gained, all that so beautifully shifted in me, all the insights that came to me so freely…to live my life in the city – for now. I start a new job this week, one that I’m sure to enjoy and that will be fruitful, so that I can begin planning the next adventure. AND! The best part is that I will be traveling around Virginia for this job and hopefully expand that as I get better at it and contribute something to a company I actually believe in. Something I learned on the trail and in my subsequent travels down the West Coast is going to propel me into the next phase of my life, and hopefully that means I will have even more hiking, biking, canoeing, climbing, kayaking, hitch-hiking, teaching, planting, and writing in my VERY NEAR FUTURE.
Here are some of the things I keep reminding myself of when I feel very dark, depressed, sick, and homesick for the Appalachian Trail.
- When shit is really very bad and you feel like you’ll never, ever climb out of the hole, try to remember that there is ALWAYS something awesome waiting for you when you do get out. ALWAYS.
- There is so much beauty in the world. Even if the city has you down, or if your surroundings are less than optimal, start planning your next excursion, even if at the moment it seems like a pipe dream.
- Allow yourself to feel sick, sad, wretched, failed, misplaced, and lonely. Be in those moments and be quiet with them. Allowing yourself to feel so miserable is part of the healing process. Be here now. You can’t go backward and trying to go forward before you’re really ready only causes anxiety. Remember with fondness but don’t get stuck in memories.
- Talk to your best friend, confidante, spiritual adviser, mom or dad, or even your pet. Ventilate your frustrations and the whole range of emotions you’re experiencing so that someone else can help you realize your feelings are valid, and maybe offer you some advice or tips to get through. Were it not for my very close friend to listen and provide RADICALLY HONEST feedback, I’d be stuck even further in the quicksand right now.
- Remember your creative outlet or talent, and start thinking about going to do it. You don’t have to jump right up and get into it if you aren’t inspired yet, but just get used to thinking about it…for me it’s writing, so I had some thoughts like, “Oh maybe I should write something…I always feel better after I write, and I work some things out too. But BLAH! I don’t feel like it right now.” Seriously, that’s how it went for me a few times, until I got so tired of TV (I really am not a fan) and so tired of not reading that I just opened up the blog and said to myself, “Screw it. I’m just gonna write and if it sucks because I feel like I suck right now, who cares anyway?!” And well now here we are.
- If you’ve got the post-adventure ‘Holy crap I ran out of money and am still eating trail food and sleeping on my parents couch’ syndrome, which I’ve had too since before my travels even came to an end, shift your thinking away from the dread of not being able to go do what you want right away and brainstorm some ideas of how you can get involved in a project that will provide for your living AND saving for your next trip. This is REALLY difficult when you’re totally at the bottom of the dump. It’s really hard for me because I always seem to have a financial crisis at the end of something amazing, and even though I’m pretty happy with what I have in my life, I realize I’m now at the point where I need to really do something important with earning potential so that my travels and hikes and discoveries not only fulfill me, but are spreadable via this blog. Every person who does something extraordinary, who accomplishes the insurmountable, has a gift to share that can be transcribed into income. I’m still figuring this out for myself but I feel closer to it with every word I type.
- Eat healthfully. Your immune system, organs, neurotransmitters, muscles and bones, and even your psycho-spiritual being will all benefit from unprocessed, clean, well balanced foods. Buy from local growers to maximize nutrient density and reduce your carbon footprint and the presence of dangerous pesticides and other chemicals. Choose foods that make you happy when you see them, like ripe citrus or cranberries. Sounds silly, but find joy in your food.
- Move your body in any way you can, especially OUTSIDE, but not too rigorous unless you are totally healthy. I enjoy gentle yoga and today I was finally able to go for a walk. Even though it was only about half a mile and I got winded, feeling the chill on my skin and seeing the trees and gray skies was invigorating. If there is a park, lake, ocean, or any other kind of wild area near you, take advantage of it, especially if you’ve just come off a wilderness trek. Hug a tree, listen to the birds, inspect the veins in a blade of grass.
- Drink tea. I like Chamomile because it is so soothing, but whatever you prefer. Too much coffee can be a little too overstimulating during the blues, and it’s important to treat yourself gently right now. Especially if you have any kind of illness, avoid caffeine.
Now that I’ve spent this time writing here, I feel a lot more…enlivened. That’s what this was all about for me, hiking and writing and figuring my world out. The hike is over (the first of many anyway!) and I must keep writing and finding other ways to challenge my trail legs. I can’t rush out to a nearby trail until my lymph nodes are no longer palpable little marbles, but I can allow the blues to lift as I begin on the journey of recovery and positive integration with my community. And I will absolutely HAVE to, until the end of my days, spend incredible amounts of time hiking in Nature.