You finished, touched that sign on Katahdin or maybe a different landmark to symbolize the end of your thru hike. Thousands of miles walking through states, seasons, rain and more than can ever be summed up in a few words. You felt emotions you didn’t even know you had and yet you felt nothing afterwards. Post trail depression happens to plenty of thru hikers. From both personal experience and from my friends I can attest to this. You go from endorphin highs, adventure, and controlling every decision in your life back to society. It is definitely a challenge and hopefully this post will help you figure out whats next and a bit of insight into how I got over the trail.
Getting through Post Trail Depression
Ultimately, when I got off the trail I was done. I was EXTREMELY glad to be done hiking. That being said, I found a group of friends that I didn’t want to be away from, I liked waking up in their company and spending days together doing who knows what(mostly hiking). I loved the community, the towns, seeing new places, and pretty much everything except hiking 20 miles a day. I’m not going to claim that it was easy finishing the trail but over a year from finishing I like to think that I have created a fulfilling lifestyle that is only possible due to my experience on the Appalachian Trail. Following is a breakdown of the things that worked for me after the trail.
Passion and Dedication
There is no doubt that every person who finishes a 2000 mile hike is passionate and dedicated to completing goals. It is a character trait of every one of us, but once we finish we aren’t sure how to focus all that energy. There are no more white blazes to follow. I spent a lot of time on trail thinking about post trail life, and my future.
My background was a corporate job in engineering. My future was hopefully not that, I went on this hike to both enjoy it and also hopefully pivot my life to something else. I had a new dream by the time I was done with the trail and that was to be my own boss. I didn’t mind working, I minded working for someone else. Ultimately, I started a small business that has grown over the course of the last year, which is now my main income source. It suited my skills well and provided me with a lifestyle that was fulfilling. Not everyone has this as a dream, but if you haven’t already, think about what a perfect life is for you. Not sipping martinis on a beach, but a wholesome life. One that includes work, hobbies, and enjoyment. Take actionable steps to building the life you want.
Diet and Exercise
These were things that we didn’t think about on the trail, exercise? Yeah, we hiked twenty miles a day, everyday. Take some time off when you get back, especially if you were pushing it to finish up the trail and are experiencing injury. For me, exercise was the one thing I had when I got back. Towards the end of my hike I fell in love with learning about ultrarunning. I read books, listened to podcasts, and began to run more while on the AT. Once I got back I dove head first into running, it was all I had. We as humans pride ourselves on what we do, we were proud being hikers, we were proud being X occupation, now what? I was now a runner. I spend the first month or so after the trail focused on running, eating good foods, and thinking about the future.
Running had its ups and downs, I eventually lost some of the passion I had for it as life began to get complicated. The special thing about the time on the trail was the simplicity, the ability to focus on a single task for a long time. I had that with running after I finished as well. Over the course of the last year, I have experienced injury, transitioned my exercise from mostly running to mostly mountain biking and sadly, not completed an ultra yet. Regardless of this, I have the same fitness(maybe higher?) and weight as when I finished the AT.
I mentioned that I was eating good foods. I went vegetarian on the AT for about two months, after reading Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. In Maine I went back to eating meat and when I got back from the trail I tried to focus on eating right in an effort to not gain weight. Over the last year, I haven’t ate the greatest due to a variety of excuses that I could tell myself. One major word of advice is give up the old diet ASAP, thru hiker diets are for extreme exercise and not daily life.
This is arguably the most important. Getting over Post Trail depression, takes time. You have to adjust back to life, if you have the ability to I suggest not rushing back to work. Especially not rushing back to your career. Obviously this isn’t a luxury everyone can have but it helps clear your mind and adjust back to society. You just spent months in the woods on the fringe of society, living a very happy and fulfilling yet very different life. It took me until December to shave my trail beard off. Enjoy the creature comforts of everyday life because soon enough you will take them for granted again. Not filtering water is a blessing, eating cold and warm food daily is amazing. Showering and eventually not aching everywhere is something that most people take for granted. Catch up with friends, family, and do the things you missed. Eventually you’ll get back to normal life and the experience will age like fine wine.
Now plan that next adventure
The Appalachian Trail is a goal some of us have had for years, eventually we complete it and are left feeling empty. We are left in a world that doesn’t understand our experience to deal with Post Trail Depression alone. My experience is that of a twenty something guy. A retiree may have a completely different view of post trail depression and how to get over it. I didn’t know much when I finished last year, and wish I could have found more information talking about what to do and help direct my focus. Closing a chapter is never easy, for some its only the first of three hikes. For me, my long distance backpacking chapter is paused for a while. If you found other ways to handle the after effects of the Appalachian Trail comment them here or if you want to talk about your experience shoot us a DM on Instagram!