I saw Tumblweed and Mohican’s Katahdin summit photos this afternoon. Gandalf made it, as did Turtle Goat. Lost too, who was on his third thru-hike attempt in six years, planted a big kiss on that most sacred of wooden signs. Sasquat, my favorite hiker of them all, will be summiting on his birthday. How awesome is that?
Emotionally, it’s a mixed bag for me. I’m immensely proud of my friends.
On my last day in the Smokies I met Chloe, an ATC Ridge Runner and former thru-hiker. Flo, Pretzel, and Hatchet had pretty much left me in the dust, and I was lamenting the loss of my first trail family. It was Chloe who explained to me, that despite what seems like a ridiculously short amount of time, trail families grow close very quickly.
“You love them. In every sense of the word, you love them.” She told me.
It is with this explanation that I might attempt to frame a window into how it feels to see these summit photos. There is no jealousy, only joy.
I would do just about anything to have summited with my friends. The thought has reduced me to tears many, many times in the month that I’ve been home. Finishing the trail is one thing, but finishing it with those precious few people is quite another. While those mountains will always stand, it is the last time all of us will have been headed to Maine together. It’s an opportunity that has passed, and will never be again.
If there is one thing the trail cemented in my mind, it would be the sentiment above. I’ve had a lot of loss in my life, and I’m thankful for it. Those past experiences gave me the foresight early on, to know just how transient this whole adventure would be. It’s one of the reasons I wrote about it here. It’s one of the reasons I stopped caring so much about making miles, and focused on having experiences instead.
I hiked my own hike. My friends hiked theirs as well, and by some wonder, we shared a lot of it together. I’m so very thankful for that. Chloe was right.
I do find myself thinking in terms of “Pre-Hike-Ryan” and “Post-Hike-Ryan” quite often. Did the trail change me? No. The trail simply lifted a curtain I’ve long been sewing, and allowed me to see myself again. To many people, I seem quite different these days. In reality, I’m just confident enough to be myself again, for the first time in many, many years.
My sister Kelly, who probably knows me better than anyone, has repeatedly commented on how calm and happy I’ve been since I’ve been home.
“You’re shoulders have finally dropped from your ears!” She says.
I spent the better part of my twenties putting my energies into suppressing the person I am, in pursuit of the person I thought I was supposed to be. On the trail I put all of my energy into excavating that long-buried Ryan, and for the first time in a long time, I’ve seen the treasure there. Rather than re-burying him with alcohol, negative relationships, stuff, and stress again, I’ve decided to grab the buffing wheel instead.
Turns out I’m still pretty shiny. Odd that it took a lot of Appalachian dirt to show me that.
I find myself much more protective of my mind. I avoid the news and advertisements, finally seeing them for what they are: bombardments against my inner peace. I no longer need these things to explain “reality” to me.
On the trail I found reality to be that we need very little to be happy, and people are incredibly fucking kind. These days, like Simon & Garfunkel, I too “get all the news I need on the weather report.”
I’m living in a house with a bunch of crazy people I love and have known for years. I traded my stressful inside sales/warehouse job for a warehouse job alone, and I’m so thankful for the simplicity. Best of all, I’m getting to know a girl I’ve been curious about for a long time.
Life is good. Life is a stark contrast from what it was just six months ago. Post-hike depression is real, but easily overcome by staying busy. What has changed most is that I am living “intentionally” -as all the minimalism blogs like to phrase it.
Tumbleweed put it best: (Paraphrased)
“What I’ve learned from this, is that as long as I keep moving towards something, no matter how slowly, everything will work out.”
The AT got me out of a major rut that I was in. It gave me back my confidence, my body, and a sense of control in my life.
To all of you who repeatedly tell me that you could never do what I did, I challenge you to open your mind. If you want to do it, just go for it. That hike was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I can only hope that many, many others will find what I found in the rain, the cold, the sun, and the friends.