I’m nestled next to a third floor window, on a small couch which folds into a twin bed. I’ve lived most of this week out of my “city” backpack, a Patagonia Refugio. It’s filled with all manner of oddities which I haven’t required in months. Items like a stick of deodorant, underwear, a belt, and my glasses; the not-so-essential essentials of daily life. My Facebook and Instagram feeds have been filled with the post-hike ramblings of my friends, and I suppose it’s time to add my own observations.
When I hiked in 2016, the only experienced former hiker I knew was a guy named Lost. Lost had “hit and quit” that AT twice before, starting at Springer each time. I met him five-hundred miles into his third attempt, which would be his final and successful one. He provided my first insights into what post-trail life would be like, because he had been there twice before.
He related the gut-dropping disappointment of having to go back to work after so much freedom. He explained the pain of failing to realize a dream, and then the drudgery of working to realize someone else’s. As we continued he north, he also told me that he’d be going back to work the day after summiting Katahdin. This seemed odd at the time, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense. If all hikers could go back to a job, any job, immediately following their adventure, post-trail depression would be far less common. Money is far less important than purpose during the transition back into civilization.
My strategy this year has been to weigh every financial decision on trail, against post-trail financial freedom. I had this in mind with every second, or third entree ordered at a restaurant. I thought about it every time I decided not to stop and pay for a shower, for an additional three to five days. Yes, I consciously opted for food over showers many times this trip! Those decisions have payed off, and as a result I do not have to go rushing back to work. Oddly, I am attracting money into my life pretty easily regardless.
As far as purpose goes, my mother’s medical needs are providing that for now. She’s been hospitalized again since my last post. I am uniquely blessed with the time and lack of obligation to be an advocate for her. My sister Kelly and I have been alternating overnight stays in her hospital room, which features the aforementioned window.
Care taking genuinely freaks me out, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t have kids. The past week has forced a lot of growth on me in this regard. Till now, my sisters have had to bear the bulk to this responsibility, usually while I’m in a waiting room being all emotionally paralyzed about it. As it turns out though, spoon feeding, and hand escorting my mom around isn’t so bad. If anything, worrying about another person’s food, water, and waste needs is a pretty easy transition for a hiker, because it’s all we think about on trail. That, and thermo-regulation. I’m pretty much camping with my mom, and taking her on .2 mile day hikes. The window at the end of the hall even provides a sunset view.
Internally, during the downtime, I am letting go of a lot of anger.
Years ago as a young teenager, I attended my best friend’s church camp. One exercise required us to write down two things we wished our parents did better. Everyone had two of these three answers:
My answer was unique among them, as I’ve always had a pretty excellent and open relationship with my parents. This was the only answer I could come up with:
“Better care of health”
It’s the kind of answer you give, when you and your siblings trade advice on how best to keep your parent’s cigarette smoke smell out of your clothing. It’s the answer you give, when you’ve learned to have all meaningful conversation with your dad before 12pm on a Saturday; because he’ll be drunk soon. When having your learner’s permit means you’re now a free designated driver. When you watch your mother spark a cigarette ten minutes after you just watched your dad hurl his cancer-ridden lungs onto the bathroom floor.
It’s the kind of answer you give.
It hurts because, there is a reason I am writing this from a hospital room in the middle of the night. It hurts because I can’t go camping with my mom for real anymore.
After a decade of my own alcoholism, I do have compassion. Truly, I do. My parents didn’t have the resources I’ve been given. Fuck if it doesn’t hurt though.
So for whatever path comes after this, this is my trail right now. I’m grateful to be feeling and slowly shedding the burden of this anger. I’m happy I can be here for my mom, because these feelings have to be healed with love. I had the same opportunity with my dad, but he passed long before I realized it.
One thing the trail has repeatedly taught me, is just to take things as they come. Things rarely go as planned, but its taught me to have faith anyway. Often the results are better than imagined, or you find yourself on a trajectory you could have never foreseen. I’ve learned too, that the faster you open to the present experience, and learn what it has to offer, the faster it begins to move on and leave you alone.
Stay well out there friends. Be kind, because everything can change.