Fulfill Your Hiking Dream! Here to help fellow hikers by offering wisdom, ideas, and lessons learned from a two-time AT North and South, Long Trail, Foothills Trail, Allegheny Trail, Shenandoah 500 miler completions. Ridgerunner, Speaker, and Author
Mental Aspect of Long Distance Hiking Explored – Part 2 After the Trail
Congratulations! You’ve finished the trail. You’ve completed the goal. You’ve
basked in the glow of it all and the congratulations of others.
Then it hits. You are back in society. Back to the grind of
a job, perhaps. Or there with no job and needing to pay bills. Back to society like a busy city. The simple life is gone. It’s so complicated and overwhelming. I yearn for
trail life again.
I know, I‘ve been there. It’s already coming to light that
there can be a certain stress syndrome involved with hikers leaving long
distance trail life and returning home. You
can get depressed, anxious, nervous, moody. You can’t think, can’t sleep, can’t
do multiple or complicated tasks. You try fitting back in but feel you are only
on the outside looking in. You wonder what to do and really, how to live again.
So what can you do?
Realize that you will experience some kind
of post trail stress after returning home. I dealt with a letdown – (lots of
this is chemically induced that happens when engaged in high activity then
suddenly crash when that activity ceases). I dealt with guilt for having been
away from home and leaving my husband. I dealt with the guilt of not being able
to do certain things, like multi-tasking. I was used to the simple life of a
hiker with lots of exercise, plenty of sunshine, and limited decision-making.
So give yourself a break and realize there’s going to be some adjustment involved,
and it may take time. Have a plan BEFORE you hike is crucial so you aren’t overwhelmed
when you return home. Especially if you need to make financial or life changing
decisions. Limit those for now until you adapt back into society.
After two AT hikes, I turned to ridgerunning and speaking
Go on a diet post trail. Why should I? I
look great. Not for long. Your metabolism will slow down and the pounds will
start adding up quick. DO NOT eat what you did on the trail. You are no longer using
up 4-6,000 calories and can therefore eat useless carbs. Stop now and eat lots
of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and good types of protein. DO NOT eat a bunch
of Snickers candy bars like you did on your hikes. The sugar alone can send you crashing
and your mood crashing too. No potato mixes, Ramen, stuffing either. Eating healthy helps you feel better. Drink
lots of water too. And skip the sugary drinks and alcohol.
Go on an exercise regimen. I started a
running program. You need to do something aerobic. Don’t just stop everything.
Your body will rebel. So will your mind. Start by some jogging. Or just walking.
Walk everywhere. Keep walking and running if you can. If you can take a day
hike at times, do it. But do not STOP exercising! Your body and mind need the
chemicals exercise generates to help you feel better and sleep better. And you
need the sunshine.
If you find you are not in sunshine a lot
or its winter take some Vitamin D3. This will help ward off colds (it’s easy to
get sick when you are home and around the public) and helps strengthen bones
and the immune system.
Reconnect. Set up interviews (like town newspapers) and places to
share about your hiking experiences. Write about them on trail journals. Or blog
about them. Offer to speak about your journey so others can experience it. Become involved on social media in hiker forums to help others realize their hiking dreams. Concentrating
on others rather than yourself helps lift your mood. Find a job having to
do with your interests (I turned to ridgerunning and speaking). Be a part of a hiking group
in your neighborhood. Or take kids hiking. We started a church youth group and took
kids on lots of adventures. Get involved with scouts. Or become involved in trail maintenance. DO something and share about your experience with others! By all means stay in
touch on line or by phone with other hikers and join in on an event that brings
hikers together. Plan to attend Trail Days or other activities too. I also get involved more in praying and reading the Bible. I
felt it helped me a lot by letting God give me the strength when I had none.
Be sure you reconnect with those you left behind.
Be a part of their lives. You may have been on the trail for many months. I had
get togethers with my friends and showed pictures of my hikes. I went and acted in a play with my husband and son to reconnect our family. Try
some new but simple things that maybe
To reconnect in our family post hike, our family performed in a play
you’ve never done. Avoid multi tasking. and work toward a new goal or dream. Resist the urge though to get out on
another long distance hike right after the first. It may be tempting, but honestly,
the problems will still be there when you return. Make the adjustment but keep goals
for future hikes in mind.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, then by
all means seek professional help like a counselor. You may need a little more doctoring afterwards, just like if we suffer a physical injury from too much stress. Stress can
lead to mental injury that also needs doctoring. So seek help if things are just not
working. Especially seek help if you are feeling like life is not worth living
or at all contemplating ending your life – SEEK HELP! Please!
Most importantly don’t be too hard on yourself.
It takes time. Don’t set yourself up with tons of things to accomplish. I found
I couldn’t multi-task for a while and told my husband that. Do one thing at a time
and do that one thing well. You’ll start getting back into the groove of community
living again. But it can take time, so don’t get discouraged. Cherish the great
memories you had on the trail and look forward to making new ones.