Transitioning From a Thru-Hike Back to Normal Life

Transitioning From a Thru-Hike Back to Normal Life

Please welcome Philip Sheehy (trail name: Homebound) who is guest posting with us today about reintegration to normal life upon finishing his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Homebound is a 22 year old from New Hampshire. He recently graduated college a semester early in order to fulfill his dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Prior to his thru-hike he had done a few overnight hikes in the White Mountains of NH, hiked bits of the Berkshires in Massachusetts and completed the NH 4,000 footers list. With both “stupidity and bravery” (his words), he bought a one-way ticket to Georgia and ended up completing the 2,190.9 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2018. He hiked from March 15th-July 13th, 2018 in what proved to be the most challenging yet beneficial adventure he has ever accomplished. Check out his journal (which he updated daily for his 4-month-long hike), and you can also find him on Instagram and Facebook. Enjoy! — Chica & Sunsets

Touching the sign atop Mt. Katahdin brought about a range of emotions that is truly unexplainable. Here, I stood upon the mountain in which ended the trail I had hiked for over 2,000 miles. From the first view of Lady K, it felt unreal to be able to see the end. A challenge and adventure that had taken over four months to even come close to finish could finally be considered complete. It does not easily translate to hard tasks in everyday life.

Starting out on the Approach Trail, Georgia.

This end goal was tangible. It was finite. It did not move, did not adapt to different variables. It stood there, fully exposed as you, the hiker, pushed through all the challenges nature could throw at you to get there. The mountains did not care. The rain did not stop because you were sick of it. The cold and heat did not pardon your passage through the mountains. As AWOL says in his book AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, “Our ribbon of beaten path – the AT itself – is a luxury afforded us in the wild” as it guided us through one step at a time.

Mt. Katahdin

The transition back to life post trail has been arduous. How does a hiker, so fully invested in hiking, suddenly restart and try to pretend to care about such nominal topics presented in everyday life. Pretending to care about pop culture, learning to discuss things other than trail, sleeping indoors, not even considering the weather day to day, peeing in a bowl of water, feeling full and nourished after eating or showering daily. It all just seems so unnecessary and I assure you the list goes on and on.

Thru hiking the Appalachian Trail allows you to view the world from such a new perspective. Not the same way a college professor or a scholarly book may try to do so. You physically commit to becoming what some may consider homeless. For most, the idea of hiking up to six months straight is a turnoff in itself. Most don’t consider the change in lifestyle that the hike will demand. You have to become okay with sleeping in rat infested shelters, not knowing what your next meal may be, dealing with your own stench and figuring out solutions to problems often on your own. Returning to a normal life where luxuries exist once again is amazing but also the most difficult part of the thru hike. The hike itself is never complete and if we learn to not think of the hike and life as two exclusive worlds, we will be able to better apply the lessons learned in both to become better human beings.

One of the more interesting realities of coming home is the separation you feel once again with nature. The hike forces you outside all day. I find myself now craving a dip in a chilled mountain creek or a swim in a high mountain pond. On my hike I found myself connecting to the landscape more than I could have ever imagined. Those soft cool breezes close to the mountaintop and the warmth generated by a fire in the cool temperatures kept me alive. They felt like freedom from life’s never ending grasp on me.

I had the privilege of sleeping, eating, bathing and hiking entirely in the woods along that small beaten path AWOL talks of. This path becomes your home within the wilderness where you begin to feel comfortable. Fallen trees become seats, rocks become stairs and streams become baths. A hiker returns to a more natural state being one with their surroundings. It feels much more natural to be outside in the fresh air than inside on a warm bed.

The air is stuffy inside. The bed doesn’t quite conform and the living seems too easy. When even the simplest tasks, such as using the bathroom, have required effort for your four month hike, being home and having the ease of a bathroom seems surreal. Of course it would be ideal to more closely connect regular societal life with nature such as you did while hiking. However, after completing the trail it becomes easy to sit on the couch, type on your computer or take shelter from the storm.

When you experience these realities out in the woods on a hike like this, it brings you back to a more natural and rugged self that feels a sense of accomplishment with even the smallest of tasks. I have found temporary comfort in finding new trail systems near where I live and getting outside daily for a run or a bike ride. These are only substitutions though and I know one day I will find myself back outside drinking from those clear, bubbling springs and feeling home once again.

I find myself changed for the better but have returned to learn that my life I surround myself with still feels familiar. Things have gone back to the way they were and life has moved past my hike just as I hoped it wouldn’t. I do look forward to my future because I know this hike has shaped me into who I want to be. I met a man in Vermont who went by the trail name Tom Bombadil from Lord of the Rings (the father of the forest). He had told me that he thought it was great I was thru hiking the AT so young because I would then understand and value the work-life balance that he wished he had had.

I am excited to start a career and advance my life while carrying the lessons, values and stories of the trail into all aspects of the world I create for myself. With that I preach my favorite quote that reigns true to this day even a few weeks after ending my hike; don’t choose a life, LIVE IT.

Homebound – thank you for guest-posting with us!
To our readers: If you would like to guest post with us, please contact us at 2hikers@appalachiantrailtales.com.

How the Appalachian Trail Wrecked My Life

How the Appalachian Trail Wrecked My Life

Please welcome Stacia who is guest posting with us today. Stacia grew up on a farm in the southern-most part of Georgia and was bitten by the outdoorsy bug at a young age, often playing in the woods on her family’s property for hours at a time. But it wasn’t until college that she first started hiking and eventually backpacking. At age 26 and again at 27, she attempted a solo thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and has been addicted to long-distance hiking and the adventure lifestyle ever since. Find more of her story on her blog Adventure Like A Girl or Instagram. I hope you enjoy her story as much as we do! — Chica & Sunsets

Three years ago, I set out on the biggest adventure of my life. I’d never been camping before, and I’d hardly ever been hiking, but I had decided I was going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I’d be lying if I told you that I had any idea the profound impact this decision would have on my life. I guess you never really know what all of the nuanced consequences will be of any major decision, but I’ll tell you this: The Appalachian Trail ruined my life, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.  

The Appalachian Trail ruined my ability to make small talk. I’m guilty of completely tuning out whenever the people around me are discussing who lost the football game last night or that girl from work’s new boyfriend. I just have no interest in the mundane goings on that most people choose to fill their time thinking about. When you’ve stood on a mountain top with views for miles or camped underneath a star-filled sky, something inside of you changes. You realize that there are so many vast and important things going on in the universe. These are the things I want to talk about, not celebrity gossip.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my perceptions of humanity. Before I set out to hike a long trail, I’ll admit to being wary of strangers, being skeptical of someone’s intentions when they offered goodwill. I was a self-described cynic. But, after having complete strangers pay for my breakfast, bring me a cold soda just because, leave jugs of water at a road crossing without ever seeing the face of who they were helping, offer me a place to stay inside their home, and go out of their way to drive me somewhere I needed to be, I lost that cynicism. Now, I’m guilty of seeing the good in everyone. I have the ability to assume positive intentions even in situations that turn out badly, and my favorite person to meet is usually a stranger.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my white picket fence dream. Before the trail, I was living in a fully furnished, decorated home – with a mortgage to boot. Like a lot of Americans, I was neck deep in the rat race, placing inflated value on material possessions that I thought would make me happy. Home was a 1600 square foot house with a huge backyard. Now, I don’t make purchases if the item isn’t a necessity and I live in a 16 foot travel trailer. Rather than stability and security, I crave adventure and mobility. I don’t need things. I need experiences.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my negative body image. I’ve always been chubby, and ever since I was of the age where I started comparing my body to other girls, I’ve been self-conscious about my weight. I won’t say that the Appalachian Trail completely destroyed this feeling, but when you are literally climbing mountains day in and day out, your thoughts about your body are bound to change. For three months, my body was able to carry me and all of my earthly belongings over countless mountains for 8-10 hours a day. The longest I’d ever walked in a day prior to this was probably 5 miles. Three weeks into my first thru-hike attempt I knocked out my first 20 mile day. TWENTY MILES. You could never have told me this body was capable of that. While I still struggle at times with accepting my weight, I have a much healthier relationship with my body post-hike. I’m proud of what it is capable of, and thankful that it is fit and healthy enough to continue to do everything I ask of it.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my perceptions of beauty. Before the trail, I remember being that judgy girl who wore fake eyelashes to class and thought girls didn’t look “put together” without makeup. While hiking, I had somehow made it to Pearisburg, VA before I caught a glimpse of my wild and feral makeup-free face in a streaky mirror at a cheap hotel. I startled and looked away, disconcerted because I thought the girl in the mirror was beautiful, but there was no way that was me. I went from someone so insecure that I didn’t leave the house without a full face of makeup to someone who barely wears any, because I think a natural face is prettier and a dirty, sweaty, flushed face on top of a mountain is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my plans for the future. Before hiking, I thought I’d get married, have a kid or two maybe, and spend my days working to pay off that house I’d bought. I had gone to graduate school and was going to become a teacher. I had a long-term boyfriend that I was planning to marry. I spent 26 years chasing this dream only to find out that it wasn’t really mine. It took walking through the woods for three months to figure that out. I sold the house, I broke up with the boy, and I worked service-industry jobs for a while until I figured out what it was that I really wanted.

I feel like my life started the day I stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail, passed that first white blaze, and pointed my heart toward Maine. Until that moment, I’d been going through the motions that I thought I was supposed to go through. I’d been waiting for life to happen, not realizing that it was happening all around me and I was missing the point. Now, I feel as though I have crammed more life into these past three years than I experienced in all of the first 26. I’ve attempted two thru hikes, each lasting 2-3 months. I’ve walked over 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail, and countless hundreds on other trails. I’ve gone hiking, camping and backpacking completely alone. I moved into a camper and traveled the east coast for a year with just my dogs for company. I’ve checked items off my bucket list, such as climbing a 14ker (14,000 foot mountain) and learning how to back-up a trailer. I am so much more self-assured, confident, and bold than I ever was before. I have friends all over the country that feel like family.

I’m on a course so different from the one I was on pre-hike that I often don’t recognize things I said or did back then as being my own memories. I may be less financially stable, I may not be certain what the future holds, I may feel at times like I’m just blowing aimlessly in the wind. But I’m endlessly, deliriously, insanely happy. The Appalachian Trail ruined my life, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Stacia: It was a pleasure having you! We love how the Appalachian Trail has ruined your life!
To our readers: If you would like to guest post with us, please contact us at 2hikers@appalachiantrailtales.com.

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5 Women-Specific Gear Hiking Choices

5 Women-Specific Gear Hiking Choices

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I loved being a woman thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail last year. Yes, I was with my husband, and that was epic, but I didn’t let that take away from the pride I had for myself as a woman. When I was young, and I first heard of the Appalachian Trail, it was only associated with guys hiking it. But here I was – a girl, a women, a chica – doing it along with the guys, and other women as well! There are more and more female thru-hikers each year, currently about 30%, and I love that it’s on the rise. Who knows, maybe some day we’ll take over the trail? Girl power! (more…)

Life Outside the Cubicle + GIVEAWAY!

Life Outside the Cubicle + GIVEAWAY!

UPDATE: This GIVEAWAY is now closed.  Winners are:  Stephanie and Melissa, you will be contacted by email for your signed copy of “Life Outside the Cubicle!”

Did we really thru-hike the Appalachian Trail? It seems like all a dream now – a really, really good dream. But we have our memories, experiences, pictures, videos, friends and overall feeling of badass-ery to show for it. Oh, and slightly larger feet (yes, really – my feet have flattened out a bit, I guess with all that walking I did on them, they really took a pounding). The AT was certainly an adventure, but it wasn’t our first foray into the great unknown. Our strategy of valuing experiences over stuff began in 2012, over 5 years ago, when we first started talking about quitting our corporate jobs in Dallas. In June of 2013, we did just that, sold virtually everything we owned, and moved to Costa Rica with just 9 suitcases to our name. It’s ok, you can call us crazy, we certainly felt it and we knew we were taking a risk. But you know what? It turned out to be the best decision! It was so freeing to sell off our unnecessary “stuff.” We felt so light, not being tied down (or mortaged) to anything. Moving to Costa Rica was a way of starting over, trying to live more simply than we had before in Dallas. We were pretty sure that would have been hard to do staying in Dallas. Why Costa Rica? Well, you can read my book to find out more details, but here is the short answer: –It was a close plane ride to the States, for us to visit our families, –The language is Spanish which we knew a tiny bit of (having lived in Texas), –We heard Costa Ricans were kind to foreigners, –Costa Rica has no army, –Even though the whole country is about the size of West Virginia, it has various different climates to choose from. We settled down in a small coffee farming town in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, and made lots of friends right away (some even before we landed). I started doing yoga, and Sunsets and I both started hiking in the high elevations and mountains surrounding our home. I started baking and cooking a lot more, experimenting with the local produce. I actually ran a small bakery – “Jen’s Bake Shop” – out of my home for a while; baking breads, pastries, and cookies, before I found out it was too much work for too little profit (but it was still fun to actually DO something I’d always thought about!). And eventually, wrote Costa Rica Chica Cookbook. Sunsets got into photography, we were really in the best place to photograph stunning birds, wildlife, sunsets (ahem) and valleys. He also wrote and spoke for International Living. I started making my arm candy (jewelry) 3 months after we had landed there, which grew into a nice little part-time income.

Coffee fields (see the pickers?) in our small town of Grecia.

And we wrote. A LOT. By the time we left Costa Rica 4 years later, we had 6 books published between us, 4 of which are/have been Amazon best sellers!

Us with our 6 published books!

Most people know me as an author for my first book Costa Rica Chica, but really the book I’m most proud of is Life Outside the Cubicle. Because, this is my life now! Ever since I had gotten out of the cubicle, my life has exploded with new and exciting possibilities. I now have time to explore myself. Through my blog (Costa Rica Chica), I met many other like-minded people in different walks of life, all doing different (and out of the box) things. In fact, in the book Life Outside the Cubicle, I interview 8 different people who are living outside the “normal” framework of a 9-5 job and how this change has impacted their lives. This book can be a motivating factor for those looking for an outside the box lifestyle that allows for freedom to do things (like thru-hike the Appalachian Trail for 6 months).

So, to help with this, I’m doing a GIVEAWAY for a signed “Life Outside the Cubicle” book for TWO (2) lucky winners!

To enter, do the following:

  1. Comment on this blog post and tell me something you have done or would like to do that is outside the box (it can be ANYTHING)!
  2. Share this post on your Facebook page (click here to see our FB post to share easily).
  3. Subscribe to our Blog or YouTube channel or like our Facebook Page (if you’re already subscribed or liked to one of these, thanks!).

That’s it! Cut off is midnight CST on Tuesday, Feb. 6th, USA shipping only. Two (2) winners will be picked and announced on Wednesday, Feb. 7th!

5 Reasons To Hike As A  Couple

5 Reasons To Hike As A Couple

Before we left on our AT journey, several people asked us if we were sure we sure we wanted to hike as a couple, to be together day and night, in the woods, with no regular showers … for 6 months!??  Were we crazy?

Not in the least. When Sunsets and I quit our Dallas jobs and moved to Costa Rica, we went from being apart from each other all day during the work week, to being together all the time, all week long! Yes, it was an adjustment, but now we’re so used to it that it actually feels weird if we are not together. Also, we’ve been married for 23 years and Sunsets is my best friend. A better question might be why would I thru-hike without my partner? (more…)

Shoulder Strap Water Bottle Holder

Shoulder Strap Water Bottle Holder

This post was initially a contest where we gave away a backpack strap water bottle holder. That giveaway has ended. Still, this is an incredible, useful product, please continue reading. 

All along our thru-hike we received oohs, ahhs, and questions about the water bottle holders we used that attached to the shoulder straps of our backpacks. Like all great products, this one solves a problem. Many hikers find it difficult, to near impossible, to reach their water bottles stored in the side pockets of the backpack. We heard this over and over on our long hike. Once, we even helped a hiker retrieve her water bottle because she couldn’t reach it; she had been reduced to taking her pack off every time she needed a sip.
(more…)

Feet – the Achilles Heel of Thru-Hiking, how we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail without getting ANY blisters

Feet – the Achilles Heel of Thru-Hiking, how we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail without getting ANY blisters

You know what’s crazy? I hiked 2,189.8 miles without EVER getting a blister. Not even one! You know what’s even more crazy? Neither did my hiking partner, my husband – Sunsets. We were on the trail for 179 days, taking 21 zero days, and did not change our system the whole way through. Sunsets’ shoe/sock system is slightly different than mine, so he’ll add a note at the bottom of this post, but otherwise we did everything else the same. (more…)

Chica’s Post Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Gear List 

Chica’s Post Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Gear List 

Hi guys!  I’ve done a Youtube video on my post trail thru-hike gear list (I actually did it while we were on the trail, but towards the end of our journey).  Here is the written and itemized list – for any of you who want the specifics. Video is posted again at the end. My pack weight was 27 pounds (which included 4 days of food and 2 liters of water). (more…)

Click here for our new book Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail

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