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

Day 179 – Summit Day!

Day 179 – Summit Day!

You guys… we did it!! KatahDONE!!
2,189.8 miles

179 days, just shy of 6 months

March 22 – September 16

Georgia to Maine

Wow – what a beautiful, breathtaking, hard, courageous adventure. Thank you ALL for following and supporting us with your positive comments and vibes – you helped us more than you know!!
– Chica & Sunsets

Days 173-178

Day 173 (Sep. 10th) – 14.3 miles – start of 100 mile wilderness! Had amazing breakfast at Shaw’s, and got to trail by 8:45. Hard, hard day with countless PUD’s (pointless ups and downs), major roots, rocks and mud. Steep downhills. We hurt (knees and feet)! Camped at a stealth spot by river – sounds beautiful.
Day 174 (Sep. 11th) – 11.7 miles to Chairback Gap Lean-to. We feel like we’re in the White’s again! Super hard day. Climbed 5 mountains. Exhausted. We hit 2,100 miles today!!
Day 175 (Sep. 12th) – 17.1 miles to Logan Brook Lean-to. Hard day but we feel good about it – did 5 mountains and got our first glimpse of Katahdin!
Day 176 (Sep. 13th) Day 4 in the Wilderness – 23.1 miles to Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to. Excellent weather and mostly great terrain. We had trail magic today(!) – total surprise and was amazing (we’ve been pretty hungry out here in the wilderness, probably should have packed more food) – they had a stove and served breakfast tacos, coffee and then spaghetti and meatballs! Still hard day with the long miles.
Day 177 (Sep. 14th) Day 5 in the Wilderness – 22.0 miles to Rainbow Lake Campsite. Hard day today (some hills, lots of roots and rocks and mud bogs, plus just a lot of miles). Tomorrow we finish the 100 Mile Wilderness and get to the base of Katahdin!!
Day 178 (Sep. 15th) Day 6 in the Wilderness – 21.1 miles. We made it out of the Wilderness 11 miles into our day, and it was great because there was a restaurant right there! We chowed down on burgers ?, then resupplied for rest of the day and tomorrow, and then hiked 10 more miles which brought us to Katahdin Stream and The Birches at the base of Katahdin. We checked in with the Ranger Station and got our permits for tomorrow. We are ready to summit big K tomorrow!!

Days 170-172

Day 170 (Sep. 7th) – O miles / zero day. Much needed day off. Will head out tomorrow (rain in pm expected) and be to Monson by Saturday night (more rain on Sat). Will stay at Shaw’s in Monson, resupply, and then hope to start the 100 Mile Wilderness.
Day 171 (Sep. 8th) – 18.8 miles to Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to. Hard day, two mountains, but great weather (rain held off and it was cool but not too cold). We saw a moose today in the woods! It was through a lot of trees, so we could really only see it’s shape – it had antlers and was huge.
Day 172 (Sep. 9th) – 17.9 miles to Monson, staying at Shaw’s. Nice day today and pretty good terrain (well except for all those nasty roots, rocks, and water crossings!). We had to ford our first two rivers today! Tomorrow we enter the 100 mile wilderness and will be out of pocket (no cell coverage) till we reach Katahdin! Wish us luck! 

Days 162 – 169

Days 162 – 169

Day 162 (Aug. 30th) – 10.1 miles to South Arm Road, slackpacked again. This guy, Jim, drove all the way fro Rhode Island to meet and hike with us today! What a great guy, he’s a helicopter pilot and enjoys skydiving. Such a pleasure to meet you, Jim, and wish we could have spent more time with you! And we met a SOBO Hiker today with the same trail name as me – Chica! Good day and I’m feeling better.
Day 163 (Aug. 31st) – 13.2 miles to ME 17. It was cold, windy, misty/rainy, root-y, and rocky today. We had trail magic today, from a nice guy named Snowman.
Day 164 (Sep. 1st) – 13.2 miles to ME 4, Rangeley, ME. It was SO cold today! High was 48, and I wish I knew what the wind chill was – it was extremely windy and cold, I could not warm up all day. The locals tell us it is unseasonable to be this cold so early in the fall, but here we are. Nice easy hike today – terrain was really nice (meaning very root-y and some climbing, but not too much elevation gain which was nice!).
Day 165 (Sep. 2nd) – 14.8 miles. We conquered three mountains today – Saddleback Jr., Horn and Saddleback Mountain. And we saw a moose!!!! Very exciting. Weather was great today.
Day 166 (Sep. 3rd) – 17.4 miles. Cold, windy, rainy day. But none of that matters, because we hit the 2,000 mile marker, you guys!!!
Day 167 (Sep. 4th) – 16.7 miles in the Bigelow Mountain range today. Hard day. Climbed Little Bigelow, Bigelow Avery, Bigelow West Peak and South Horn. The Bigelows are the last 4,000 foot mountains until Katahdin. Staying at Stratton Motel tonight, sharing a room with Pappa John.
Day 168 (Sep. 5th) – 16.7 miles to Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps. What a great day today! We flew over the 16.7 miles in under 6.5 hours. The terrain was so great! I mean, yes, there were (lots of) large roots and some big rocks and mud bogs, but there was hardly any elevation gain or loss – which was a very beautiful thing, especially after yesterday. Tim Harrison has a cool place here on the lake (I mean pond), we have our own spacious cabin with a gas lamp. And they have a flushing toilet and hot water shower! The price ($40) includes a 12-pancake breakfast tomorrow morning, can’t wait.
Day 169 (Sep. 6th) – 3.6 miles to Caratuck, Maine. What a lovely breakfast we had at Harrison’s this morning! Then short rainy hike to the Kennebec River where the AT provides a canoe ride for hikers to cross over (too deep and raging at times for hikers to cross), then into Caratuck. We are at Sterling Inn and thinking about zeroing tomorrow as rain is forecast all day.

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