Three weeks ago, on a wet, cold, potentially hypothermic day, I summited Katahdin. Almost regretfully, it feels strange to allude to the hike in the past tense. For so long I thought about how many days had passed from the beginning of the hike. Now I find myself contemplating the number of days since it ended. This, the third week since its conclusion, coincides with the six month anniversary of its beginning. I deemed time irrelevant while following white blazes. In the present, time again marches on. Moments exist when I feel as if the hike didn’t actually occur, but instead resides merely in my imagination. The reality of the regular world has for now replaced the gossamer existence on the trail.
The adjustment back to my “real life” has proven challenging at times. At others it seems almost as if I had never been away from my home. When I walked into my church sanctuary the first Sunday after returning home, I felt as if I had attended the previous week. I sat on the same pew. The same parishioners surrounded me. Then when the pastor welcomed me back, for a second I wondered where I had been. Many wanted to hug my neck or shake my hand. I smiled, thanking each for his or her prayers while I was away. When the service ended I attempted to make a quick exit, not really wanting to talk about the hike. As it simmered in my subconscious I desired to keep it to myself, only reluctantly sharing tidbits with those who asked. I had openly written about each day while on the trail; now I wanted instead to protect the memories. Verbalizing my feelings seemed more difficult than typing them. After all, who would really understand?
I have met with some of my friends. I shared a lunch with some of my running buddies, answering a variety of AT questions, but more importantly fellowshipping with good friends that I had missed. I’ve exchanged emails or text messages with Banzai, Molar Man, Pilgrim, Susquehanna Slim, and Steady and Spirit. I miss my AT pals. I also miss the trail. While hiking I just wanted to finish. Now I find myself contemplating being back in Virginia or Vermont or New Hampshire. Just like in this paragraph, my mind fluctuates constantly. I pick up my cell phone to make a call to only find myself scrolling through trail photos. I wonder how others who shared their hikes with me are adjusting to the “regular world.” I debate whether or not to make a phone call. I replay in my mind the good times, the times of excitement and joy. But just as often, I recall days of duress and fatigue. Equally, I bask in the memories of both.
I’ve gone to the beach and thought about the mountains while walking barefoot in the sand at dusk. I viewed the setting sun over the waves and remembered a twilight in Pennsylvania. I ate seafood on a weathered, wooden deck and recalled a restaurant in Maine. I strolled down tree-lined streets at sea level with a vision of roots and rocks transfixed on my brain. I spoke often of the hike. Linda patiently listened, reminding me that we could go to the mountains in October. I wondered if a brief visit to the Smokies would satisfy a longing for white blazes.
Sometimes I think of Ulysses when he returned home to Ithaca. Tennyson was right. How does one truly “adjust” after a great adventure? As my hike neared its end, I kept repeating, “each step I take is a step I’ll never have to take again.” I suppose the key words there are “have to.” No, I’m not contemplating another thru hike. I’m not even planning a return to the trail anytime soon. I’m not ruling out, however, other hikes on the AT or even other trails. They just won’t occur in the immediate future. For now, I’m happy in this “regular life” in the “regular world.” Still I will daily cherish the many fond memories that have forever become a part of me because I chose to go for a hike on the Appalachian Trail.