Oh, culture shock.
If I thought I would have an easy re-entry from trail life (after all, didn't I spend many of my trail days languishing in the delights of town?) I was mistaken. Simple, easy things I would have never considered to be issues are suddenly life-altering decisions. Wait, I have to take a shower every day? Is that truly necessary? And why are there so many toothpaste options at the drug store? I could spend hours in the aisles trying to decide between "whitening action" or "preventing tooth decay."
Here are a few more things that caught me by surprise during re-entry:
* I have so much stuff. Seriously. It just sits there.... on shelves... doing nothing. And then, when I'm not looking, it migrates all over the house and I have to spend inordinate amounts of time putting it back on shelves, where it sits... doing nothing. All of it wants attention and cleaning, and I have better things to do with my time. Thru-hiker motto: if each object doesn't serve at least two purposes, it's extravagant.
* Why is peeing so much more annoying at home? There are way too many steps involved. Open bathroom door. Close bathroom door. Lift toilet lid. Pull down pants. Sit. Pee. Stand up. Flush. Wash hands. Open bathroom door. I would just pee in my yard for the convenience of it, but apparently in society, people frown on that.
* I have too many clothing options. Suddenly everything is cute or fashionable instead of practical for the weather. I'm used to different combinations of layering with my three available options, not this whole closet-full of superfluous outfits.
* None of my shoes fit. None of them. This is kind of annoying, except for the fact that I really don't care. I've been wearing one brand of sneakers for the last five months, so any excuse not to wear high heels is fine with me.
* This insatiable, incurable, ravenous hunger!! I can't eat like a thru-hiker anymore, content that my 25 mile days will keep off whatever 4,000 calories I've just consumed in 15 minutes. I forgot how stressful it is to count calories and force myself to exercise all the time. I liked it way better when I could just hike all day, eat whatever the hell I wanted and still look and feel awesome.
* I still don't have feeling in my toes or the bottoms of my feet. I think the latter is due to my awesome bomb-proof calluses, but telling people I can't feel my toes seems to alarm them. Oh, is that not normal?
* Indoor air and water. It smells different. It tastes different. So... manufactured. And fake. And not at all appealing.
* I get momentarily super excited when I see a convenience store. In my hiker-brain, the presence of a convenience store means chocolate milk, a new packet of wet-wipes, and possibly even a microwaveable pizza. Then I realize that I live within close proximity to approximately 497562 convenience stores and I can go there whenever I want. (And that there are better options out there.)
* When did I become an old lady and have to pee in the middle of the night? I think my body is confused by the over-excess of water that I'm suddenly not expending in sweat every day.
* Claustrophobia. Now, I'm not a claustrophobic person, but being inside too long, or around big crowds is enough to make me feel stifled. I went downtown a few days after returning home and almost had an anxiety attack. So many people. I miss my remote wilderness.
* My knees are killing me. I was extremely lucky not to have any trail-ending issues while I was hiking, but now that I'm home it's like my body is telling me, "oh, we're resting now? Ok. I'm going to start hurting, then." And I can barely even walk. After feeling so strong for so long, this sucks.
* Suddenly bills are a thing. Like, I have to pay for my shelter, even though it doesn't have cool new views every day. And I have to pay for my light source. And water. And this filtered stuff they call "air." And apparently I have to do this monthly. Or they get angry.
* Speaking of money, life is expensive. Did you know you can live in the woods for practically nothing? As long as you have shelter, clothing and some food, you can figure everything else out. Now I can't even leave the house without spending $50. Why is that?
* I used to get migraines a few times a month at my last job. From the day I stepped foot on trail until the end of my journey five months later, I didn't suffer a single headache or even remotely get the sniffles. I think it may be the longest stretch I've gone in my life without getting sick. The minute I rejoin society, I seem to be plagued by illness again...
* I can relate everything back to the trail. Everything. Veteran hikers told me this would happen, but I didn't realize how much. Someone will be telling me a story and I'll want to pipe in and say, "Oh, this one time on trail....!" but then I stop myself because apparently not everyone wants to hear me talk about the PCT 24/7. This is sort of depressing, because some days it's all I have/want to talk about.
* I don't have to buy things based on weight. Oh, I can get the cost-effective two-pack instead of the travel size? How novel.
* When I wash my hair, I don't have to shampoo it three times. Like, it lathers on the first try. Weird.
* Society's dependence on time. You have to be at work at a certain time. And pay bills on a certain day. And keep up with deadlines and anniversaries and holidays and important events. I'm lucky if I know it's a Monday. I'm used to clocking my days by the sun, and the miles...
* Driving is hard. Forty miles an hour? In traffic? In the dark? That is not a normal speed for the human body to be traveling. When I'm going at 2.5 miles an hour at least I can see the rattlesnakes ahead. And prepare for the next water source. And take photos while I'm walking. Forty miles an hour? How do you even get a chance to experience life at that speed?
* Apparently there's more to talk about in life than the trail, food, pooping, and sex. (There's not. You're just too polite to admit it.)
* Nothing is simple and everyone puts on facades. What, I can't pee wherever I want to? Eat whenever I want to? Sleep wherever I walk? Walk wherever I please? Say whatever I want? There are too many rules to follow, too many hoops to jump through, too many etiquettes to follow. I just want to be me, and be accepted for it.
* The dependence on communication. Suddenly I have internet and cell service every day instead of once a week for an hour. Suddenly there's the compulsion to keep in touch, to reach out, to be on social media, to check my email a million times a day... why is this important? I was so much happier without it in my life.
* I have forgotten how to relax. On trail my "easy" days meant walking 15 miles instead of 26. Even my "days off" in town were full of resupply shopping, calling home, cleaning my gear, finding a place to stay the night, getting food to eat, doing laundry, taking a shower, etc etc etc. And all of this in the span of 12 hours. Now I have an infinite number of hours to relax and it's making me feel... useless.
* Decisions are so hard. I didn't make any decisions on trail. Nothing more earth-shattering than "when should I stop for lunch?" or "how many miles should we do today?" The only important decision was to keep walking north. Now suddenly I have to make a decision every 5.2 seconds or life will fall apart. Everyone wants to ask me, so what are you going to do now? What's next? What jobs are you applying for? When does the wedding planning begin? Are you going to stay in Oregon or move? I can't even make a decision about what cereal I want to eat in the morning, much less decisions that change my life. This is incredibly stressful and it has given me a few breakdowns in the past few weeks. I'm slowly learning to manage all these priorities again. It's not easy.
* We have a saying on the PCT, that the "trail provides." Even on your crappiest, awfulest days, there will be something that inevitably pulls you out. Maybe it's the kindness of a stranger, or a sunny day after a week of rain, or a friend pulling you through. Whatever it is, things always seem to fall together on the PCT, to make more sense, to create a kind of chaotic harmony. Life at home isn't quite like that. Sometimes bad days are just bad and life doesn't always "provide" in the end. Things fall apart and sometimes they don't fall back together. If we took a page from the trail and we spent a little more time looking out for one another, rather than looking out for ourselves, we'd probably find that life was a little more harmonic and we'd all be a little happier in the end.
* And you know what the most interesting thing I've discovered about this journey has been? Most people hike a long-distance trail, in some way or another, to "find" themselves. And while you're on this journey, you're consumed by pain and doubt and fear and trials and tribulations, and all the while you're thinking this is hell. Why am I doing this again? How is this helping me to discover my true calling? And then, slowly, you discover the joys, the triumphs, the successes, the beauty. You learn to appreciate each and every day.
And yet, still you don't truly "find" yourself. At least, not in the way you thought you would. You discover your strengths, and what you're capable of, but you don't come out of it with a whole new outlook on life. You aren't struck by some dazzling ray of enlightenment: "I KNOW WHAT I WAS MEANT TO DO IN THIS WORLD." Instead, you come home and feel dazed and confused and slightly depressed because you haven't figured out what you were put here on this earth to do. You haven't figured out your life's calling. You spent five months in the woods on some sort of spiritual journey and you ended up even more lost than when you started.
But the thing is, you discover that that's okay. You spent every day on trail not thinking about WHO I AM, but about water. And food. And how your feet hurt. And how far the next campsite is. And after hundreds of days just like that, you realize that you survived it all, and that without realizing it, you became stronger. So who cares if you didn't discover your life's calling? Who cares if you didn't spend every waking moment thinking about your career or where your life is going? Because while you weren't thinking about these things, you were living them, instead. Your life is a journey that only you can take, and even if you don't find yourself along the way, you're going to have one hell of a ride if you just throw yourself completely in.
So life is confusing and I'm slowly trying to readapt. (Though part of me really doesn't want to... there's a lot to be said for living very simply, and I miss that.)
In the meantime, I've kept away some of my post-trail depression by writing up these journal entries. I've really enjoyed re-living my journey, and I'm glad you guys have been enjoying it, too. I'm currently trying to go back to the earlier entries and add photos so that you can see what the desert looked like. Feel free to check back on those if you're interested! Some of them are pretty awesome. It reminds me that though the desert is a hot hellish place, it's also a beautiful one.
Now that the journey is over, I'm hoping to add some post-hike info regarding some things about trail life such as my daily routine, gear choices on trail, food/resupply info, navigation, and some other tid-bits. But I realize a lot of you must have interesting questions for me about my journey (something better than "what was your favorite part of the trip?" because I know you wouldn't ask me something silly like that, right? :) ) But if you do have a burning curiosity about some part of my journey that I didn't fully expound on, feel free to ask! You can leave me a comment, write me a Facebook message or send me an email: brittany(at)darkroomanddearly(dot)com. I'll compile an FAQ sheet in the next few days and add it to the blog. So rustle up those questions!
Meanwhile, I'm going to take a little break for the Thanksgiving holiday... I'll be back next week with more posts! Happy holidays!