Coming back from the AT, it seems as though I’ve been plopped in the middle of a bustling street as I wander slowly, a bit lost, through the throngs of people who have a destination. There’s an odd disconnection I feel that can’t really be explained. A trail friend was complaining how it’s been hard to participate in small talk. You can no longer ask people how many miles they did, talk about how gorgeous the view you all passed that day was or what they’re cooking for dinner. Even talking with some friends, I feel slightly off and removed. There’s this fog I’m trying to see through that appears to have no end. I’m stuck in the thick of it. I can hear others, but I can’t quite reach them properly.
As life does, it moves on while you’re gone. People have grown, moved away, gotten married or had children. I think this is all part of some culture shock that should pass as I spend more time away from trail life. Nonetheless, being done with a thru-hike has me feeling these type-a ways:
Shoot, it’s time to find a job.
I’ve spent nearly 6 months in the woods occasionally talking to the animals lurking within the forest. There was a stretch of 10 minutes where I did a call and response sequence with some crow on a branch. A crow. Luckily, no one saw me. Unfortunately, it’s clear that some signs point to slight delusion. How am I supposed to dress up, talk properly and impress someone in an interview?
Self-confidence/self-esteem/happiness with yourself, whatever you want to call it, I’ve struggled with it since those lovely tween years. I could point fingers and say it started with the stereotypical pressures of being a dancer, but some people handle that pressure with the utmost grace. I guess I wasn’t prepped to deal with the constant scrutinization of my weight, body or how much I ate. Teachers would tell me to lose a few pounds and “tone up” despite having a normal figure, and I’d see dancers around me starting to starve themselves and be rewarded for that. We stared at ourselves in mirrors as we danced and saw every tiny flaw that we could possibly perfect whether it be the body or the dance technique. Seeing my imperfections so much, I started dreading being seen or heard by others. I felt insignificant and unworthy.
My insecurity manifests in my daily life as awkwardness, but that’s why you love me, right? I used to weigh myself 5 times a day. I would avoid looking at people so I wouldn’t have to talk. I’d let someone else give their opinion first so that I could pretend to agree with it in hopes that agreeing would save me from putting my own ideas out there. I can thankfully say I’ve improved on these things in the past few years, but my AT thru really has been chicken soup for my insecure soul.
How does taking a simple walk in the woods work such wonders on your mental state? It does sound a bit extreme, I know. Do the trees whisper “you’re amazing, you got this!” as you traipse through the forest? Some might say yes. I know a hiker who thought all the birds tweeting at her were giving her sounds of encouragement. Another hiker I was with laughed and said that he thought their calls were just mocking his ineptitude. Everyone has their own interpretation, clearly, but here’s what has gotten me out of my shell a bit:
The plans are set, the pack is stuffed and your shoes have been worn in just enough. As you start in on the hike and you have countless hours to think about how many more miles you need to go, it gets overwhelming and the enormity of it can almost make you stop in your tracks. Occasionally to the dismay of my hiking partners, this is how I’ve dealt with making a huge goal seem approachable.
We’ve become animals and have moved into a bear den with the still semi-hibernating beasts. It’s been a week, and we’re starting to smell like one of them. But really, it’s been two weeks so we’re still new to the thru, but at least have a bit under our belt. We’ve made it as far as what looks like one inch on the map of the whole trail, so that’s comforting. Here are the first week of thoughts: