Sunday, May 8, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: Heading Home/ Post Trail Transition

Coffee on the Amtrak
One of the greatest cups of coffee I ever experienced in my life was on the Amtrak train after completing the Continental Divide Trail in 2013. There was so much satisfaction in that moment and in that cup as I sat comfortably in the lodge car, staring out the huge glass window, as the Amtrak train barreled across the New Mexican desert. Now that I think about it, as I mentioned in a previous post, the second greatest cup of coffee was just a few months prior on the AT, on top of Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. Anyhow, I digress. As the AT was now in the rear view mirror in December of 2015, it was time to go home.  Moosie was flying back to San Diego, I was heading back to Washington DC, and Camo would head back to Texas. Camo's mother and her friend drove up from Texas, picked the three of us up at the Amicalola Falls visitor center, and graciously hosted us  for a couple of days in a cabin on a Georgian lake while we waited for our separate departures. When my time came, I was waiting at a train station in Georgia, looking forward to another Amtrak coffee, traveling between the old and new.

Transition post trail is one of my favorite topics and I always enjoy hearing other hiker's experiences as they are all so similar, and so unique at the same time.  When I finished the PCT in 2010, I was almost completely broke and did not transition well. I could not afford a place to live and was unemployed for a month and a half following the trail. When I finally found a job, I had to live out of my car for four months while I worked just to afford a security deposit and first month's rent. It was a hell of a learning experience, and I realized I needed to plan better. When I finished the CDT in 2013, everything fell into place perfectly. I was back to work within three weeks, and my living situation also smoothly worked itself out as I moved from Mendocino to Humboldt county in California. Life continued on without skipping a beat, and I was better prepared. After finishing the AT in December of 2015, I also hoped to quickly and smoothly transition, and everything was in place to do so. When the time came to make things happen however, I hit a wall.

I could feel the wall building itself within my being the last few weeks of the trail. I had to decide whether to head back to California, or move closer to home on the east Coast. Every day on the trail I would go back and forth in my mind. When I woke up in the morning and was feeling fresh and energized, I could not wait to go back to California and continue life's adventure out there. When the afternoon and evening would come around, I missed the comforts of home, and really began to miss being around my family. I was missing out on family gatherings, my nieces and nephews were all growing up and I was missing out on their lives, my parents were quickly getting older as well. I realized I was at a crossroads, and it seemed as though I was at a point of no return. If I moved back to California, there was a good chance I was never coming back. I was probably going to rarely see my family again. As it was, if I could afford it, I visited home only about once a year.

My parents thankfully gave me a little time and space to think things through post trail. My first week home in Maryland, I went back and forth in my mind as usual. I contacted my former employers in California and they gladly accepted me back. It looked like California was "a go" once again. I packed up my stuff and was ready to leave for the west coast when the DC area was suddenly slammed by a blizzard. I delayed my departure date and had three more days to think things through. Once again, I was set on leaving for California but my heart just was not in it. I set another deadline and decided to leave. When that day arrived, I realized I couldn't bring myself to do it. I was tired of always saying goodbye. That was it. I made the decision in that moment that I was going to stay in Maryland.

Thankfully, I was able to find work not too long afterwards. That transition was a little tough. I had to cut my hair short, shave off the beard, buy new clothes. During the job interview, I kept having what felt like an out of body experience. "Who am I? Where am I? What the hell am I doing here? I was just sitting around a campfire, sleeping in a sleeping bag, clothes in rags, hadn't showered in days, and now I am sitting in this office? What is going on?!! Am I in California? No, east coast!" I felt like a chameleon. I was terrified of driving and sitting in traffic. I would drive in the right lane and just sit there. Too dangerous to try and pass anyone. I am just now beginning to get used to it again. I have yet to drive in the far left lane on the beltway, but have made it to the third for now!

My parents have allowed me to stay home for a while as the adjustment continues to work itself out. It's not where I envisioned myself being at this stage in my life, but I am extremely grateful, and I dare say happy. I feel at peace with the decision, even though I do miss California, especially the redwoods.

I am excited what Maryland has to offer however. I am seeing my home state with fresh eyes. I hope it will become a home base of sorts. A place to plan future adventures out of. I hope to be able to continue blogging, the content will change a bit obviously. I've started measuring the heights of trees with a laser and clinometer, so that may be a primary focus. We'll have to see. I still hope to hike more trails in the future, and I imagine those details will work themselves out in time. I also may be back in California for a short while this summer, as all of my stuff is still out there in a storage unit. I'm looking forward to seeing the redwoods again when that time comes. However, for now, I am glad to be home...

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