I went off trail on June 10th from Burney and I have since tried to adjust to normal life again after the trail. There’s two types of challenges that I have been facing, the physical ones and the mental ones.
For me the physical challenge was many fold. I have to get used to not eating whatever I want at whenever I want. I have noticed changes to my appetite. Mostly that I am never ravenously hungry the way I used to be before the trail but at the same time I am never really full either. I am also cutting out sugar and dealing with the cravings of sugar as I don’t really need it as a quick acting energy source as when on trail. I also have to get used to not knowing exactly what I am going to eat as I now have a plethora of different foods to choose from. Mostly I have to get used to watching what I am eating again, which after three months of reckless eating, feels very hard.
And then there are the many injuries. All the cuts and bruises are healing nicely but others take much longer. I have tight hamstrings in the morning which are beginning to loosen up again. My feet and plantar fasciitis are getting better by the day. Other injuries have started to show up however. I can’t run due to inflammation in my quadriceps and my fingers are also affected by inflammation leading me to a condition called trigger fingers. I feel like I am losing all the strength that I have gained throughout the trip which is frustrating as injuries are keeping me from exercising but perhaps this is a sign that my body needs the rest.
The main challenge is the mental one. During the trail, you’re seeing nature everyday. You see the beauty of the world. The beauty of its people. And you make a real connection with everyone you meet. On trail I came to see myself and others as onions. We have a core which we in normal life never really let anyone see but our closest friends, family, significant other or in some cases, no one. In normal life, we guard our core behind layers and layers of protections, just like an onion. Maybe we act all brave to prevent others to see how vulnerable we really are. Or we put up a wall of indifference because we cannot let someone disappoint us if we care too much. And strangely, it makes sense. I can’t have a real connection with everyone I see at the supermarket. I can’t have a real connection with everyone on the airplane. The trail has this humbling effect in that it strips all of these layers away. It happened quickly for me, being my reserved self in the first week but then the layer of not talking to strangers stripped away. Soon I let people know more and more about me. And a month in I would tell my trail family all sorts of things about myself that I haven’t told anyone else, let alone myself. That openness and vulnerability is hard for me to maintain in my non-trail life and it’s hard to go being open and vulnerable when no one else is.
I feel it’s hard to tell others about your trip. Because as much as I’d like to tell people all about it, I have to realize that most people aren’t really interested in the entire experience. They mainly want to know whether it was good or not. What I ate. Where I slept. The best parts, the highlights. But for me, the worst parts that were the best. It was the hardest parts that were the best. And it was the most boring parts that were the best. Inevitably I find myself not able to really talk to others about my experience which I cannot really blame them for. I’ve been lucky to been on two truly life-changing trips and it’s hard to convey that journey when it’s so intimately personal.
Lastly I feel as if I have lived a thousand lifetimes on the PCT. I feel like I truly changed in three months and it’s mostly all for the better. But at the same time it’s painful to see people not acknowledge this change. Even worse, some people unconsciously expect you to behave in a manner that they are used to. Or you automatically revert back into the person you used to be. And that is what scares me the most. Because if I revert back to who I was, what does this say about my change and what does it say about who I am?
Luckily being on the PCT has taught me to be present in the moment and an unwavering faith in that I can overcome any problem. Including this. Sometimes I just wish it could be easier.