It’s no secret that after completing a long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail depression can set in. There’s no shame it that, either! “Coming down” from any extreme endeavor is to be expected, and you need to give yourself time to do it.
But what to do, and how long to take a break, and what then?
My own backpacking summer on the AT ended at Pinkham Notch at the foot of Mount Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
I had been backpacking alone from late August until mid-September, and for the most part the thru-hiking crew had fled for home. In an effort to extend my journey I flip-flopped to Katahdin and headed south. Even the few I was hiking with at the time gradually faded away. Some were bored or homesick. Others had obligations take them off-trail. Me? I had nothing to prevent me from sojourning into the autumn, so I continued alone.
Not surprisingly, by mid-September the days were feeling way too short, and human company rare. I was feeling out-of-place, alone. To add to that bleak turn of events word came of an impending late summer hurricane bearing down upon New England with a bead on the White Mountains. So, though the lure and spell of the White Mountains had called to me, a bout of norovirus put the nail in the plans I had made.
I called a friend and found myself quickly swept down to Boston, hopping a plane just in time to avoid the hurricane and land in North Carolina. Being “home” did not feel like home at all. I felt like I had landed on a distant moon! Another friend gave me room and board for a month, for which I was thankful. But all too soon moodiness set in, then things got dicey as I became irritable and argumentative.
One afternoon my friend sat me down and commenced to preach to me the “here’s what to do next with the rest of your life” sermon. It did not sit well.
Before I realized it, I fell into a vortex of action combined with a series of what almost felt like knee-jerk responses. I told my friend farewell on short notice, packed my few possessions into my old Dodge, and ditched North Carolina completely.
I drove north, landing at the hiker hostel in Pearisburg, Virginia. I needed time to think, to consider options. I also needed a “touch” of the hiker community.
Turns out the hostel had a few day hikers drop by, along with a guy who wasn’t sure just what he was going to do next. We commiserated and traded ideas. I wasn’t sure just what the “right” decision was, but one thing I did know. For the first time in my young life I knew I needed to “strike iron.” I needed, in other words, to act. To make a move. Not recklessly, mind you, but with enough consideration of what my heart was telling me to keep me heading toward something as joyously risky and bold as hiking the trail itself had been.
For me, that was moving to Boston, Massachusetts. To find a job. To settle down.
Years before, while in the Navy, I had spent a year in the shipyards in Charlestown while our ship was being refitted. We were docked right next to the USS Constitution, which itself was undergoing dry dock overhaul. I fell in love with Boston; a city which combined culture and great people, wonderful attractions and places to dine, along with a weave of natural wonder. Boston was a city of walkers, studded with parks and trees. It felt like a combination of some place wild with civilization, but without the concrete sterility that one might find in Manhattan. I knew that if I were ever to consider living and working in any major metropolitan city it would be Boston. So when it came time to “strike iron” I knew I had to go there.
Transitioning there was more challenging than hiking the AT. Finding work, looking for living space — all that and more challenged me in ways that required I cope differently than I had when on the trail. But, after about a year of turmoil and toil I found my feet.
I think “striking iron” was a way for me to convert the self-reliance, bold action, and personal power into fulfilling what once seemed like an unlikely dream.
Looking back, had I not acted; had I fallen into uncertainty and discouragement, or succumbed to depression, I might have never made the move to Boston. I would have “settled for,” though I’m not sure what that might have been. I do know that I would have been miserable, unhappy and unfulfilled.
So, while I do not recommend reckless action; I do suggest giving yourself space and time to consider further bold options and perhaps dive into one. It beats stagnation. It’s healthier than getting depressed. And it may be the wild seed of a fresh, vibrant dream which will transform the next stage of your life.