The question begins to nag well before the ascent of Katahdin: “What’s next?” It’s the after-the-trail question.
This morning I read about a fellow who lived in his mother’s basement, worked and saved money, thru-hiked the A.T., and is now going back into that same basement to figure out what’s next for his life.
Nothing shakes you from uncertainty like the trail.
I remarked to my wife about how amazed I still am that I worked and saved like so many others, gave notice at my workplace, then hiked the trail — all without a thought or concern about what I would do after it was done. No anxieties about work, no worries about where I’d live. Just the trail in my sights as my sole point of focus, one that was so powerful it obliterated all thought of what I might do when I finished hiking. What might be more amazing is that I’m a thinker and a planner. I like to know (and try to control as much as possible) what’s coming next. That wasn’t the case when I backpacked the AT. There was just the hike and only the hike.
For me, the most powerful and life altering experiences of those days did not include standing on Springer Mountain at the classic bronze plaque and taking the first step northward. It was not the challenges of footway, high summits, hot days, cold weather. It wasn’t in all the things I learned, skills I used, or people I met. It was stepping from the trail at the end and entering the “decompression” process of dealing with what would come next.
To my surprise, the what-do-I-do-now question pretty much answered itself, and it led to relocating from one part of the country to another, a new field of work, new people and experiences, new ways of thinking, and taking new and rewarding risks. Life on this side of the coin is much different from the pre-hike side. Which is a good thing.
My best wishes go out to those standing on Katahdin who find this question settling on their shoulders, but I believe they can rest easy. The answer will come of its own time and accord. All they need to do is expect answers and be open to what comes.
Meanwhile, enjoy the glory!