Home Sweet Home, August 6, 2015 — I wasn’t going to write a one-year-retrospective. Most of them are boring and trite. As I have often said, being a successful thru-hiker doesn’t make you special. It only means that you were fortunate enough to have a special experience.
Okay, so what happens when it’s over? You go home and then what? Post hike depression is well documented. Of course, I thought it could not happen to me.
When your hike is over, if you’re lucky, you have to get back to work. That’s true for most hikers. If you have something lined up – say going to grad school – you’ve got it made. But even if you have to job search, you’ve got a defined focus for your time and a purpose to pursue.
If you’re retired, that’s another story. Recently retired people are the second largest, albeit, small category of thru hikers. A lot of them shut the door to their offices and open the front door to the AT with little transition time. I met a hiker in Georgia this year whose time lapse was four days!
I prepared for ten months, but it’s almost the same. I’d done nothing to prepare for retirement itself other than to know that I’d have to “keep busy.”
Boom! The hike ends. You take a victory lap. The the crowds stop clapping. For months on end you’ve had a routine. Wake up, eat and hike. Following the white blazes was my job. Where is the next white blaze?
Aside from the daily trail routine, hiking is heavy exercise that bathes your brain in a heavy flow of endorphins all day long. Like distance running, the craving doesn’t stop when you end your journey.
Endorphins act like opiates. These chemicals, manufactured by your body, make you feel really good. When they go away, the funk can get very deep indeed.
I thought that returning to a strenuous exercise routine and increasing my volunteer activities would help me avoid endorphin withdrawal and the mental depression that goes with it. NOT SO!
I did all these things, but in between, I sat in my easy chair and stared out the window or zoned out with ESPN on the idiot box. My reading habit evaporated. In the past year I have completed exactly one book; that compares to my 3 to 4 per month lifetime average. My motivation meter was pegged at zero.
There’s more. My weight began to creep up. I did switch back to healthy foods from the ultra high calorie trail junk, but I ate a lot and drank more beer. I’ve regained about 75 percent of my lost weight.
After my voluntary stint as a ridgerunner in Georgia this spring, my mind began to get a grip. Maybe returning to the scene of the crime helped.
I remembered why I retired in the first place. My retirement routine couldn’t replace my previous career as an adrenalin junkie. The 60-hour plus work weeks needed to be left to history. The new normal needed to be new.
Now my volunteer time is structured around specific goals. I’ve found opportunities with much more responsibility – to the point where I supervise five paid employees in one of the gigs. Best of all, I’m beginning to have a lot of fun.
For now, one year after my hike, retirement has become a never-ending process. I’m contemplating more hiking adventures, but I’ll tackle them differently. For example, I’d love to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. (“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed is set there.) But if I do, it will be over three years in sections rather than all at once.
If I learned one take-away from hiking the Appalachian Tail it is that thru hiking takes a long time. While I loved my hike and would do it again, I got tired of being out there “forever.” Moreover, making “forever” so is not a reasonable expectation.
Looking ahead, I’m hoping to better use my time because at this stage of life, you truly have to do more with less.
Here’s a link to a one of several videos I’ve made in support of speeches I’ve made this past year.