I’m in Kansas drinking an iced coffee at one of my favorite local coffee shops. This is a luxury I could have only dreamed about a week ago. I’ve decided to quit hiking the trail. I’m sure I’ll be back but definitely not this season.
This month of hiking has been the most difficult physical and mental challenge of my life. The thought of staying on trail sparked different but equally-as-strong emotions as the thought of coming home. Staying on trail meant sadness and anxiety. Coming home meant disappointment and embarrassment. Staying on trail and being sad and anxious meant spending way too much money on comforts like hot meals and hotel rooms. Coming home meant being unemployed without a real goal. Staying on trail meant destroying my body and taking way too much Vitamin I (aka Ibuprofen). Coming home meant saying goodbye to my trail legs and improved cardiovascular fitness.
In the end, it came down to the fact that I wasn’t hiking the hike I wanted to hike. I wasn’t doing it how I wanted to do it. In the last week of being on trail, I slept in more beds than I had slept in during the entire rest of my hike. My body hurt too much and my mind was becoming too sensitive to appreciate the experience of constantly being grimy and damp with legs covered in mud and hair tangled with leaves. I was hiking to get to a bed and a shower. When I realized this, I understood that it was time to come home.
I’ll hike on the AT again, yes. By the time my life is over, I hope to have done the whole 2,179 miles, but right now I’m happy to be home. I hiked almost 400 miles in 28 days, and I can live with that.