10 June 2021
It has now been nearly three weeks since I got off trail. And I’m still really happy with my decision to end my thru-hike.
If I wanted to, I could get back on trail today and I would still have plenty of time to finish this year.
But I still don’t want to.
Instead, I have very much been enjoying my daily life at home. Making and eating healthy meals. Attending my fitness class in the park. Seeing friends and family. Trying to make sense of what I have done and what I will do next.
I lost ten pounds on trail and I have been working hard to keep it off. I was very hungry all the time for about a week when I first came home, but then that subsided. Half Cookie is such a good role model that it has mostly been easy. I’m still about five pounds lighter than when I started my thru-hike attempt, and that feels sustainable. And the weight I do carry feels like more muscle and less fat. I feel so proud of my hiker legs and have continued to wear short-shorts(!) as Spring melts into Summer here in San Diego. The “hills” of Mission Hills where I live have never felt so easy to climb on my daily walks in the neighborhood.
I was very worried that my fitness class in the park would feel hard, especially when we work on upper body and core. But it has actually not been that bad. Apparently backpacking is good for core, so that feels the same. My leg strength and balance are both much improved. But cardio is harder than it was (think sprints!) and, of course, it will take some time for push-ups to come as easily as they used to. I have been using 15 pound weights instead of 20s.
I felt a very strong urge to reconnect with family and friends when I got home. Half Cookie, of course, but after a few days I also flew up to Davis to see my parents. My dad was a marathon runner when he was about my age, and he really opened up about that experience and how it related to my own. And my mom was so proud of me that she made my favorite cake (which my son and I promptly devoured!).
Among friends there has been a strong dichotomy. Those who have read the blog have had specific questions which are easy to answer and which lead to nice conversations. “When did you first realize you wanted to come home?” “Were you afraid of the rattlesnakes?” “How could you stand to eat so much cold ramen?” But those who have not read the blog have asked generic questions like “So, how was it?” And I just feel stymied. Where do I begin? I feel like those conversations end quickly due to my similarly-generic answers, and soon we are talking about other things, as though I had not have this crazy big experience. I wish I had a better way to give friends an entry point to talk about it, but I am still processing the enormity of the experience myself.
Maybe the best thing that has happened to me is that I feel this deep sense of calm. I do not feel anxious about things that used to bother me. In fact, the only thing I feel anxious about is that this feeling will go away! It is so wonderful. I guess the deep stimulus of a daily physical life immersed in nature altered my brain chemistry in some (I hope!) permanent way.
Arguably the weirdest manifestation of this brain shift is that I now like dogs(!) after fearing/hating them for my whole life. I used to get so angry at the dogs off the leash in the park or the owners who let their dogs climb all over anyone. But that is all gone now. I just feel warmth and happiness when I see dogs out and about, and patience for the owners that are not as considerate. My neighbors who know me well can’t believe how I pet their dogs now and interact with them as though I have always been a dog lover.
I’ve had several people, both friends and strangers, ask me if I am going to write a book based on my experience. That sounds kind of fun, but I worry a little bit about the fact that I did not do a complete thru-hike. In some people’s eyes this may be a story of failure. I also worry that there wouldn’t be much interest in the experience of a privileged middle-aged white male having a fairly typical mid-life crisis. But my friend Phoenix said I should write a book, if for no other reason it would help me explain myself to me. That does seem like a good reason. I don’t know. We’ll see.
I am currently planning to continue hiking the PCT as a section hiker. In a little over a week, I will get back on trail to hike the 200 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to Sierra City. I expect that will take me about two weeks. Then I will be home for most of July before heading up to Portland to meet Goose to section hike 400 miles of Washington in August.
So more blogs to come. Stay tuned!