So you finished your thru-hike, now what? No joke. Coming home from a thru is weird. This guide intends to help you see how to recover from your thru-hike. Most likely, you feel different; travel has a way of changing people. However, nothing at home has changed much. So much has happened in your life over the last 5 months or so, and now you come home to, well, monotony.
For some folks, this can be a bit depressing. The question is what can you do to make things better? Your thru is over. How can you turn this into a good thing? We have a few suggestions.
These are techniques that work for us. I hope you find these tips helpful, too. What works for us may not work for you. These are my opinions. At the very least, I have provided a jumping off point, so that you can come up with your own ideas.
One of the hardest aspects of coming off the trail is the abruptness at which it occurs. You are at Baxter Peak one moment, the next you have left Millinocket on a bus, and then you’re on a plane, and suddenly you’re home. Whoa!
While this gives you some time to process your experiences, for me, I need more time. Re-entering a fast-paced world is stressful. There are people, traffic, lines, and constant digital stimulation.
So what can you do? I recommend taking your time getting home if you can. Go on a road trip, or take a long way back (maybe an Amtrak), give yourself some quiet time to mull it over. Actively prepare for the shit show, so to speak. Think about what to expect when you get home. Consider what these experiences have meant for your life going forward. What do you want to do now?
Now, you’re home. Everyone is excited to see you, and you’re thrilled to see them. Or are you? Do you have people in your life that aren’t good for you? Coming home is a great opportunity for a clean slate.
Sever poor relationships, and give your time and effort to quality, healthy relationships. Or maybe you’ve realized that you are a shitty friend, and you want to be a better one. Whatever the case, reflect on this.
On that note, you have a clean slate. What else in your life do you want to change? This could be anything…your career, health, relationships, the possibilities are endless. The point is this if you had unhealthy habits in your “old life” that you want to change, now is the time to set new patterns for yourself.
Don’t fall back into those old patterns because of laziness, a perceived lack of time, or comfort. On that note, change takes patience and preparation. Make a plan for change, work toward it, and be patient.
Speaking of new patterns. It is likely that your eating habits on the trail were lacking. You eat a lot. That’s your first challenge. You eat crap. That’s your second. Your nutrition needs an adjustment. What should your calorie intake be now that you aren’t hiking twenty-plus miles every day? What does a healthy diet entail? How can you ensure that you keep eating well at restaurants, at work, etc.? Do your research, plan, prep, and execute.
You are in shape. You just hiked 2,200 miles. Do you feel good? It is likely that, while you are fatigued from your long journey and may have some aches and pains, you feel good from all that rigorous exercise. Maybe you feel better than you ever have before. Why not keep that going? The benefits of regular exercise are numerous. Remember now is the time to set new patterns. Prioritize exercise in your life.
A well-balanced fitness regime will include aerobic exercise, resistance training, conditioning, and flexibility work. Do your research, plan, prep, and execute. If this world is new to you, or even if it isn’t, hire a good trainer. Her or his expertise will help give you the confidence and training to author and progress your workouts.
This is that part of your fitness that is usually neglected. In fact, you probably didn’t spend enough time doing it during your thru. I’m talking about rest, massage (myofascial release), and stretching. As a certified personal trainer and registered yoga teacher, you will hear me preach about these things often. That is how I got my trail name, Stretch. I carry myofascial release tools during my hike and use them every day. They are worth the weight.
If you don’t know about them already, when you get home, learn all about foam rolling and stretching. There is a wealth of knowledge out there on these subjects. You need to stretch and foam roll every day. Hell, you should have been doing it every day while on your hike. Make a routine for yourself, and do it. It makes a huge difference in how you feel. Not to mention, it helps to keep you mobile and free of injury.
Rest is crucial to your recovery while on the trail and off. When at home, you should rest from your workout routine at least one day per week. I’m not talking about sitting around all day. Active recovery means not being sedentary, just don’t do a workout on this day. I have gotten push-back from hikers before on this subject, but in my opinion, you need to take rest days while on the trail. Thru-hiking puts huge demands on your body and mind. You need to take care of yourself by allowing recovery. You’re not weak for doing this; it’s just smart.
You’re exhausted. You completed almost 2,200 miles of hiking through some of the toughest terrains out there. Congratulations! Now, get some sleep. I’m not talking about watching TV until midnight, falling somewhat asleep on the couch until 2 a.m., then making it to your bed eventually only to get up for work at 5:30 a.m. kind-of sleep. I’m talking about quality sleep.
Create a healthy sleep environment. Get rid of all the digital distractions. Make a dark, cool, quiet place dedicated to sleep. Get the recommended amount of sleep and maybe more if you feel like you need it. Before bed, I find it beneficial to do my foam rolling and stretching routine. That way you are nice and relaxed ready to catch some serious z’s.
Are you feeling lonely or disconnected? One way to form connections with people in your immediate community who have similar interests in hiking and the outdoors is to serve. Does your town have a trail that needs maintenance, for example? Maybe your town doesn’t have many trails, and this may be your chance to help create some? Is there a hiking group that needs leadership or members? These are just a few ideas of things that would get you outdoors and with other people who value hiking trails.
Do you remember the dozens of volunteers you saw maintaining the A.T.? Did you ever stop to chat with them? I did even if just to give quick thanks. I always thought to myself I wonder why these folks do this? If it is out of kindness, how incredible it is for these people to dedicate their time to help preserve scenic trails and help others be in nature. Can you imagine the trail without them? Nope. That doesn’t make sense because there wouldn’t be a trail. We should all give back to other hikers out there through volunteerism.
Reconnect with Nature
So you miss being in the woods. After a few weeks at home, you start to long for the simple life of thru-hiking. Maybe you miss the suffering, the trail culture, or the views; whatever it is that you miss try to find it again.
Don’t just sit there, find a way to reconnect with the trail that you love so much. Granted some of us live in places with little public land (hmmm…like Texas), but we can still find places to go where we can get out and reconnect with nature. If you have to drive to find a decent hike, then drive. That’s why weekends exist.
Share your Story
Some of us feel compelled to tell our story or share the story of someone else we met on the trail. I strongly encourage you to follow this cathartic impulse. Your experiences are unique. Not many people complete a thru-hike. Not everyone will be interested, but some people will. Maybe you could inspire someone else to go hike the A.T. So write that book, or blog, or be that speaker at that event. This may even help you to understand more about yourself, why you chose to undertake a thru-hike, and what you learned from it.
Remember your Tramily
How could you forget? You hiked with them for miles and miles. They were with you through the immense challenges the trail puts before you, and they were there for the many joys. Hell, it may have been that the people you met along the way made the hike for you. On the other hand, maybe you didn’t have or want a tramily (trail family). Whatever the case, it is certain that you met people along your journey that impacted you.
No one understands what it is really like on the trail except other thru-hikers. Your family and friends back home may be less than interested in this life-changing event of yours. It could be that they are interested, but it just isn’t the same as talking with your trail buddies. Call them, write to them, visit them, and plan other adventures with them. It feels good to be able to interact with someone else who gets it.
Your Next Adventure
What else do you want to do? For most of us, this was just one of many adventures. Perhaps, you are hopelessly addicted to thru-hiking now. Maybe you never want to hike again. That’s okay, too. But if you fall in the former category, it always helps to have something huge to look forward to in life. Do you want to hike in another country? Or is a triple-crown on your horizon? Are all the National Parks on your to-do list? Obsess about the possibilities, and go for it. Do your research, plan, prep, and execute.
In closing, it is hard to get off the trail. There are things you can do to mitigate any ill effects. If you found this article helpful, please share. Also, if you have anything you would like to add, please leave a comment. Good luck with your recovery, and cheers to your next adventure! In the Spring of 2018, we set out to thru-hike the A.T. To hear our full story, click here.
About the Author
My name is Stretch. I’m an ACE-certified personal trainer and a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200). Any questions or suggestions? Please reach out to me.