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Post Thru-Hike - What Was Your Re-entry Experience Like?
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Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Post Thru-Hike - What Was Your Re-entry Experience Like? on 02/25/2012 23:07:58 MST Print View

Lots of threads on pre-hike prep work as well as the hikes themselves... but far fewer threads devoted to hiker "re-entry" experiences.

For ye hikers who had spent months on the trail -- what was your "re-entry" experience like? Was it a quick, easy non-event (e.g. got home Sunday, started work Monday, no big deal)? Or did you have a longer, harder adjustment period fitting back into the old routine?

Edited by ben2world on 02/25/2012 23:32:15 MST.

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Post Thru-Hike - What Was Your Re-entry Experience Like? on 02/26/2012 01:03:30 MST Print View

Very easy: I just kept hiking....

But seriously now: When I came back from my first thruhike (PCT) I started working again for 2,5 years before I became a "full-time hiker".

I remember sitting in the plane that took me back to Germany and feeling invincible. After having accomplished such a great feat like thruhiking the PCT and felt that I did not have to be afraid of anything any more. I was in an incredibly good mood and apparently that must have shown. I got the first job that I had applied for. I was so full of energy and happiness. But I also knew that I would go on another thruhike sooner or later. Working was just a phase in between and I guess that helped with my re-entry. I did not feel condemned to returning to the rat race forever.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Post Thru-Hike - What Was Your Re-entry Experience Like? on 02/26/2012 12:31:42 MST Print View

From talking to a lot of folks, this varies a great deal. Factors include age, financial security (or lack of it), support and understanding from friends and relatives and collegues (or lack of it), what kind of structure (or lack of it) you're going back to, etc etc.

My personal experiences were very much impacted by that stuff. I've been married over 30 years to a wonderful and understanding woman, came back to a pretty established and comfortable situation. There's still some adaptation, from the funny kind ("what, you want me to shower every day??") to the somewhat funny but also challenging ("okay, today is the day that I seriously am going to cut back on my food intake"), to the not funny at all kind ("I have no motivation to do any of the stuff I'm supposed to be doing just now"). But overall, I've found it all too easy to slip back into established ruts. Ruts are comfortable, we dig them out for a reason.

Staying in touch with other thru's from other trails I know that this can be a lot tougher for others. One way that people cope (including me) is as German Tourist said: start planning your next trip.

It really can be an addictive lifestyle; I don't mean that as a "look at me, I'm cool" kind of comment, but in a very literal way. When I started the AT a couple years ago, friends that had already hiked the thing just couldn't resist getting on, at first just to do "some of it" with me. One of them did as much of it again as his life situation allowed, and the other just thru-hiked it again completely. Sick, the boy is sick. He says he's doing the PCT again this year, because he missed a few miles the first time due to fire closures. For repeat-offenders, this sort of thing is not uncommon.

a b
Burn up upon re-entry on 02/26/2012 13:07:11 MST Print View

It gets harder each time.
I think what Gadget says about having a structure to come back to is helpful.
My first hike i still had a job and a room on a horse ranch to return to.
Second hike the ranch was sold and i had nothing to return to.
Third hike, I am in a new town with a new job.
All I can think about is: "How can I get back to the trail?"
Nothing from my life prior to my first hike seems important to me now. None of the things i did before make me happy anymore.
All I can see right now are the bars of a prison cell closing on me and endless days of working for secondary aims to pay the bills of a lifestyle i no longer find rewarding.
Call it "Peter Pan" syndrome if you like, but the pure lifestyle of long days spent laboring over the landscape on a long trail combined with living under the sun, in the rain, over the snow and watching entire mountain ranges rear up before me, I climb over them, and they dissolve into the blue haze of distance behind me. Those things are real to me.
Living in the dirt, drinking from waters shared by bear, elk, birds, mice and bees, and breathing the open air of freedom are intoxicating and life changing.
There is a living trail out there of physicality and experience that surpasses all other considerations in my mind.
To quote my favorite author Joseph Campbell: "The good news is that you are free. The bad news is you don't know what to do with your freedom."
Right at this moment I am myself struggling with the whole re-entry issue.
Quitting a job and "cashing out" of this life of secondary aims in exchange for a temporary, perhaps 5 months, of freedom seems very appealing to me.
I have no wife, children, or debt. It is just me and the great big world.
If I were lucky enough to have a family of my own i would probably feel differently.
Ironically the trail couples i meet on long hikes always remind me of what I am missing most on my hikes. The things that are missing in my life such as companionship, stability.
I think these are the reasons I have been mostly unsuccesful at re-entry. When i look at my internet presence and circle of web friends.. it is all about hiking. Nobody in my local "real" world at work understand where i have been and what I have seen, or why I would want to hike.
I am lonely but free.
Something inside is telling me i am on the right path even though it seems from outward appearances to be destruction.
Living the un-athentic life I am now for the sake of what? Approval of family. Some sort of security in the later stages of life.
Everyone I talk to gets defensive. they think I am being derogatory towards their life choices or values.
That is not it.
The world needs families, buisiness people, welders, school teachers..
I just can't seem to find my place in it and the hikes have made the gulf even larger.
Nope, I have not re-entered very well at all.
Then again, I don't think I was even "in" the world at all.
The only certainty is that my life will change dramatically one way or the other.
The ice that is holding back the lake is about to split open and the water that is my life is about to flow again following the path of granite and limestone and clay.
Beware the long distance hike: it might raise more questions than the answers it provides. Such is the case for me.
Fin Dome, Rae Lakes area, Sierra Nevada

Edited by Ice-axe on 02/26/2012 13:17:36 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Reentry on 02/26/2012 13:25:18 MST Print View

Iceaxe summed it nicely.... I was a pretty rare bird on the PCT last year. I was coming from almost the sterotypical life, married, decent career etc. I was returning to my job, nobody I hiked with had a job waiting on them. I was fully expecting to hike and reenter without missing the beat. I had heard of others struggling upon return but I had thought that was due to them trying to find themself on the trail and I wasn't expecting too much trouble. I was wrong. For the first 4 months I thought of little other than problem solving how to get back to the trail. That has died down a bit but after spending time with Jack and Iceaxe at the GGG the desire came back again. Yesterday I did a hike and met some AT thru hikers. When they said how lucky I was to be returning to a warm bed, I told them I would gladly switch places.

I wrote about my reentry here:

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Burn up upon re-entry on 02/26/2012 13:46:53 MST Print View

I resonate with everything everybody said here. Including the first post. When I came back from my hike I was really frustrated that there was so little about re-entry out there. I was struggling and really wanted to feel not so all alone.

I didn't have a job waiting for me when I got back from either of my two long distance hikes. After the first one, I deliberately didn't want to go back to work. I floundered at a volunteer job working in a garden. I had to be out in nature, not inside. That led to a part-time seasonal job I could do in the winter that kept a little money coming in and kept up appearances. See, I'm working. I'm not a slacker. It's just a difficult economy and there aren't any good jobs out there.

Funny thing happened one day at this job. I took a walk and encountered two homeless guys. I had seen them earlier taking a big bag of bottles to the recycling center and here they were sitting in the bushes eating some taco bell they bought with their earnings. I felt more in common with them than with anybody I ever saw every day. So I stopped to chat with them. We talked about freedom and how modern life is a big giant cage. We totally got each other. Back to work I went, though, back to my cage.

I was at a Christmas party after my first long distance hike (I left the PCT at Castle Crags with hurt feet) and this lady comes to the party, walks in the door and straight to me. She said she's glad I was here because she came to tell me that there was something in my life I wasn't finished with yet and I had to go finish it or else I couldn't move on. It was so strange. How did she know? I had hiked the trail alone and I don't know if it's part of being on the trail alone, but a lot of woo-woo stuff happens out there and this thing at the party was like the woo-woo trail stuff had sought me out and was calling me back. So I hit the trail again the following May and finished the PCT. I did my 2nd hike totally my way, hitting the trail from my front door and walking to the PCT from Santa Barbara and rehiking parts of it and finally resuming the trail at Castle Crags and completing the rest of the trail in a perfect hike with no skips or flips or nothing. I felt proud of myself. I struggled with homesickness and everything but I did it and loved it and simultaneously never wanted to do it again or see it end.

So, back home again, 2nd time around it was way easier to shower every day. I loved being clean and smelling nice. I loved clean feet. I got my seasonal job back but it was boring this year and ended way too soon so I actually felt happy to get a job in the field I had left and actually enjoyed going back to working and being part of something and having something to do every day. I started to get into it. I took classes, too. But the trail never leaves. It won't let me go.

I have 3 weeks off a year. It chafes. That's nowhere near enough. I want more. I want everything. I want to work and save for the future and be able to buy stuff and live in a warm house with hot showers but I also want to live on the trail. Why can't I be two people at once?

I get a LOT out of tiny little overnight backpack trips. That feeling of being totally comfortable in the wilderness comes right back. Sitting on some trail somewhere looking at the chaparral I'm right back on the So Cal PCT and memories and smells and feelings and forgotten things flood back all the time. I look forward to every holiday trying to get out for at least one night. I'm happy. I'm restored. I can go back to work on Monday.

After my two hikes I spent a lot of time gathering information online about how to live some other way. This middle class thing is a total trap. It never made me happy, I never got into it as much as others, but I never had the guts to drop out like other people do. I collected tons of links to things like Workamping, Rancho La Costa Nada, Inner Explorations, Possum Living, Cheap RV Living, the Vandweller Yahoo group, Why Work, Survival Guide to Homelessness, Bottom Feeder, Your Money or Your Life, Early Retirement Extreme, Microcosm's Dwelling Portably, Unjobbing, As the Crow Flies... Tons of examples to give me hope that if all my efforts to save money for the future came crashing down, the hole in the fence I found walking the PCT really exists and it exists in multiple ways and everything is going to be okay.

I'm playing the game now. I'm okay with it. But I will come back to the trail life.

Joshua S
(joshualee101) - F - M
Post Thru-Hike - What Was Your Re-entry Experience Like? on 02/26/2012 15:20:18 MST Print View

Coming back was difficult for me. I had given up a great job and a cool place to live in order to hike the PCT. With winter setting in, I was unlikely to find work in my field anytime soon. Not to mention how bad the job market was. There was a lot of uncertainty to contend with.

I started the hike solo, but ended up hiking 90% of it mostly with two other thru-hikers. Not to mention all the other great friends I finished with in Canada. So not only did I have to deal with finding work and a place to live, but I found myself feeling lonely. My hiking partners both returned to their respective states with jobs and homes waiting for them. That just added to my feeling of being alone.

By the end of December I had some part-time work, but the job was only for a few months. I worked three 10-hour days, sleeping in the office at night. Then I would leave town to explore/camp in the desert the remaining 4 days of the week. The work was in a new city, so I didn't have any friends or family in the area.

I checked out slab city near the Salton Sea during that time, looking for fellow wanderers, but I didn't stay very long. It struck me as a dirty place with many people who were there because they had nowhere else to go. I definitely had some time to reflect on that fine line. I was reminded of the time some random lady handed me a dollar as I sat in front of a store, waiting for my friends to finish resupplying for the next section of the PCT. I must have looked pretty dirty, lol!

It took me until April before I finally had a steady job and my own place again.

Edited by joshualee101 on 02/26/2012 21:44:26 MST.

Jacob Wallace
Thanks on 02/26/2012 15:42:02 MST Print View

I don't post hear very often, but frequently come to read tips and gain inspiration. I've never trekked for longer than a week, but have travelled extensively, and so much of what is written hear reasonates in different ways.

Thank you all for several amazing posts. There are so very few places (let alone internet forums) to hear and/or read this kind of honesty and gain this kind of genuine insight into life, and the way others live it.

BPL is a special place.

Edited by jacobw on 02/26/2012 15:43:18 MST.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Post Thru-Hike - What Was Your Re-entry Experience Like? on 02/26/2012 16:47:04 MST Print View

"I remember sitting in the plane that took me back to Germany and feeling invincible. After having accomplished such a great feat like thruhiking the PCT and felt that I did not have to be afraid of anything any more."

German Tourist:

I know that feeling too -- and isn't it a wonderful feeling? And yes, for those who enjoy heading out, the trick is to keep planning and keep repeating it -- before inertia (and perhaps fear itself) ever settle back in again...


I was thinking at first that different people experience and deal with reentry differently. Reading your post, you are right that the experience can be very different even for the same person -- depending on the circumstances that he or she is returning back to each time. I like your statement about why we dig ruts. :)


You have no dependents and no debt. You see your life away from the trail as both necessary and unrewarding. Have you thought about just working straight through until you obtain what you believe is enough for a single guy with a simple lifestyle to live on -- and be done with it once and for all? No need to answer, just wondering "at large"... because there really are tons of options out there -- esp. for single guys with no dependents and no debts (like me as well).


From the post you linked, "But the hardest transition back to society has been the adjustment to the consumerism especially around the holidays".

I had exactly the same "problem". Not a thru-hike, but a long (2-months) travel in my case, to Burma and Bangladesh specifically. Bad timing for me to "reenter" in December. I felt disgusted, even angered, by the incessant "holiday shopping" commercials that hammered in the rubbish that we all have to buy gifts for people to show them our love! I could not watch TV or read newspapers until after the demoralizing "holiday season" was finally over! Christmas is always special for me, but not those commercials.


I "do" long travels solo -- but like you, I appreciate the camaraderie and friendships made along the way. And yes, it is often anti-climatic at the end, when bonds have to break and each of us has to return to our 'previous life'. The promises of keeping in touch become harder and harder to keep as time marches on.

Edited by ben2world on 02/26/2012 17:13:38 MST.

John Vance
(Servingko) - F

Locale: Intermountain West
Re-entry on 02/26/2012 17:20:12 MST Print View

When I returned I had very little to come home to but had a supportive family. The plan was to hike the PCT, CDT, and then the AT back to back in three summers while going to college. Beginning school and planning for the next hike helped a great deal, but I had no one around me that understood. It was 1983 when I finished the PCT and there were few long distance hikers out there and nothing but the phone and mail to keep in contact.

I only made half of the CDT that next summer and never made it to the AT. I have little desire at this point to hike the AT, but I still plan on finishing the CDT from Rocky Mountain Nat'l park North. That will have to wait until I finish raising my family and my youngest just turned 7. I long to be on the trail but have few regrets. Until then I live for each day in the mountains and look forward to heading North again.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Post Thru-Hike - What Was Your Re-entry Experience Like? on 02/26/2012 17:32:43 MST Print View

Thanks, everyone for sharing your experiences!! As mentioned here and elsewhere, I haven't done any thru-hikes myself, but have gone on various solo travel trips that range from 2 months to 7 months.

My own experience is that when I get on a "sufficiently long" trip -- "home" (in the sense of a specific locale where my emotions of comfort, familiarity, acceptance, etc. are attached to) fades away... and my new environment becomes my home! In other words, I was no longer attached to any one locale. I felt comfortable anywhere !

But thus far, my reentry experience seems different from yours. Coming back from my trips -- even after 7 months (my longest) -- I slipped back into my 'mundane existence' not just with ease... but it's as if I had never left! The year I went on my RTW trip, I left in April and returned in December. Intellectually, I knew 7 months had past, but emotionally, I could NOT get past why all the 'holiday shopping commercials' when it was 'still' April (or May at most)!! Honestly, I felt like I had never left home. Everything that was so real and so routine and comfortable about my trip just faded away after landing at LAX. Don't get me wrong, I can remember my itineraries going back 15 years... but emotionally speaking, they fade away very quickly -- almost instantly -- for me. And conversely, when I leave for a trip, home fades away quickly too...

Edited by ben2world on 02/26/2012 17:43:24 MST.

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
Thankyou on 02/26/2012 21:20:49 MST Print View

Thankyou, all, for this thread.

I'm depressed, post-trip. I got back mid August last year, from a 9 month RTW cycle tour. Biggest thing I've ever undertaken. Pales my PhD as nothing in comparison. Its bloody hard to adjust back.

It makes me feel a lot better to hear on here that lots of people have had similar issues to me; lots of things ring true. And there are lots of great suggestions on how to cope.

I'd write more but right now this has set me off crying again.

Thanks everyone just for being there, out there on the interwebs,


Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Something I wrote... on 02/26/2012 23:09:13 MST Print View

Have to update it for my current situation, but think it still makes for some interesting reading...

Post Trail Re-adjustment

a b
Post Thru Hike on 02/26/2012 23:44:23 MST Print View

Mags.. Thank you for that link. Thanks to all of you that replied. Knowing I am not the only person feeling this way is comforting.
I think it was Yogi i told this to: It is amazing that with all our differences in personality and beliefs, that hikers share so much in common emotionally.
Something about Hiking a long trail resonates inside us equally regardless of our background, pre-concieved notions, race, or gender.
To borrow a phrase from the now defunct CDTA: The Trail Unites Us.
The irony is that we can feel so alone amongst thousands in our daily lives, yet with "all the world" while hiking alone on a distant trail.

Edited by Ice-axe on 02/26/2012 23:45:36 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Post Thru-Hike - What Was Your Re-entry Experience Like? on 02/27/2012 11:28:35 MST Print View

There are many factors and they are different for each person. But a thru-hike is very goal oriented. One must go from point A to B be in a specific amount of time, to maximize weather conditions, or other limits imposed by responsibilities at home. There are a lot of logistics involved. A fairly comprehensive pre-trip planning process including a hiking timetable, solutions for re-supply that fit into the itinerary, daily monitoring of progress versus plan, and adjustments to the plan.

Although I have never done a thru-hike, I have done several multi-month trips. To me a thru-hike is a specially focused endeavor with unique aspects. One of the biggest difference to me is the social aspect. Typically you will meet many people of a like mind, hike with new friends on and off, interact with trail angels or maybe stay at some of the communal gatherings along the trail. Most thru-hikers document their trip in some manner and often remain in contact with those they met pre-walk or during the trip. In a sense, it is part life-style with like-minded people and part adventure. When you leave the trail you leave your social support system. You leave one culture and delve into another.

Contrast this with some of my trips. When I got out of the Service in 1971, I almost flew home. That is, I landed at LAX and in the terminal realized I was not ready to go home. So I decided to go hiking. I had no gear, no plan, no pressing financial problems, and no responsibilities. So I bought some gear and went into the Sierras. I had no itinerary. During the hike I would get a Forest Service Map and hike to places that looked interesting. When I was done with an area, I would go to a Ranger Station and get a new map for a new forest. I wandered from Kernville through the Sierras, almost to Yosemite and then returned via different routes. Since I had no itinerary, I just figured that when it was time to go home I would know, the Voice would tell me. I started the trip in April and sometime in September I was ready to go home when the Voice said it was time to return. At this point, I was at least two weeks away from getting home, so I hiked to Kernville and hitched hiked to the LA area. I had nowhere to go or a place to live. I owned no personal transportation. I rented an apartment, got a part time job and spent most of my free time reading, listening to music, running or backpacking. And I was happy doing this from day 1 of my return.

In 1972 I decided to take another similar trip. The part time job was not interesting, but not something I hated either. The Voice just said it was time to go for a long walk. I returned to the Sierras and traveled to many places I had not visited the previous year. Same plan, I would know when it was time to go home, when the Voice told me; not some arbitrary time frame, or when I reached a point “B” but when I was mentally ready. Again, I finished in mid-September when the Voice said it was time to go home. The difference this time was that I found a job I loved, and was happy working and did not feel the need for a long trip. I kept busy with many shorter trips and was perfectly happy with everything in my life.

In 1979 I decided to take a 3 month (or longer) cross country motorcycle trip with my first wife. We had sold some property, had money in the bank, no jobs, and no urgency to get jobs. We bought a small tent trailer we could tow with the motorcycle and took off for the east coast. Now this trip had a vague goal, and logistics were easy, because the bike enabled us to get supplies without difficulty or planning. Our only real plan was to stop and visit relatives in Ohio and New York. Now spending an extended trip with another person took a little adjustment for me, because I could not do only what I wanted, but had to come to a “couple agreement” and consensus at times. Also we did not have the social interaction with other bikers like one would have on a thru-hike. We might meet someone in Truth or Consequences, NM and then see them a couple weeks later several states away. These were just passing moments and no relationship was established. Also important was the flexibility. There was no set timeline or route. Once we got to East Rochester, NY I was no longer interested in actually touching the east coast, the Voice told me to go see Niagara Falls and the Soo Locks, so we turned around. The loose plan to head west towards the Canadian Rockies after visiting the Soo Locks. We took a ferry from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island and spent time in the area including inspection of the Locks. Plans changed, as the Voice told me I should be riding in the States, not Canada. So we headed south back to the US and spend a lot of time in Wisconsin and Minnesota traveling the more remote byways. Crossing the continent west, I still did not hear the Voice saying it was time to go home. When we got to Lake Tahoe I thought we would go south to Hwy 395 and then home. We spent a few days around Lake Tahoe, but no Voice. So we drove west to the California coast. Decided to visit my brother in San Luis Obispo for a few days and then headed home. But the Voice was not there telling me it was time to go home. I was not ready. Once we got home, I realized it was not time to be there, so we took off on the bike again for the Sierras. Arriving in the Mammoth Lakes area just after Labor Day we were snowbound for a couple days at Lake Mary, too dangerous to ride a bike out and too cold for our liking. Once the weather cleared and the roads were plowed, we headed south and ended up along the Kern River. We spent a week or two (can’t remember) along the Kern in Indian Summer type of weather. Then… the Voice told me it was time to go home. We packed up, drove home and I got a job. It was time. And “re-entry” was a non-event. Perhaps a thru-hike is so planned that the hiker does not have a Voice to guide them?

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
the Voice on 02/27/2012 18:53:38 MST Print View

I was able to follow a Voice that said to start my big hiking adventures. But I never heard one tell me to end my adventures. I've gone back to mundane life because you are "supposed to." What an awesome skill you have!

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: the Voice on 02/27/2012 19:09:16 MST Print View

"I was able to follow a Voice that said to start my big hiking adventures. But I never heard one tell me to end my adventures."

I like "civilization." Such things as fine food, good wine and champagne, literature, music, movies, philosophy, etc. Also I need to be productive. I have had jobs that I just love and have no problem working 80 to 100 hours per week, that is fun for me. And there are things I don't like about civilization either, those I things I just try to change, avoid or ignore if possible. Walking is another thing I like. I hike almost everyday, even if it is only for an hour at lunch in the foothills near my house. For me, walking for days on end is not an escape from civilization, just another part of the world I live in. For me it is a balanced perspective, not different realities.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
The Voice on 02/27/2012 19:31:32 MST Print View

If I would have waited for The Voice to tell me to head home I would be done with the Yo-YO and likely stranded about Kennedy's Meadows, stuck in snow.

This has been a really cool thread.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: The Voice on 02/27/2012 20:07:04 MST Print View


I read your trip report somewhere, maybe it was on your Website. BTW, I really enjoyed it.

Anyway, I know you had a time constraint and that was part of the high mileage plan.

Here's my question. Had you not had the constraint and actually turned around and left the trail when the Voice said go home, would the re-entry been different? Or better yet, would it have been a re-entry at all?

wander lust
great tread on 02/27/2012 21:17:18 MST Print View

this has been a great tread indeed.
thx for all the input.