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Long hike recovery time
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Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Long hike recovery time on 10/10/2012 08:19:59 MDT Print View

As PCT blogs finish out their run for this season, I'm reading a lot about the difficulty of transitioning back to real life upon completion. My hopes for a thru (or big chunk) hike next year requires a tight squeeze between an old job and a new urban job + home. In your experience what are the *minimum* OR *ideal* lengths of time to budget for the mental (and physical) recovery from several months in the wild?

Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Long hike recovery time on 10/11/2012 06:31:38 MDT Print View

bump (I think this got lost in the spam yesterday)

Seth Brewer
(Whistler) - MLife

Depends .... on 10/11/2012 08:33:57 MDT Print View

For me - after returning from my A.T thru in 2011 - it took about 2 weeks for physical recovery (feet stopped hurting, gained a few pounds back, didn't walk around with a thousand yard stare or talk about having to "do miles today"). As for the rest of the transition --- can't say I'll ever really be back. A part of me lives on the trail everyday. What I have heard is that the first 3 months can be rough - and I know mine were.

For me it was mostly the frustration of going from total autonomy and blissful minimalism on the trail, to the daily grind of calls, emails, different jobs, and just the everyday hectic schedule that often is the norm.

My only words in summary are - Be Careful, because thru-hiking can become addictive.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
PCT recovery time on 10/11/2012 08:54:29 MDT Print View

I started back to work 9 hours after I returned home from the PCT. Was I mentally ready, no way, but I slowly readjusted to the chaos of modern living. Physically it took me several months to return to normal. It was about a month before I could walk pain free or even run half a mile. I was near 100% by about month 4. I think a weird thing happened for me. I suspect that I could have turned around at the the border and continued my high mile days heading south without much trouble. I think my body had a very painful transition between walk 30+ mile days and normal life. When I was off the trail it was almost like my body told my brain "I got you to the border now it's time to stop!"

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Long hike recovery time on 10/11/2012 16:28:22 MDT Print View

Yeah, happens.

Mental: this is a matter of training or experience. We find that the daily routines are a good relaxation after several months of walking. But the first time is likely to be a bit different.

Physical: oh yes! We can go hammers of hell while the trip is on, but once we get home we give ourselves 4 - 6 weeks gentle recovery time. Quite normal imho.


Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Long hike recovery time on 12/04/2012 13:37:45 MST Print View

I think you recover mentally much faster if you have something to go back home to. So having a job waiting for you will be mentally easier to deal with.

I didn't have anything to go back to so the adjustment took a very very long time. At least a year. In some ways I've never returned. A part of me is still out there. I went to visit some CDT hikers this summer and I cried when I saw my car waiting for me at the trailhead. I did not want to leave the trail. The worst thing was seeing my car there and feeling the instant transition back to regular life, seeing my car literally snapped me out of trail life. It's like killing "trail me". It's a horrible feeling.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Agree with Piper on 12/05/2012 12:26:50 MST Print View

"I think you recover mentally much faster if you have something to go back home to. So having a job waiting for you will be mentally easier to deal with."

Ditto. I've done three such trips now, and in each case I found it all too easy to slip back into the old ruts. But I have a very established situation --- married over 30 years, a house and just generally a pretty settled and comfortable situation. For so many thru-hikers, they were able to do their trip precisely because they're in a transition of some sort. So by definition their life is unsettled above and beyond the thru-hike.

I think it's pretty tough to separate out that factor from what every thru-hiker goes through just based on general mental/physical issues.

On my last trip in particular, because I spent so much time alone (on the CDT), I found myself somewhat more de-socialized than usual. I was happy with conversational silences which earlier I might have found uncomfortable. I was less comfortable in larger groups or crowds. This has happened before, but it was a bit more intense for a couple or three weeks this last time.

But as Piper suggests, having something specific to go to, something to start doing will likely make the transition easier, so long as you have a little recovery period.

Eating: you just have to try to back off sooner than you might otherwise think --- especially if you're older or otherwise inclined to pile on the pounds easily. I suggest at most a week and preferably somewhat less after you stop hiking before you work on throttling back the calories (and desire).

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Almost Instantaneous Recovery, Anyone? on 12/05/2012 17:57:32 MST Print View

I haven't done a thru hike ever, but I regularly go on long trips solo -- traveling the world. I have compared 'mentality' and 'experience' with other travelers and other thru hikers -- and after the initial few months on the trail (or road) -- we seem to share similar feelings of being "at one" with the trail (or road). This oneness is much more than just feeling comfortable or feeling like we got a good handle. This oneness is a feeling that our life on the road or trail is our life!

But for me, coming back from a trip (my longest was seven months on the road) -- I slip right back into home life -- instantaneously -- or something like it. I go through my mail, update my computer, dust a little, shop for food... and physical fatigue and time changes aside -- I often feel like I haven't left at all. So intellectually, I know I have been gone for a long time and have just returned -- but emotionally, I somehow feel both the satisfaction of a great trip... and the feeling of never having left.

Anyone else feel the same upon reentry after a very long time on the road or trail?

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Almost Instantaneous Recovery, Anyone? on 12/05/2012 18:51:32 MST Print View

Ben, I bet it makes a huge difference if you live alone or not. You get back and everything is where you left it. Nobody has to get use to you being back either. Then there is the job dynamic...

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Almost Instantaneous Recovery, Anyone? on 12/05/2012 20:30:15 MST Print View


That would be one major explanation -- I do live alone, and indeed, ignoring the thin coating of dust on the furniture, everything would remain just where I left it. On my RTW trip back in 2009, I left in late April and came back in early December. But inside, I felt like it was still April (or May) -- and I found the incessant holiday sales and music jarring.

But it could also be how we are wired as well. My 'reality' tends to be wherever I happen to be. When I left home for the first time in my life -- coming to America for college -- Taiwan (my home) simply faded away the minute I landed in LAX. Intellectually, it was still there of course; but emotionally, it dimmed down noticeably. Never, ever felt homesick -- but did get yelled at by my folks for not calling or writing home. They somehow found my dorm telephone number and tracked me down. Oops.

So, it is very interesting and enlightening reading folks' experiences. To come back and have the trail experience lingering for a whole year is completely alien to me (as I am sure mine would be to them as well). We humans are infinitely varied and thus infinitely interesting.