It has been a little over 2 months now since I have summitted Mt. Katahdin, completing my Appalachian Trail journey. I think of the trail every day! I knew I would miss it, and I do. I miss eating lunch every day on the top of a new beautiful mountain, or next to a relaxing stream. I miss my trail friends. I have talked with several of my hiking partners over the phone, or online. I get so excited when I get a phone call or email from trail friends!
Arriving home was full of fun reunions. It had been 2 months since my last visit with Chris, so seeing him waiting for me in the airport really meant a lot. I desperately missed my dog while I was gone, so that was my first errand to run. She very eagerly jumped in my car to go home. I am glad that I was able to leave her with Cory, who she loves, and cared for her very well.
A week after I returned home to Florida, after completing the trail, I took a week trip to Utah to visit my family. It was so great to see everyone. The whole family spent the week at Mom and Dad's house. Many people know that when I made the decision to hike the AT, my parents were not too supportive. "Protective" would be a better word to describe how my parents reacted. By the time I actually started my hike, they were both very supportive, and by the time I was half way through they were my absolute biggest fans.
The day I started my hike, my dad made the decision to stop shaving his beard. He would grow it out until I was done. Instead of a full beard, he kept it to a goatee, so the further I hiked, the more my dad looked like a biker dude. He refused to cut the beard until I came to visit.
Everyone in my parents community knew what the beard meant. Dad loves to tell stories, so every chance he got, he let his friends and neighbors know how my adventure was going. Dad works as a crossing guard, and all the children love him! He has been telling the kids my stories while I was on the trail, and I got to meet the kids one afternoon. Many of them had questions, and were excited to see that dad had shaved his beard, which meant I was home.
I had a great time and heard many congratulations. Two of my best friends, Nate & Debbie, traveled 4 hours to visit and stayed a few days with me and my family. I had a great time!
The day after returning from my Utah visit, I started back to work.
About 6 weeks before I finished the trail, I got a call from my previous boss. A couple months into my journey, my leave of absence was discontinued because my employer needed to replace me. Turns out they needed me to come back after all, and my boss was willing to hold the position until I was finished hiking.
It was nice to have a job waiting for me, but it was difficult to get back to work. I am a nurse who takes care of newborns at birth and in ICU. I was worried that I would be in a stressful situation at work, and not be up to par, after not working for the last 7 months. It only took about a week, and I was back into the swing of things, and confident in my nursing skills. Since then, my unit has been busy with changes, and I have been busy orienting new nurses.
I often need to take my lunch break at work in our unit lounge, so that I am close, in case I am called back for a delivery. The lounge doesn't have a window, and that bothers me. Sometimes, I am at work for 13 hours, and never see the sun, or breath any fresh air the whole day. That is quite the shock to my system. This makes me feel so lucky to have been able to spend every day for 6 months in fresh air, and viewing beautiful nature.
I feel like I have been so busy juggling work, housework, errands, social life, etc. It is a different lifestyle, for sure, from living on the trail. However, I feel that the trail has changed me, and I have a very different outlook on things. I hope to keep these changes with me, and live how I learned to live on the trail, as much as possible.
As far as my health: Things are great!
When I returned home, I felt like it was amazing that I was able to finish. For about a month, it hurt my knees very bad to just go up and down stairs. I was frustrated, because I felt like my cardiovascular health was incredible, but I wasn't able to test it out because my knees were preventing me from doing any hard exercise. I wanted to run!
I started back into hot yoga. My knees also prevented me from some of the yoga positions, but I was able to modify as needed. I agreed to give my body a rest and stay away from vigorous activity, and allow my knees to heal. I took glucosamine and fish oil supplements when I remembered. 6-7 weeks after finishing the trail, letting my body rest, and doing lots of hot yoga cured me! My yoga practice was going well, and I was able to get into all but one position as well as I did pre-hike. I decided to attempt a jog. I won't lie: It was not painless. My knees were tender as I jogged, but not pain enough that I felt I needed to stop. I felt energized and excited to test out my cardiovascular endurance. I jogged 4.5 miles. I was hardly out of breath, and felt great. My leg muscles were a bit sore by the time I was done, but overall, I felt awesome. Back in business!
I had a full physical exam with my primary Doctor and Dermatologist. All my labs were great, including a negative test for Lyme Disease.
I did have a sinus/chest cold for entire week last week, which only made me feel so greatful that I was healthy the entire time I was on the trail.
I have heard of some people talking about the "post-AT blues". A depression that starts after finishing the trail because of the shock of going from one lifestyle to another. I miss the trail and my friends, but I have felt absolutely no symptoms of depression since finishing. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to do what I did! I also remember how difficult it was EVERY day. The trail was wonderful, but not easy. Towards the end, I was ready to be finished. In addition to my knees feeling the wear and tear, I wanted to sleep in a bed (though I still can't sleep on much of a pillow without getting a stiff neck. Turns out my body likes the flat ground), and I wanted real food.
I lost a total of 40 lbs on the trail. I immediately gained 5 of those back the first week, which I felt my body really needed. I was a little bony for my own liking. I have since gained another 5 lbs back, and trying to maintain where I am at. It is no joke that a thru hikers appetite does not end when the hike does. It took a few weeks before my appetite calmed down. I still can eat more than I should if I don't watch my portion size, and eat faster than I use to. Gotta work on that.
As far as my gear goes: I have yet to send any of my gear back for repairs and such, but that will happen soon. I absolutely loved my Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 tent! the last month, the tent was a bit more prone to getting moisture inside with rain. I believe it is a problem with the wear and tear. I will send it back to have the fabric treated.
I used a regular thermarest prolite plus sleeping pad that I never had any problems with. It also acts as a barrier if my tent had moisture on the bottom. The thermarest does not soak up water and kept me dry in my sleeping bag. A lighter option would be the neo air. Thhe neo air was popular on the trail. Some people had problems with leaking and had to get replacements, and they are very loud when someone moves at night. That said, if I had to do it all again, my biggest change would be to get my pack weight lighter. I would go with a neo air. With food and water, my pack was usually about 38 lbs. I would definitely recommend trying to get a pack down to 35 lbs or less at its heaviest weight (full food supply and water).
My summer sleeping bag was the Kelty Light Year 40 degree F Down sleeping bag, weighing in at 1 lb 12 oz. My cold weather bag is the Mountain Hardware Ultralamina zero degree bag weighing in at 3 lb 12 oz. Both worked out great. I am a cold person, so I needed the lower temp rated bags. The zero degree bag was pretty bulky in my pack, but it worked. If someone could afford a down winter bag, you can get the weight down a little, and it would be less bulky.
I also used a 100% silk Cacoon sleeping bag liner. It is a must have, if you ask me. It adds warmth. Some people even used only a liner in the hot summer months to save on weight. I don't recommend that for safety reasons. You should always be prepared for cold nights. However, if you are not as cold susceptible as I am, you could go with a 50 degree bag for warm months, and a 20 degree for cold months, combined with a liner. The liner helps keep your sleeping bag cleaner and less smelly because you can wash the liner every time you do laundry, and you don't have to put your stinky body in direct contact with the inside of your sleeping bag. My silk liner started to tear at the seam after 4 months use, and the company sent me a new one for free. All gear companies were wonderful to deal with, and most will replace their products when needed.
Another must have is the granite gear event uberlight drysacks. I used these as stuff sacks for clothes (also had an extra for dirty stinky clothes), my tent, and my sleeping bags. You stuff your items in the bag like a regular stuff sack, close it, and then kneel or sit on the bag while more air is released with a one way fabric valve. It makes things so much smaller than other stuff sacks, and they are water proof, so if you have a malfunction of your water system and leak water in your bag, your clothes, and sleeping bags remain dry! Yes, this happened to me. Also, Backpack covers never keep your backpack from getting wet, they only prevent it from being drenched, so everything in your pack should be in a waterproof bag anyway. Trust me, they may be pricey, but well worth it!
For my ditty bags (one for first aid, one for toiletry, and one for safety and odd small pieces of equipment), and food bag, I also used a granite gear zip sack. They are very convenient. Also, for my food bag, I used a locksak. It is basically a large tough ziplock baggie that is smell proof. I put my food in my locksak, and the locksak in my granite gear zip sack. I still always hung my food from bears, but when other people had rodent issues with their food bag, mine never did. I also had a small locksak for my iphone to keep it safe from moisture. With wear and tear, I went through two of these. (I used one for my phone and one for my wallet. When the one from my phone was worn out, I switched)
My boots were the Keen Targhee II mid. They worked great for me. My backpack was the Osprey Ariel. Though it worked good for me, I really think I could find a lighter, more comfortable option. I did have a lot of shoulder pain, but that may also be due to my 38 lb pack. I saw a lot of Granite Gear brand packs out there as well as Osprey. There are also a lot of ultra light pack options, but you have to have the ultra light weight equipment for those to work. (pack weight under 30 lbs at max)
Hopefully my gear tips help those planning for a long hike!
Last, but not least!
I want to thank all my family, friends, and fans for all the support I got along the trail. Every blog comment was inspiring to me. You all kept me going.
Thanks to my family for the support and the care packages sent.
Thanks to Chris's family for the support, packages, and cards sent!
Thanks to Chris for the incredible support, and visits along the way!
Thanks Kay, Elisa, and Jose for being my drop box support! I received every mail drop, and had all the supplies I needed. I also got extra supplies for blister care when I got blisters half way through, and extra junk food packages! mmmmm!
Thanks Elisa, Brian, Sunny, Heidi, and Kelly for keeping my home checked on and safe! This was a bigger job than it should have been, with some major "squatter" issues I had at my home.
Thanks Jose for replacing my car battery when it died!
Thanks to Kelly and all the girls from work for your support and friendship!
Thanks to Chelsea with helping with my blog and technical difficulties!
Thanks to my blog followers for all the comments and encouragement!
Thanks Matt and Leslie for my going away & welcome home parties!
Thanks to all my trail friends who made my experience what it was!
Sparky, Longstride, Silvergirl, & Voltron, we all started together, and finished together. You will always be family to me!
Just to name a few other unforgettable hiker friends: Robiticus, Chamelion, Hips, JDub, Crock Hunter, Ranger Bill, Snail, Turtle, Squatch, Kackles, Wobbles, Incline, Zig Zag, Wing Wing, Atlas, Cheeks, 30 Pack, Walk and Eat, Chickadee, Lobster, All Balls, Damn Yankee, Zip, Balls, Sunshine, Grundlehammer, 310, Zora, Captain Handy, Gus, Strider, Wanderer, Byline, Lady Forward, Cheesy Turtle, Float, Willie from Vermont, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Hopalong, Subway, Radio, Tyvec, Aimster, Scooter, Juggler, LB, Honeybadger, hobo Joe, Ragweed, Chiba, 4-Trees, Falling Turtle, Irish charm, G-Hippie, Star, Kazoo, y's Guy, Hippityhop, Being Here, Solo, Animal, NOLA, Miles, Talks Alot, Chunder, Yoko, Farnsworth, OG, Plant Man, Tater Tot, Oak, Kneife, Johnny Rocket, Gumby, Franklinstein, Video, Rael, Slims, Rhino, Rhyno, Spiceman, Socks, Mr. Breeze, Sipsy, Pick-up, Ol Smoke, Lt. Dan, Count Chocula, MRPH, Grandpa Detour, Wiffle Chicken, Claudia, Sleeping Beauty, Indy, Mission, Carver, Cheesit, FM, Medicine Man, Snot Rocket, Seminole, Charlie Brown, Pilgrim, Union Jill, Mountain Spice, Otto, Sonshine, Oliver Twist, Gingersnap, Perch, Swiss Tony, Prophet, Earthling, Heartfire, Gipcgirl, Funnybone, Frenchie, Slingshot, Boots, Arizona Rising, Rocket, Stobo, Pace, Hungus, Cheesewater, Towly, Dakota Dan, Warior, Flatlander, 230, White Wolf, Daystar, Gribbly, Roller, Sunkist, King of the Hill, Jiffy Pop, Canecutter, Gerber, Uncles, Bad Penny... just to name a few. I miss you all!!
It was brought to my attention that I forgot someone very important. I relied on and prayed to my God each and every day! Not only for my safety and health, but also for my fellow hikers and all our loved ones at home. I am thankful for prayers listened to!