Returning to "Real Life" After Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

The hardest part of hiking from Mexico to Canada? Coming home.

Denver's skyline. (Photo by Larry Johnson)

A little under two weeks after I departed the Pacific Crest Trail for the “real world,” everything seemed a little strange. Nothing too jarring—just enough to make me feel like I didn’t quite fit into my life the way I had before I left.

I'm told this isn't uncommon. A lot of hikers go through the post-trail blues, a general feeling of discontent following a long hike. I was done with the PCT, but apparently it wasn’t quite done with me.

Some of the reason for this sinking feeling was purely physical. After nearly five months of constant exercise, I'd gotten used to the serotonin, endorphins, and other mood-enhancing chemicals that exercise produces. Now that I had stopped walking 25 miles a day, my body was trying to adjust to the new chemical normal. Even though I had kept day-hiking when I could, trying not to go cold-turkey, it still wasn’t quite the same.

I felt constrained by the walls of my apartment, unsatisfied by the same views every day. On trail, each day was unique, marked by miles and passes and water sources. Everything was constantly changing, from the scenery to the weather. The world beyond the trail, in contrast, felt patterned and pre-determined. The days blended together, with fewer remarkable highs or lows to mark them.

I'm not sure if having a job to go back to helped. Although I was definitely thankful to have work lined up, I feel like I went back to the grind too soon. I didn't really have time to sort through my emotions, to figure out what the experience meant to me. Juggling mundane tasks like doing dishes and putting gas in my car, I felt like there was an emptiness behind it all. I was kind of over the trail toward the end of the hike, but now that I’d had a couple of weeks off, I was ready to get back to it.

It will probably be months before I get back to “normal,” whatever that means after such an insane experience. Sometimes hiking helps, and sometimes it doesn’t—it’s not the same. It’s funny, though: When I first got off the trail, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do another thru-hike, but now I can hardly think of anything else. So I’ll use the winter to hibernate, and dream of trails and spring.

Follow Amanda Jameson's Pacific Crest Trail journey from start to finish.