Three weeks have already gone by since I reached the summit of Mount Katahdin and I don’t know where the time has gone. I spent two weeks traveling across the country visiting friends and family in Indiana, Michigan, Colorado, and Arizona and finally made it home to California. I spent a week here in Santa Barbara unpacking, reorganizing, seeing friends, and catching up on life. I had planned to update the blog with my mileage stats, my recommended gear list, and some other thoughts on my transition back to the real world but that writing kept being pushed off by spending time with friends, doing the dishes, walking the dog, and a myriad of other mundane tasks that are pretty much normal, but also foreign to me after spending almost 5 months away from home.
Driving across the country was a great buffer between the trail and the “real world” for me. I enjoyed spending time with my wife Amy and my dog Pre and our family and friends we visited along the way. The hours of driving fast (but mostly near the speed limit) were interesting after sustaining a 2 to 3 mile per hour pace day in and day out for almost 5 months. It was a weird feeling to see the campsite symbol on the highway exit signs designating that a camping facility was approaching. Of course, it was typically a KOA Kampground, which includes tent sites with running water, fire pits, parking spots, and access to hot showers and a kitchen…not exactly like the AT shelters I camped at along the trail. Most importantly, they cost money and I am not keen on paying to set up my tent and sleep on the ground. It brought back frustrations of not being allowed to set my tent up wherever I wanted, in town or out of town. There are always rules about no camping here, or no loitering there, but all a thru-hiker really wants to do is get some rest. Of course, in recent days my hiking buddy Meat has mastered the technique of stealth camping in Maine, setting up for the night in a few small town baseball diamond dugouts…I wish I had thought of that!
My visit to Indiana was nice; I had been daydreaming on the trail about spending some time relaxing on the farm. I had several days to sit and do nothing with my family. I stretched out in the hammock and read a book, cleaned my hiking gear, sat on the porch and did nothing, and generally enjoyed not hiking. Amy and Pre arrived and we spent the weekend visiting with friends and family and trying to beat the heat in the shade. Before we left for Michigan mom had all of the family over for a big celebration and we topped it off by shooting a few hundred rounds at clay pigeons. A great visit home!
One of the major events on my trip home was losing my beard. I wasn’t that attached to it, but it was a temporary mark of distinction for completing the trail. It wasn’t attractive, I know that…but at no time in the rest of my life do I intend to grow a 5 month beard, so I wanted to wear it with pride for a little while longer before going back to a more civilized look. Of course, Amy wasn’t a fan. I think there is a piece of advice that experienced married men tell newlywed men…something like “if she’s not happy, you’re not happy”, and I now understand that statement. Amy really wasn’t happy with the beard, so in the end I wasn’t either. In Michigan I trimmed my beard, and at the same time Amy trimmed my hair. In less than an hour I lost my thru-hiker beard and the ability to put my hair in a pony tail, a big change that I really had to deal with! After a few days of of tearing up when I looked in a mirror it became my new norm and I didn’t mind the more civilized Tarzan look.
A highlight of the visit to Michigan was a party that Amy’s family hosted to welcome me home. Amy’s sisters had a custom made cake commemorating my hike from Amicalola Falls, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It was great to spend time with friends and family in each location celebrating the completion of the trail. I don’t think it had really sunk in yet that I was actually done. We traveled so much over the two weeks, sleeping in different beds and living out of the car, that I still felt like I was on the move. I talked with hikers I had finished with and several of them said they already missed being on the trail. Since I hadn’t actually been “home” yet I don’t think I even had a chance to miss it!
During our stay in Colorado with Aunt Karen and Seat Belt we toured a Colorado gold mine. We got to see what it was like to be a gold miner in the boom days. After the tour we actually panned for gold and found a few specks of gold dust, but no major discoveries. While we were panning to strike it rich with an ounce of gold I wondered how many ounces of gold I would have carried in my backpack if I had been allowed to keep whatever I hauled from Georgia to Maine? Interesting thought after my obsessive attempt to drop every ounce I could…but no one made me that offer at Springer Mountain, so it’s probably not a very productive thought!
In Arizona I had the opportunity to give a presentation about my journey to the residents of the Las Fuentes Resort Village where my grandparents live. My Grandma and Grandpa Clemens made sure to print out each of my blog posts and share them with their friends and many of the residents had been following my journey from Georgia to Maine. My Friday afternoon presentation drew a pretty good crowd and I used projector screen to show photos and laid out my gear and set up a “camp” inside the building so that everyone could see what it was like to be on the Appalachian Trail. The presentation lasted almost an hour and later that afternoon we attended a happy hour social with everyone and shared more stories about the AT. I heard from several people who said they had lived around the Appalachian Trail, hiked part of it, or at least had visited some of the places I visited. I met one man who said when he was a Boy Scout his troop was in charge of maintaining a 2 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail!
Before heading back to California my dad and I hiked up Spruce Mountain in Prescott and at the top we visited a working fire tower. The fire tower had a panoramic view and was in great shape, which was a big difference from the old dilapidated fire towers I had been climbing along the Appalachian Trail. The mountains out west are much different than the Appalachians and I was enjoying the new scenery and landscape of the trails.
Once back in Santa Barbara I was finally able to access my entire wardrobe, which seems incredibly too large after hiking in the same clothes day in and day out for 136 days. When I attended my Rotary Club meeting I wore a tie for the first time in 5 months. I put on my dress shoes and after 3 weeks off the trail I’m still having a hard time fitting back into my normal shoe size. I bought hiking shoes 1 size bigger for the AT since my feet would expand while hiking…but I thought that would just be a problem on the trail and back home I would go back to my normal shoe size. A few days after I finished the AT I told my buddy SpAcE (AT hiker in 2009) that my feet still hurt but I was letting them heal. He replied that his feet still hurt him every morning, not as bad as they used to, but still…3 years later! I hope that’s not permanent, and I hope my feet go back to my normal size; otherwise I have a lot of shoe shopping to do!
My first week home in Santa Barbara was relaxing. I had plans of getting a lot of things done but as the week progressed I found myself more interested in doing the dishes, cleaning the apartment, and walking the dog, all activities that may not sound interesting, but after 4 months of hiking on the Appalachian Trail things like camping, hitchhiking to town, and hiking up mountains sound like work to me. I am finding that the definition of “work” and “chores” is more a matter of reference to what one performs on a daily basis. As a long distance hiker on the AT camping was work, but doing the dishes is fun! I’m sure this thought process will change soon; we are all very good at living in the moment when it comes to work. By the time the weekend rolled around I found myself getting antsy. I had enjoyed sleeping in, visiting with friends, and browsing through gear at REI, but I needed to feel like a productive cog in society. I took some time to set a very strict schedule for myself and starting today I’m “working” hard. I’m going to be working on a few marketing projects here in Santa Barbara as well as some personal business ideas.
I think for the time being I will stick around here close to home. I enjoyed the long trip of the Appalachian Trail, but man it is good to be home! Besides, like this picture shows…I think people at home missed me. The first day home Pre fell asleep on my hiking shoes…maybe his way of saying don’t leave again? I intend to finish this AT blog with a few more posts concerning my mileage stats, a gear review, and the next steps towards my next adventure. Stay tuned and thanks again for following my journey!