After a Thru-hike: Re-entry

Taking a Long Hike on the Appalachian Trail


McD's 1999 Appalachian Trail Thru-hike

McD’s 1999 Appalachian Trail Thru-hike (Photo credit: mcdowell)


Tramping through woodlands every day on a thru-hike gives one almost too much time to think. If you are alone five or six months, as many thru-hikers are, you begin to think about changes you want to make when you finish and re-enter society. This is normal; this is good. But here is some advice I was given, and I share it with you. Take it easy on the re-entry. And don’t plan any big events right now for as soon as you get back.

Here are examples of ideas that will climb into your brain: I’m going to Europe. As soon as I hit town to re-supply, I’m getting on the phone to tell Jeanie to set up a trip. Or, I’m going to be a carpenter. I never liked–pick a profession–anyway. Or, I’m dropping out of college–who needs it? I’ve learned more out here that I’d ever learn in college. And so on.

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail--Mt. Katahdin in Maine

Mt. Katahdin–Maine

What happens is, as you accumulate mileage, become fit and buoyant, you get the feeling that you can fix and order your life–just like that. It’s a wonderful feeling, but it will probably fizzle on re-entry. When I got home, I made some minor changes, but quickly realized I didn’t want to jump on a plane and zoom off to the other side of the world. Though it sounded good at the time in some forest. Loud noises and traffic bothered me, and it took me a while to adapt.

I don’t want to dampen anyone’s spirits. For those of you out there now, pursuing your dream, you are on your way to a big accomplishment. Just take it slow for a while when you finish. Don’t rush into anything new and different until you settle in. Be careful on the re-entry.

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