Home > Hiking Trails > Appalachian Trail > After Katahdin – Post Thru Hike Depression

            “And what are your plans for leaving the park?” the ranger asked, making it clear that I shouldn’t linger.

There was a one day limit on staying in the Birches, a tent site with two lean-to’s next to the ranger’s office and near the Katahdin Stream Campground. Most people had friends or family meeting them to share in the triumph, the culmination of their month’s long odyssey hiking the Appalachian Trail. And others, like myself, preferred to go it alone, meaning that we didn’t have a clear and identifiable ride out of the park.

            This trip hasn’t been about planning it has been about experience.

            “Uh, the shuttle?” I said, not really sure what or who that was. I was an undocumented guest in the park whom they hoped had specific plans and an agenda for finishing your thru hike and leaving, not setting up camp in Baxter State Park.

            “OK, I’ll write AT Dave on the slip,” she says.

            “OK,” Sounds better than homeless, without any specific plans. After all, if the weather stays nice I saw a few stealth spots….

            But I don’t mention that.

            For most thru hikers their summit of Katahdin is the end all, be all portion of their hike. What they have been both figuratively, and in most cases literally, bleeding for the last five to six months is to climb this one last peak.

            For me the hike had been over in the Gulf Hagas. After walking away from nearly being struck by lightning my perspective had changed. As cheesy as it sounds I had been filled with an inner peace and for a moment I had glimpsed a purpose and meaning for my life.

            Summiting Katahdin didn’t seem all that important at the time.

            But there I was, waking up early in the morning to make the climb.

            Once I was on the top, sitting at the sign with the entire summit to myself, I realized that I had nowhere to go. There was an old movie where the main character stood on the sidewalk and couldn’t decide which direction to walk in, there was no reason for him to go in any specific direction. That’s how I felt sitting there next to the sign.

            In the movie he stood there until a couple of police officers asked him what he was doing. When he explained that he had nowhere to go, no reason to go anywhere they told him that if he stayed there he would be arrested. As good as it felt to sit there I knew I couldn’t stay, I would have to go somewhere.

            The hike down from Katahdin didn’t want to end.

            All I wanted was to take off my wet socks and sneakers and sit quietly.

            Maybe eat something.

            Back at the Baxter Stream Campground the sun is out and tourists are driving in, I take the opportunity to hang a few wet things out to dry. My sleeping bag, sweatshirt and rain jacket. My shoes and socks. Hopefully the clothes I am wearing will dry on my back.

            Standing there, the sense of Deja vu is over whelming.

            Picnic tables and stream.

            I have done all of this before.

            But I can’t stay, there is no rest here, no time for reflection if I want to follow the rules.

            “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

            Where I end up going is to the hostel in Millinocket.

            The first order of business is to track down a cheeseburger. Second order of business is a shower where I notice a bulge in my stomach. The double cheeseburgers that I ingested have stretched out the left side of my body in a noticeable bulge.

            God, when did I get so skinny?*

*This is the opening chapter in After Katahdin, a book I wrote about my post thru hike depression when I was trying to figure out how to adjust to life after a thru hike. Because it took years for the lessons of that Appalachian Trail thru hike to fully set in, the original version fell short of the many realizations I had over the years following that long distance hike. I am now in the process of revising the original book in the hope that some of my personal struggle will help others going through a similar post thru hike depression.

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