It’s been a little over 3 months since I watched the sun rise on Katahdin while Princess Peach, Goat and I basked in our thru-hiker glory. Since then, I’ve obtained a new job as a Product Engineer with a flooring company and I’ve moved to a new apartment in South Jersey. In other words, life is back to “normal” (I don’t even know what that word means anymore…). It honestly happened so quickly that I am still trying to process it all.
While I could’ve taken several different career paths (as explained in my previous post), I settled on an engineering position that involves a lot of hands-on work and a significant amount of domestic and international travel. The entry level position came with a large pay cut when compared to my previous position, but the 8 hour work day couldn’t be more different. The job is an unpredictable mix of lab work, installations, and travel with very little time spent at my desk. I finally have an office full of young, like-minded colleagues and managers that regularly play pick-up basketball and football at lunch. Everything is very new so I will have to see how I enjoy the position when some of the novelty wears off, but so far so good.
I’m also pretty happy with my apartment – it’s 8 minutes from work (24 by bike), 10 minutes from Philly (even though I seriously hate this city), and seems to be very safe. My only issue is that South Jersey is a bit too far from the woods for my liking. It’s a real pain to have to drive nearly 2 hours north just to hunt or visit my sanctuary. I seriously wish I had a patch of woods nearby that I could just use for sleeping. Call me crazy, but those nights outside (even in hot and cold extremes or in the rain) were some of the best nights I’ve ever slept in my life. There is absolutely no exaggeration in that statement.
I’ve kept in touch with my hiker friends as best as I can and will continue to do so. I traveled to Atlanta to see Sweets and Training Wheels and went camping with Princess Peach, Legs and Verge – both trips were a hell of a lot of fun. Training Wheels and I started dating shortly after Katahdin, but, unless she finds a job near Philadelphia, we both know it probably won’t work out since she lives in Kansas City. We would, of course, stay friends and that’s what matters most to me (though totally crossing my fingers on her finding a local job).
I’m completely back on my feet in the real world and really have nothing to complain about. However, at random, quiet moments during the day, I find myself zoned out in an almost trance-like state (picture Ben Stiller in the Secret Life of Walter Mitty). My mind strays back to the dream that was the Appalachian Trail. The trip doesn’t even seem real anymore – it’s like it never happened. I just woke up from the best dream of my life and continued moving forward. People always ask me how my trip was…well how do you sum up a 5 month trip with all its friendships, triumphs, hardships, and unforgettable experiences (both good and bad) in a couple sentences? No matter what I say, people wouldn’t actually understand anyway. I do and that’s all that matters.
I realize that another long term trip may not be logistically possible for a while, but I’ll constantly be looking for those shorter adventures – maybe a mountain like Rainer or Aconcagua. There is nothing like the raw, unfiltered ecstasy and discomfort that only nature can provide. My right foot is still suffering from Plantar Fascitis that I developed in Pennsylvania, but there’s almost something strangely reassuring about the pain – it’s proof my trip did happen. Sometimes, I feel like the pain is the last thing keeping me connected to the Appalachian Trail. Thru hiking was all about learning to embrace the bad experiences just as much, if not more than, the good experiences. But that’s just as true in the real world, too…bring it on.
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” -LIFE Magazine motto from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty