Monday, March 23, 2015

Being a Nomad... But NOT a Loner.

I like people. I much prefer to do things with people. Sometimes it's good to go do things on my own because then I can actually meet people. But other times, I want someone I have some sort of shared history with which to do things. I think that's called friendship. But I'm discovering that I'm a nomad. I have wanderlust. I like to do new things and go new places and meet new people. Historically, I've had difficulty finding friends who were willing to wander with me.

I found some of them on the Trail. And although I'm not sure if I've made any truly long term friendships on the Trail, I learned that there are others who think like me. Or at least, like me in that wandering sort of way. They are out there. Not sure they are here, specifically. But they are somewhere. If the Trail gave me anything... it gave me hope that I'm not just some anomaly in the universe. The anomaly being someone who desperately wants a deep group of friends who also wander about the planet.

Acorn, a fellow AT hiker (and has hiked 1000's of miles since then) told me that "I was the happiest when I was in a hostel."  So true. I love being in that communal place with so many different people who all share at least the same commonality of hiking North.

One of the reasons I went to the Trail was to find a "home." I thought that was sort of counter-intuitive at the time because it doesn't make any sense to become homeless and wander 2000 miles in search of a home (hmmm, I guess I should be reminded of Abraham and Ur). But now I see that I really was searching for that group of people who also loved to travel yet stay connected.

So, as I continue to hike the trail of life, I'm still looking for that elusive thing called "home." I've tried a couple of things so far, and it hasn't been quite right. Not entirely wrong, but... it needs to be tweaked. So I will keep searching. And tweaking. And hiking.

A nomadic home. Somewhere. But hopefully not alone.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why I Relate to the Walking Dead

I was hooked on the AMC TV show "The Walking Dead" before I left for the AT. For everything else that's changed pre and post Trail, THAT has not changed. In fact, watching the new episode each week is one way that I continue to feel normal. For instance, remember when they were all scattered in the countryside, there was this one scene where a couple of them were fantasizing about what foods they missed - like hamburgers. I remember that too, deciding three days before getting into town what I was going to eat - and how much.

Now that the Walking Dead group has been welcomed into the new "town", they are all trying to get used to being back in civilization. Two recent episodes were like reliving coming home from the Trail. For those of you also addicted to the zombie apocalypse, but perhaps not as familiar with thru-hiking, let me explain the commonalities:

1. They all slept in the same room in the same house for the first few nights. That was like most hostels and shelters. That first night post-trail that I had to sleep alone... terrifying. 

2. When Carol and Carl scoped out the next door house to see if it was safe, Carol swiped a pile of papers from the desk. It wasn't stealing, but it was a different way of seeing "ownership". If it's not useful to someone else, but it is to you, then you can use it. Like in a hiker box. Or a dumpster. Or a lost and found. I was fussed at when I attempted to raid a lost and found upon getting home from the Trail. I did not consider it stealing; I was re-owning it (like re-cycling).

3. The group is invited to a welcome party. While there, Sasha freaks out a little bit when a town-person says that she's "worried about making a dinner she won't like." Sasha (along with others) just cannot fathom the seeming silly and superficial things that people are concerned about in society. We often call them "first world problems". When you've been more concerned about clean water, rationing food that won't spoil in hot weather, and duct-taping your shoes to get to the next town, some things just seem so trivial. I suppose in the Walking Dead world, even duct-taping your hiking shoes is fairly trivial, but I hope you are getting the parallelism.

4. At that same cocktail party, it was apparent that Rick's group were the outsiders, and they felt like they were on display. It was awkward for them to fit in. And they didn't. That's a familiar feeling. The same, but different - an outsider. Here I am at the same parties I used to go to before the Trail, and now, I'm an outsider.

And the most important thing that I related to in the recent episode:

Carol and Carl both said that being back in civilization was going to "make them weak." Yes, I have gotten weak. At least, that's how it feels. I find myself getting "worried" over superfluous things. I've lost my trail legs (and lungs). I'm a little nervous about getting "back out there" to another Trail, yet I really want to. I know I'm not weak, but... heck, I hyper-extended my knee... at church. At church!?! Not even a good story to go with it. 

So, I wait patiently until next Sunday to get my "walking (dead)" fix, and feel a little normal, to be in a world slightly more familiar.   

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lessons I learned on the A.T. (and had started to forget in the "real world")

Several of us had a great conversation last week. We talked about what had taken us out to the Trail, what we had hoped to get from it, and what we actually DID get out of it. We talked about the transition back to "real life" and in what ways are both working and not so much. We talked about the ups and the downs. In the interest of confidentiality, I'm not going to go into any detail of what others said. But I'll give you a few thoughts I've had since that conference call.

The Trail gets a little more distant each day, and sometimes I'm a little afraid of forgetting it altogether. There's good reason for that fear too. In this cold bitter winter, it's hard to remember the feel of the warm sun or the sweat drying in a cool breeze. I had forgotten that Odie made the Darth Vader sound EVERY night I blew up my air mattress, and I ALWAYS laughed (he had a closed cell) - that is, until our phone conversation. It was nice to just "talk Trail" again with others who were there, who know.

And, there were a few lessons I learned out there that had started to get a little hazy, things I wanted to remember and apply to this new life I was creating post-trail, but had put off to the side in the busy-ness of paying bills.  Those were:

1. Being in the Present Moment. I forgot that I don't need to be completely productive every moment of the day or that it's OK to just waste time once in a while. Yes, I like to work, but I had just decided that if I didn't have anything better to do (i.e. anything planned), I might as well work. So, today, I went to an Irish pub, bought myself a whiskey, and after that, a leisurely walk- with not just one stop for ice cream, but two. Yup, wasted time, ate lots of ice cream because... well, just because. Yay me.

2. Friends. I forgot friends? Well, kinda. This is hard to explain. I have friends, but I feel separated from them. Separated by distance from my hiker family. Separated by commonality from those near me. And, when the friends from home have gotten on with their life during the 6 months I was gone, I still haven't really gotten back "in" with them. So, I worked (see above paragraph). Or I do things on my own. Which is fine. Except I'm a nomad... not a loner. There's a difference.

3. Simplicity. One reason for all my part time jobs is to put together a life that isn't as mind-numbing as pre-Trail. However, I had started to forget that my paying jobs are not what makes my life. Just like before the Trail, the most meaningful moments happen when I'm not getting paid. I don't look good on paper - my resume sucks. But when I take the time to remember the simple (and present, i.e. unexpected) moments, I realize that I have a pretty entertaining, and meaningful, life. Like above, when I remember to waste time (and NOT be sitting in my room), the simplicity of what's in front of me takes priority.

All that said, I'm grateful. Grateful for my life the way it is currently. I can't say I feel this way in every moment of every day, but I still wouldn't change where I'm at currently. I want to move on and move out of this haze. I want to get to the place where life is what I want it to be and I'm surrounded by like-minded people. But, until then, I choose to enjoy the journey, the learn from the struggle, and hone my orienteering skills as I find the new North of life.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blazing Beyond Post-Trail Depression & Post-Suicide TOGETHER.

On January 2, 2014, I was called by a fellow hiker who asked "What the hell is going on!?!?" The hiker community had been surprised by the suicide of one of our own. Then, the hiker on the phone with me received the double-whammy of having a second friend commit suicide within just a few days. About a week and a half later, a gal I had shared coffee with here in Wisconsin also committed suicide.

It seems many of us in the past year have been affected by suicide. Hearing about another recent suicide in the hiker community in the past week, I felt like I had to do... something. From my experience, suicidal thoughts CAN happen (not always) when people feel isolated and alone. When hikers come back home, they are absorbed by the rest of the non-hiking community, and it's easy to feel separated from the positive and healing experiences from the trail. Hikers really are a "band of buggered few" with memories that just can't be shared and understood by someone who hasn't backpacked. Likewise, people who survive through someone committing suicide are another group that are bonded together through unique circumstance - only this one usually isn't as bonding because we don't know where we all are.

So, let's start to regroup. Let's have a phone call where we can all get together and express a little about what the Trail meant to us, what lessons we learned, and how we may be having difficulty applying those lessons back in civilization. Let's get together to talk a little about how we feel about the friends we've lost, about the friends we've helped, about how we're afraid of losing ourselves.

Want to join the conversation? It'll be Friday, February 27 at 7 PM Central Time (8 PM Eastern, 6 PM Mountain). Email me at I will respond with the call-in information. Check your time zone and get it in your calendar:

***Please share this with other long-distance and thru-hikers - I don't care what year they hiked, which direction they hiked, or even what Trail they hiked. They may need to feel "normal" again with others who "get it." Let's try to keep everyone on the Trail of Life! Keep Hiking!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Struggling with post-Trail Depression? Want to help others who are?

I have wanted to begin blogging again. I didn't think this was going to be my "come-back" post. I didn't want another hiker's death to be the reason I resumed "Appalachian Oasis." *Sigh* We don't always get what we want. But... something needs to be done. And this is what I can think of to do to possibly help.

If you are a long-distance hiker who is struggling with feeling "normal" now that you've returned to the "real world" (and you understand why I'm putting these words in quotes), please keep reading... 

I'm Patchouli. I used to be a bad ass.
In 2013, I hiked 2000 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Some of you may remember me - I was known as "Patchouli". For six months, I only had one direction to go. Everyone else was going in that direction too. We all had the same goal - Katahdin. We were all doing the same wild and crazy adventure that everyone back home was either jealous of or they didn't understand. Either way, we were elite, we were special, we had purpose.

Then, I returned to my hometown, moved back in the house I had been in, and... wandered aimlessly. I was lost. I had changed. The Trail had changed me. I tried to go back to what I knew, to be who I had been, but that didn't fit anymore. My friends... well, I guess we all had changed while I was gone because we didn't have much in common anymore. Working for 12 years in one full time job previously was boring and painstaking, but it HAD paid bills and was secure. Now... my priorities had changed. I had to re-create my very existence. Square One. Springer Mountain - only this time I didn't have AWOL's guide and no blazes to follow. It was dense undergrowth I'd have to hack my way through in this urban jungle.

I have stayed in touch with a few people from the Trail, but mostly, I feel somewhat forgotten. Forgettable. I'm no longer a bad-ass that hikes mountains before breakfast. I'm just... nothing. So I try, I strive, I work really hard for a bit and that... that feels false as well, not like the ease and simplicity of the Trail. Not much holds excitement anymore. Where are the damn blazes? What am I supposed to be moving toward now?

Post Trail Depression
Zach Davis (Good Badger) speaks of Post-Trail Depression in his book, "Appalachian Trials". I read that book before I left for the Trail, so I thought I understood what I was getting myself into. A couple months after I came home, and I was listless and purposeless and numb, I thought, "Oh, this is just Post-Trail Depression." I could accept it, get through it.  But it continued. On and on. Sometimes it lets up, but mostly, it's still there - just in the background. Thankfully, I have resources to reach out to for help. I have loving family and friends, that - although they don't understand and I don't have much in common with anymore - they still care and try to be there as they can best figure out.

I know there are others who do not have that.

I know because I hear things through the grapevine - mostly Facebook. I called 2014 the 'year of death'. It opened with 3 suicides in January. Then attempts, and cutting, and other self-destructive behavior. No, not all from hikers, but several. This Post-Trail Depression was deeper than I ever thought possible. I was so relieved when 2015 rolled around. Except that... unfortunately, I'm still hearing that hikers are feeling isolated, disconnected, depressed, fighting to find purpose - even to find the will to live.

But... we are NOT alone.
We are ALL still thru-hikers, yes, separated by miles and time. But we still have the commonality of the culture and experience of being a long-distance hiker, a backpacker, a thru-hiker, a bad-ass. Call yourself what you will.

Therefore, I want to create a place for us thru-hikers to talk, to reminisce, to converse about our struggles and our victories, to give and to receive hope as we need. I'm soul-weary to hear of another hiker take their own life, to self destruct, or to feel isolated. Especially when I know so MANY of us also feel that same way. There's just no need to struggle alone.

Let's start a conversation. I'm going to host two conference calls. They won't have much of an agenda other than, like we did on the Trail, to encourage each other to keep hiking the trail of life, to not give up, to find the strength to continue. Let's help each other find the blazes again. We'll just talk, like we did around the campfires.

I feel I'm only starting to find my footing again in the "real" world (why is THIS world the real one?), and I'm not sure it's entirely secure. But I have hope. And... I have a little hope to spare. So, if someone else needs a little, I could give it. I'm not the expert here or the one with the answers; I'm just the one providing the platform so we can all tell the stories of what has and hasn't worked for us.

Want to join the conversation? Email me at 
Tell me which conference call you want to attend, and I will respond with the call-in information for that time. I can only take 25 people per call - which is a lot of people if we want to encourage everyone to share. Oh, and it's free (Trail Magic!).

The dates are:
Thursday, February 26 at Noon Central Time (1 pm Eastern, 11 AM Mountain)
Friday, February 27 at 7 PM Central Time (8 PM Eastern, 6 PM Mountain)

***Please share this with other long-distance and thru-hikers - I don't care what year they hiked, which direction they hiked, or even what Trail they hiked. If they took a dump in the woods and carried their toilet paper out with them for more than a few days, they may relate to this post. They may need to feel "normal" again with others who "get it." Let's try to keep everyone on the Trail of Life! Keep Hiking!