The first weird thing about being back was the size of all the toiletries. I used a regular (not travel sized) tube of toothpaste and it felt stupidly huge in my hand. The sixteen ounce bottle of contact solution, which we don’t have to carefully ration anymore, looks like it will last us an entire year. Then, it was funny to see Eric in normal clothes. A plaid shirt instead of the bright blue one synthetic one I’ve been looking at (and smelling) every day for half a year.
Everything else hit me like an avalanche. I’ll be perfectly honest right away–reentry to regular life has not gone the way I envisioned, and I have not handled it like a graceful and zen hiker.
What I wanted, what we joked about often on the trail, was to spend the first three or four days in isolation, eating good food and moving little. We said we’d just lay in the basement at his parents’ house, in the dark, and watch TV with the sound on very, very low. I wanted to sleep an unbelievable number of hours each day. I wanted to cover my legs and knees in ice and not move, not speak, not walk, nothing. Just simply recover.
Clearly, I’d forgotten what real life is like. What actually happened was we had a two day car trip. That meant sitting still for hours at a time, which I hate anyway, and going at very high speed, which I was not used to. I felt queasy and stiff and stressed. Then there were a lot of people to interact with, all of a sudden. Cashiers and waitresses and friends and everyone is lovely, truly, but it’s exhausting. I couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep to save my life. For a few days I had a delicious beer or cider every evening, and that much alcohol really wrecks me. What I’m saying is: instead of quiet, dark, slow and intentional reentry, we’ve been in the real world. Where it’s loud, bright, fast, and there are a lot of people and none of them really understand where you’re coming from at this moment.
Of course, we also now enjoy constant access to clean water of our desired temperature, and a hot shower every hour if I want one. When it rains, we can decide if we want to go out in it or not. I have enjoyed being totally ignorant of the weather, instead of constantly trying to find out what’s predicted. And there is an abundance of clean, flat, waist-high surfaces to place items on. (It’s funny how much I appreciate counters and shelves now. My best friend and I used to make fun of shelving when we were in college. We’d say, “What a waste! Why do you need another thing just to elevate your shit??” and laugh. I have changed my position.)
It’s complicated. All of a sudden, we got all these lovely things we’d been missing. But also all of a sudden, no more forest. No more pitch black nights and fresh air. No more simplicity of purpose, no more grand project. Our trail friends are gone. We stopped walking all day. Instead of brains flooded with exercise endorphins, we have brains flooded with anxiety about what we should do next in life and boredom about what we should do next right now. The days are long in suburbia, and it’s hard to fill them with only one book and no car and limited money. We’re still living out of a backpack (er, suitcase) here in Delaware. I haven’t gotten to go home yet, see my sweet cat again, sleep in my beloved bed, use my computer and write in my journal and drive my car around a city I know. I want to see my dad and my sister and know where everything goes in the kitchen and where I can get grass-fed beef bones. It is hard, hard, hard to be patient.
What a surprise. The work didn’t end when the trail did.