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After the trail: post-hike depression

Many thru hikers have difficulty adjusting to life after an epic hike and may even experience post-hike depression. Read what experienced thru hikers have to say about life after the trail.

Alice Bodnar       Inside Atlas Guides       10/12/2018
Alice Bodnar
Inside Atlas Guides
10/12/2018

Last summer I hiked Hadrian’s Wall and the Cotswold Way in England and had the great pleasure of walking with Keith “Fozzie” Foskett the first 15 miles of the Cotswold Way. Fozzie has been working with us from afar as a data collector since 2014, and it was good to finally meet him in person. As we walked we got on the subject of depression. At the time Fozzie was working on his latest book High and Low, which recounts his journey of discovering that he has depression as he hiked through Scotland. It made me think about the various ways that depression ties into long-distance hiking. Some people go on a thru hike because they’re depressed or need to work through a difficult issue. Others discover, in the course of the long walk, that they have been suffering from depression. And then others become depressed when the hike is finished and subsequently find it difficult to adjust to life off the trail.

Man on bridge looking at Seattle Space Needle in distance
Photo by Zach Searcy

You may have experienced it yourself or read about it: it is very common to become depressed after a long hike. You feel more comfortable in the woods than in town. You have changed but your friends and family have not. No one is interested in your story about how your friend got her trail name. The barrage of advertising in the “real world” seems ridiculous. And most of all, you just want to be back on the trail, where life makes sense to you.

If this is you, you’re not alone. It happens to long-distance hikers, world travelers, and even retirees: it’s difficult to make huge life transitions. I have compiled a short list of depression-related articles from well-known and experienced long-distance hikers. You might be thinking, how are these famous hikers’ experiences relevant to me? I have to go back to work! Although these authors are known for their hiking accomplishments, they each have to make a living doing something other than hiking. So they have a lot of experience transitioning between the hiking world and non-hiking world.

What experienced hikers say…

Keith Foskett

My friend Keith “Fozzie” Foskett, hiker and writer extraordinaire, is in the midst of a 15-part blog series detailing his practical tips for dealing with depression. Each of the entries might seem obvious to someone who hasn’t dealt with depression. For instance: be aware that something is wrong; go to the doctor. But if you’re experiencing depression, these tips may not be obvious. And it can take a lot of courage to do something about it. This series comes out of Fozzie’s detailed account in his book High and Low of his depression journey while hiking in Scotland.

 

Liz Thomas

If you like fact-based advice, read Triple Crowner Liz “Snorkel” Thomas’s excellent article on the reasons why you have post-hike depression and what you can do about it. This article is packed with links for further reading.

 

Paul Magnanti

This post by Paul “PMags” Magnanti is a little over 8 years old. PMags recounts the very personal story of his difficult post-Appalachian Trail experience, and his choice to go against the grain of others’ expectations. He also discusses his post-PCT and CDT experiences. PMags is an IT professional and  continues to make hiking a central part of his life today.

 

Jennifer Pharr Davis

It’s almost inevitable that you will be a changed person after a thru-hike. Former AT speed-record holder Jennifer Pharr Davis discusses how to accept and embrace the new you after a hike.

More resources

The Trek

The editors of The Trek polled thru-hikers dealing with post-hike depression and compiled their advice. There are also a number of additional tips in the comments.

Google

Google ‘post-hike depression’ and you will be amazed at the number of accounts you will find. You’re not alone. As Liz Thomas reminds us, post-hike depression is a real thing. Don’t let the fact that your friends or family do not understand keep you from trusting your own feelings and seeking help from a doctor or counselor.

 

Did you know that you can talk to a crisis counselor by text?

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Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author

Alice Bodnar

Alice left her super stressful job as an attorney and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012 with her husband (and Atlas Guides co-founder) Paul. After the hike she began developing the Guthook’s PCT Guide for Android and intended to return to law as soon as she caught up with her Android work. She never caught up, and is now a co-owner of Atlas Guides and serves as general counsel and head of operations.