Post Appalachian Trail Depression: Advice from Miss Janet

post appalachian trail hiker depression

It was July, 24 2011, a group of 20+ hikers huddled around a large picnic table in the backyard of the Happy Hiker’s Hostel in Glencliff, New Hampshire.  The night’s menu offered home-cooked meatloaf, grilled corn on the cob, mayonnaise-rich pasta salad, coleslaw, homemade buns lathered in liberal amounts of butter, and of course Miller High Life (obviously).  We were shoveling plate after plate of the delicious homemade fare directly into the deepest part of our throats, as if we unlearned the lost art of chewing.  A week of consuming only Ramen has that effect on people.

We were fortunate this evening for the home-cooked meal.  The typical hostel culture leaves a hiker on his/her own to walk or catch a shuttle to the nearest restaurant; the Happy Hiker Hostel is usually no exception.  This evening, however, we were graced with the presence (and culinary skills) of Miss JanetMiss Janet is an Appalachian Trail celebrity.  I remember my first week on the trail, a fellow hiker (who I had never conversed with), came up to me and excitedly said, “did you hear that Miss Janet is hiking the trail this year?!?”

“Are you serious?! …  By the way…who is Miss Janet?”

Apparently that was a dumb question (I’m good at those). A legend of the trail (objectively speaking – she is featured in the documentary “Trail Angels”), Miss Janet has been involved with helping AT hikers since she was only 13 years old.  Miss Janet’s hostel in Erwin, Tennessee was regarded as arguably the best hiker hostel on the entire AT (in competition with over 60 others).  Some hostels are known for their cheap price, some are known for the quality of their setup, Miss Janet’s was known for, well Miss Janet.

That’s why when Miss Janet talks, hikers listen.

We were in the midst of throating said meal, when Miss Janet chimed in, “hey y’all, I know you’re enjoying your dinner, but I’ve got a couple important points I need to get across to you.

The first – after we get off the trail, expect to get fat.  We laughed and quickly nodded in agreement.

The second aroused a change in her tone.  As she grew a bit more somber, Miss Janet began to discuss what was a common post-trail scenario in her observation, hiker depression.  It was at this point you could look around and see 20+ contemplative hiker faces.  She had struck a chord.  Many had probably anticipated, but not yet directly confronted this truth (I know I did).

Although I had heard some word about post Appalachian Trail hiker depression during my stint on the trail, I was unsuccessful in finding any concrete information or advice on it online.  I asked Miss Janet if she would be willing to discuss this topic a little bit more in depth on camera, so I could share it with you guys.  She obliged.

In Appalachian Trials I go into a lot more depth about hiker depression, the various stages you can expect to go through (based both on my own experience and what I’ve gathered from talking to my fellow thru-hikers), and most importantly what hikers can do lessen the blow of coming back down to earth and speed up the recovery process.

  • thanks for this.  my 18 year old son will finish his thru hike this weekend – and i had already been thinking about what an adjustment it must be coming home to live “in a people house” (as dr. seuss woudl say) after living on the trail for five months.  i just am not sure how people do that.  it must seem so noisy and clautrophobic at first – at leasts there will be mom’s good home cooking!  i’m prepared for 7 fests in 7 days – but see, even that might be a little much… i’m not sure if my alex stayed at miss janets or not – but i will be sure to ask.  miss janet, thanks for the honesty, and thanks to you for taking the time to film and post this.  

  • Thanks for the comment Mimi-

    Congratulations to your son.  That’s a major accomplishment for an 18-year old.  I’m sure he’ll be able to ride the wave of accomplishment for years to come.  I will look for him to be running for office in 2044.

    As for the the post AT-depression, I really think it can be avoided, at least for the most part. There is a natural low after achieving any major feat.  The rest of the depression issues can be remedied. Encourage your son to remain active.  In my opinion, I think the hardest part is going from exercising all day to an inactive lifestyle. 

    Also- he’s been living in the woods for nearly a half year.  He’s been used to doing his own thing.  Try to keep this in mind as best you can.  After my return, my mom wanted to spend every waking minute with me, which was a major adjustment. 

    The fact that you’re showing concern about this issue now bodes well for his adjustment. 

    Feel free to let your son know he can e-mail me if he does end up having a hard time with the post trail adjustment. Sometimes it helps just to talk to someone who can empathize. 

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