Sunday, January 2, 2011

20 lbs.

Written By: Katherine “Ringleader” Imp

The weight.

My alarm goes off. I get up and sleepwalk to the shower. I squeeze some face wash into my hand, and the smell reminds me of the travel size face wash I carried with me on the trail. The weight. I re-focus my attention to the day ahead of me. What depositions do I have this week? Did I keep track of my billing hours yesterday? I should bring my gym clothes to work. I step out of the shower and begin to get dressed. I notice the scars that have taken a permanent resting on my legs. The weight. I push aside the leftover boxes of Minute Rice and Backpacker’s Pantry in my kitchen cabinet and I grab a banana for the road. The weight. I walk to the bus. I get on the bus. I get off the bus and get on the El. I get off the El. I walk to work. I go up an escalator, two elevators, and a flight of stairs. I sit at my desk, physically present but mentally adrift. The weight.

I’ve had four of the best moments of my life this year: (1) the day I got a job, (2) the day I passed the bar exam, (3) the day I graduated law school, and (4) the day I summited Mt. Katahdin. But this year also included some of the worst moments of my life … and every single one of them happened on the trail. The weight.

Sometimes, when I’m on the bus, or at my desk, or even when I’m out with friends, my mind wanders to those moments. Those moments of physical exhaustion and mental strife. I remember the days that I was so tired I couldn’t find the energy to eat. I remember the days where every step sent a bolt of pain through my knees and broken toe. But worst of all, I remember the loneliness. I never knew what lonely was until I went on the trail. I remember taking breaks to cry. I’d put my pack down and I would just cry. For hours. Alone. On the side of a mountain.

And sometimes, when my mind wanders to these moments, I think … why? WHY. Why do we do this to ourselves? Every thru-hiker has been there, whether they admit those moments or not. And often times it is these moments that make people quit. Hell, it almost got me.

And then I force my mind into a better place and I remember. I remember Emily’s laugh in the tent at night. I remember Bran’s monkey noises over lunch. I remember the joy that one small can of orange soda could bring. So many thoughts come rushing to my mind while I stare at the inbox of my Outlook account or pay the bartender for a round of drinks at happy hour -- the smell of pine trees, the fresh spring water, the stars, the cows, the hitchhiking, the trail magic, the clouds MY GOD HOW ALIVE WE FELT and that’s why. That’s why we endured. That’s why the trail is magical. That’s why an experience like this stays with you forever.

It’s been four and a half months since I finished the trail and I feel the weight. And I’m not talking about the 20 lbs. that have made their way back to my stomach and thighs. I’m talking about the memories that both haunt me and bring me joy. And it is this weight that makes me feel closer to my thru-hiking community more than ever.

We were warned that the transition home from the trail can be hard. Some would argue that the return to civilization can sometimes invoke more loneliness than even the lowest of low moments on the trail. This happens because most of us return to a life that doesn’t involve people that can identify with what we’ve just endured. And because we go back to a life of buses, elevators, and Email accounts. But if this entry speaks to you then hear me when I say: it was worth it. Whether you’ve already thru-hiked the trail or you’re starting in 2011: it was worth it. And you’re not alone.

Cherish the good memories, and phase out the bad. Embrace the weight. And should you ever need a friend to talk to … the Traveling Circus is only an email away.


  1. Kate,
    With all due respect, you have no idea what you've accomplished. You are on your way to changing the world. There are few like you, and we need you to move forward. Believe me, I know about weight. You are just getting started. The weight you feel now is nothing compared to what you will leave the world in due time.

    Bless you.

  2. You always asked, "What's your favorite thing about the AT?" Everytime I answered, "The water." You hated that answer - there were so many better things. I still stick by that answer. The idea of a mountaintop spring still boggles my mind. But so many events happened in the interest of water - get here, pump faster, drink more, take a break. Remember the leech lake in Maine? You went swimming in it. Or hiking to Kincora hostel so dehydrated that I was staggering and mumbling "Kincora." When Emily and I cried while pumping water. That stupid ass water pump. Water is still my favorite; there were some high highs and low lows.

  3. I know there are trials and tribulations in the backcountry but I guess I'm a little lost in your words. I know you're saying the trail was worth it but you mention how terrible you felt a lot of the time. I don't think I read any blogs about these trials you speak of. Will any of this be discussed in the documentary?

  4. Oye! Uncle Frank here. I was just ahead of you. Haha stopping to cry on the side of a mountain. Good stuff. I cried my way to Katahdin too. Totally ON POINT with that writing. Can we keep up that feeling of ragged colorful ALIVENESS? It's a tricky game, but I think we can. Hang in there, babe.

    P.S. at my website (, check out the "Conclusion" under "Travel", "2010", "Appalachian Trail". Tell me what you think.

  5. Breeze & BumperJanuary 12, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Hi Traveling Circus,

    We just wanted to give you all a hug.

    P.S. The Priest Shelter night was one of our favorite trail memories.

  6. Hi Katherine, I was researching the Appalachian Trail and I stumbled upon your site and all I can say is WOW! What an amazing once in a lifetime adventure! Thanks for sharing both the good and the bad with us.

  7. omg;sh you couldnt have touched my heart more. i have no idea what world u came from and what world u had 2 go back 2 but i have been purging all the unnecessaries in my life. i so depserately want 2 get away from the urbanization in our society. i need this hike more than i need air 2 breath. i need it for my sanity(whats left of it). much like Job in the Bible, i have lost everything near and dear 2 me nearly 3yrs ago and have lived in this dark reclusive gutter. i have slowly thru sobriety been able 2 c the lite of day. i have no direction or course of which 2 embark this 39th yr of life. i need this hike simpley 2 think and redirect my perspective and attitude about life, God, and society as a whole. only problem is, i had a knee doc royally screw my knee up 2yrs ago and this daily chronic pain may impose this journey i crave 2 embark on the AT. im not sure how 2 get around the difficult challenges and the dare 2 destroy more of my knee? i fig. im gona hurt layn in bed or at my house just as well as on my journey of self discovery. im so glad 2 hear a female accomplished such a feat. i dont know u but hun i am so proud of u. u have really lifted my spirits 2day.God bless u. or keep in toush w. me if ud like.

  8. Onward & Upward: Yes, the documentary will speak to some of these trials and tribulations, but at the end of the day every hike is different -- age, gender, weather, social group, trail magic -- all of these factors change the hike. That's why no two hikes are ever the same.

    Breeze & Bumper: The Priest Shelter was also one of our favorites. And it resulted in Monkey reciting "Oh, The Places You'll Go" to me on top of Mt. Katahdin. We love you guys!

    Uncle Frank: I loved your post, particularly, "I'd cried all I could cry, laughed all I could laugh, and worn out the yips and yells. I was emotionally dead inside. Beat up. Burned out. Ready to go home." Such an odd set of emotions on that last day up Katahdin. Thanks for sharing!

    Everyone Else: Thank you. Thank you for commenting, thank you for sharing, thank you for reading. For me, hiking the trail was only half the journey. The other part was sharing it--through this blog, and eventually through the documentary. Keep dreamin' new dreams, and I will do the same ...

  9. I leave again April 7th for my next section of the trail. As a practicing attorney (20 years) I don't have the option of a thru hike so I am piecing it together each spring and fall. I enjoyed your blog and site. You will find as your legal career continues that your time hiking is a needed recharge for the noise of everyday life. Its great you had the opportunity to thru-hike before you started life as a lawyer. Congrats on passing the bar. Look forward to your documentary.

  10. Katherine-

    Wow. This is the first post I've read on your site, but definitely not the last. I am 2 weeks away from embarking on the same 2,179 journey and reading this just heightens my already flaring emotions, both the excitement and anxiety.

    I am embarking on this trek for many reasons, the love of camping, is not one of them. Knowing that the personal transformation that will likely after reaching Katahdin makes me feel all the more confident in my decision to do so.

    Thank you for this. I look forward to falling further down the rabbit hole.


  11. Any news on the documentary yet????


  12. Been awhile since I've been here---went hiking again.

    1-I completely understand the loneliness, even though I was traveling with a companion like you. We were climbing up, oh, out of the gap from Helen, Ga when I realized just how long this adventure was going to be and I suddenly missed everyone and wondered what on earth I was missing at home. This was so silly considering I had lived away from home for 8 years in Florida so why was I missing people I didn't see very often? Finally it took meeting Merf on the last half and hiking with her so much and getting such a good friend our of her to let some of that go.

    2-Monkey's comment on leechs, once I found out they existed up north I did not set foot in any pond. ICK! LOL!

    3-I am glad to hear someone else gained weight. I put on 15, thankfully lost it with this last hike and plan to do my darndest to keep it off again, but we'll see how that goes. I'm just glad to know I'm not alone!

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