So my hike is over. We drove back to Chattanooga in the freezing rain last night, out of the wilderness of backwoods Alabama, and made it here just in time for seven inches of snow. It was planned, actually--I pushed the miles the last three days so we could make it out in time for this last front. Shadow is confused and at loose ends. Even though he's a snow dog from Maine, snow in this context is confusing, as is the sudden conflation of people and the lack of backpacks.
They say one of the biggest challenges of hiking with dogs is their adjustment after the hike is finished. He keeps whining and staring out the window in bewilderment and needs a lot of affection. They say many dogs, especially after a longer hike, become depressed. The famous seeing-eye dog, Orient, who accompanied Bill Irwin, the first blind man to hike the Appalachian Trail, became so depressed that he never recovered. He was older anyway, but he passed on soon after completing the trail, going to that great trail in the sky.
No more so than I. Not that I'm going to the great trail in the sky anytime soon, but the adjustment post-hike is just as difficult for humans as for dogs. Today was a snow day in Chattanooga, everything closed, and I used it mainly to cook and eat, favorite post-hike activities. Shadow even has a huge store of Christmas and New Year's bones in the freezer that he can gnaw on, after his meager trail rations.
Hiking changes people and dogs alike, and the recovery process is difficult. I could just step full-force back into my life here, and it's a little overwhelming. I've made some decisions, though, about goals and priorities. Mainly, I've confirmed what I already knew--I want my next major project to be land. That's my main goal for the next however many months, until I find my next anchoring point. I want a homestead of my own.
I love Donne's poem "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning," where he compares his wife to the rooted part of the compass, and himself to the other moving leg, and though he circles and moves away, he always comes back. They always meet back in the center. I need a home that can function that way, the rooted anchor that I always return to. I'm not ready to stop adventuring, and I may never be, but having something that ties me to the ground will give me the stability I need for the next stage in my life.
I'll be posting entries from the last two weeks of my hike over the next few days, and I'll try to get photographs up as soon as possible. Looking forward to rejoining civilization, at least for a little while, and hearing from and seeing all of you. Happy New Year, everyone.