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Outside/In: Why do people report feeling depressed after hiking the Appalachian Trail?

Joseph "General Hendrix" Robinson on Mount Washington, during his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail
Joseph "General Hendrix" Robinson on Mount Washington, during his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail

Editor's Note: A previous version of this podcast included an incorrect comparative latitude of Mt. Katahdin, in Maine.

When Jocelyn Smith was growing up, she told her friends and family she didn’t want to go to college. Instead, her goal was to hike all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a rugged journey spanning from northern Georgia to central Maine. Last year, she finally realized that dream in a seven-month-long, life-changing adventure.

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But as soon as she started her descent from the last mountain summit, she started to wonder … what now? What did all of this mean? For the thousands of people who “thru-hike” the world’s longest trails, this is actually a well-known phenomenon. They call it “the post-trail blues.''

If getting out into nature is supposed to be restorative, why do so many long-distance hikers report feeling depressed after they finish? In this episode, we explore how an epic hike turns into a new identity, and ask why some of the biggest achievements of our lives can leave us feeling strangely empty.

Featuring Jocelyn Smith, Shalin Desai, Joseph Robinson, and Anne Baker.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, reach out to the folks at the Crisis Text Line, a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

Jocelyn Smith and friends at the 2,000 mile mark on the Appalachian Trail
Jocelyn Smith and friends at the 2,000 mile mark on the Appalachian Trail

LINKS AND ADDITIONAL READING

Jocelyn Smith’sblog forThe Trek

Shalin Desai’s piece about diversity on the trail, originally published in A.T. Journeys, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy magazine.

More information about the life and music of Earl Shaffer, the first known person to have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from end-to-end.

Anne Baker’s article for The Trek, titledPost-Trail Depression: It’s Not What You Think

Our previous episode on Baxter State Park, featuring ultramarathoner Scott Jurek: “Champagne on The Rocks”

Jocelyn Smith hugging a tree on the Appalachian Trail
Jocelyn Smith hugging a tree on the Appalachian Trail

Outside/In is a show where curiosity and the natural world collide. Click here for podcast episodes and more.
Taylor Quimby is Supervising Senior Producer of the environmental podcast Outside/In, Producer/Reporter/Host of Patient Zero, and Senior Producer of the serialized true crime podcast Bear Brook.
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