I wrote back when I was in Tennessee that the Trail is "really all about the food." At the time, my Hiker Hunger was in full force and occupied the majority of my thoughts (as well as space & weight in my pack). Having walked 1400 miles (!!!) feeling that hunger, I've come to look at it in a new light.
Hunger can be painful. As many of my friends know, even before I started hiking the AT I was prone to getting "hangry." As my stomach rumbled, my mood would tank and I wasn't fun to be around. On trail, the lack of energy from not eating enough is debilitating; I've learned to stave it off before it becomes too bad or slows me down. There's a point where the ache in your stomach can feel like it'll never go away, but I'm simply unable to carry the amount of calories my body demands. Hunger has become my most regular companion along the trail.
Still, while hunger can hurt, it also can make you feel more alive. I've born witness to the rapid transformation of a meal into energy and have a deeper appreciation for my own biology. Hunger has helped me organize my day, breaking the otherwise overwhelming mileage into mini-hikes between snacks or meals. It's spurred me on, pushing me to quicken my pace to reach the next destination where I can enjoy a good view or occasional picnic table.
Most of all, hunger inspires you to crave. As I reach a summit, I know that I want to reward myself with a double bacon cheeseburger or cookies & cream ice cream. I am able to pinpoint exactly what I want, even if I'm hopelessly unable to have it. Take yesterday, when out of nowhere I wanted yellow Skittles. I haven't had Skittles in years and all of the sudden I wanted nothing else: just yellow ones, though. So strange.
A few days ago, I was picked up by my friend Madison, who is back from having some adventures of her own. She has had time to step out of her comfort zone and reflect, as I have, but it's clear that she has found a rare clarity in her perspective. She mentioned, among the many pearls of wisdom that she shared, that she wishes to surround herself with people alive with hunger. People who want more out of life than just a 9-to-5 and the security that comes with it.
As she spoke, I realized that before coming on the Trail, I had lost my hunger for life. I was satisfied with the life I had and in many ways content, but I didn't ache for my aspirations. It's hard to explain, but after experiencing a trauma so profound and unexpected, I was wary of exploring my desires. As if, knowing that we cannot plan out our lives, I was content to sit in the backseat. I was unwilling to pin my happiness onto any future experience--getting into grad school, finding love, or becoming a father, because there was no way to know if those things would ever happen. I thought I was being smart, but I was cowering behind contentment.
This trip has reawakened my hunger to achieve. I've spent many hours imagining what is to come and mentally exploring what I hope will be my "side hustles" in the coming years. These endeavors may or may not happen, but I come alive when imagining them. The pain of dissatisfaction no longer annoys me, it inspires me.