Reverse culture shock is the readjustment to one’s own culture after spending extensive time (>3-6 months) in a different culture.  It is odd to think that returning from the PCT would be a case of reverse culture shock, but what I’m experiencing right now is quite similar to what I experienced returning home after 8 months China.

Coming back from China, I was shocked and delighted by the cultural diversity of California.  I was surprised so many people were smiling and opening doors for me, not cutting in front of me in lines, and being generally *orderly.*  I was impressed by the quality of the roads and highways, and I was shocked to be surrounded by people speaking ENGLISH.  WTF?? 

Similarly, post-trail, I found myself walking around a grocery store, realizing I don’t have worry about how much the groceries weigh!!  I was startled by soft beds, hot showers, and water coming out of faucets.  And food.  (Did I mention food??)

Sometimes reverse culture shock is dismissed as being only small or insignificant adjustments, but these adjustments are only the tip of the iceberg, indicative of much more profound changes that have taken place.

Post-trail, I have been shocked by how unhappy people are.  I have been shocked by how NOT present people are.  And I have been shocked by how busy people are.  Many aspects of society that I used to accept as normal now seem completely bonkers.  Zonked.  Oddball.  Crazy.  And sometimes, ought-right stupid.

People are thinking about:  careers, term papers, busy, stress, body, business, overwhelm, image, income bracket, what my parents think, what my peers think, what my boss thinks, getting a house, car, things…

As I listen, I feel like a dog with head cocked to one side — ear perked up in attention — yet completely perplexed.  All of these things used to hold great meaning and weight for me, but now all of these are just — meaningless?  I find myself asking:  what is stress?  What is overwhelm?  What is busy?  Worse, why are all the things people are “stressed,” “overwhelmed,” and “busy” about not related to food, water, injury, or exposure??

It becomes more difficult to have a conversation when what is meaningful to someone is rather meaningless to me, and what is meaningful to me — is rather meaningless to the other person.  I really, really want to sympathize, but I find I can’t — and so now I find I’m trying to navigate old relationships as a new person.  I’m coming back to relationships only to realize that I have changed.  Profoundly.

This is similar to reverse culture shock, as well.  After China, my relationships changed, shifted.  Weak ties ended, new close bonds formed – often surprisingly.  Post-China, all the lost relationships caused me to feel alone, forgotten, and misunderstood.

I think that transition has actually helped my resilience in this transition.  (I’m less shocked by the culture shock!!)  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  I yearn for the smell of trees, cold wind blowing against my face, and snow out to the horizon.  Soft beds are now really uncomfortable and I sleep less soundly.  I’m trying to wade through society and relationships as a changed person.

So yes, I can definitely understand why people become depressed post-trail.  And seeing as I only finished 2 months ago, I still have yet to see how well I adapt and how my social circles morph.

In short, “post-trail blues” is starting to be recognized by the long-distance hiking community, but is this actually a variety of reverse culture shock?  Comparing both from an inside perspective, I’d say they’re very similar.  So, PCT community, I’m very curious:  what’s your perspective on this?  What has your experience been, post-trail?  Any tips/advice on the social aspects of the transition?


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