A Look Back: Experiencing the Re-Entry Blues and How to Cope

Standing at the bottom of Mooney Falls. WOW.
In 2012, Columbia Sportswear took ten people who talk a lot about the outdoors on the internet and brought them together as the first-ever #OmniTenOur first adventure together took us to Sedona, Arizona, to Havasupai, and all over the Grand CanyonThough I'd experienced the re-entry blues before, I'd never felt anything like I did when I came home from that trip. 

This piece, which originally appeared on the Expand Outdoors blog in 2012, is meant to pay homage to one of the most incredible experiences of my outdoors life. When I read it the other day, man did those memories come flooding back. A lot's changed for all of us over the past four years, but this trip, we'll always have this in common!

Wake up. Turn off air conditioner. Take shower. Pet cats. Head into the city. Ignore traffic. Revel in shade created by tall building after tall building. Remember how a short time ago, the same sought-after shade was created by towering red rock canyon walls. Trip over a dead cockroach. Grab an iced coffee. Feel the incredible absence of two dozen new friends. Sigh.

A short week ago, I returned from a trip to Arizona that included mountain biking, backpacking, hiking, waterfall watching and gear testing, all thanks to Columbia Sportswear. After arriving in Sedona on the first day and being hit with surprise after surprise, I began to realize exactly what I’d been given – my first real press trip. It’s the type of opportunity I knew was out there, but never believed I’d have. After all, I’m just a girl who likes to play outside and write about it. Folks, dreams really do come true.

Is it sad that I can't remember whether this was taken before or after our hike to Havasupai? Regardless, such an incredible crew!

When my plane took off in Phoenix after we’d said our goodbyes, I popped open my laptop to start looking through photos. The excitement from the trip was still palatable, like an adrenaline rush that lingers, but better. I could still hear Jon singing showtunes, Billy delivering the punch lines of the most amazing stories, Adam and Andy telling us what to expect for the day, and dozens of other wonderfully familiar voices. Some of my fellow #OmniTen teammates talked about “having a moment” on the last day, but I was just so darn happy to be a part of it all, I wasn’t sad. It felt like a beginning, not an ending.

Then, on the first full night at home after tossing three hours of work editing GoPro footage down the drain because of a silly oversight, I lost it. I sat in my desk chair and cried. I cried out of frustration and exhaustion, but also because I’d been thrown back into normalcy as quickly as I’d been thrown into a life-changing experience without time to understand what I’d just been through. I woke up the next morning with what new friend Rebecca affectionately calls “a Havasu hangover,” missing the rhythms of camp and my trip mates terribly. I had a serious case of the re-entry blues.

In the outdoor realm, the subject of dealing with re-entry into the “normal” world is frequently discussed as a common result of most trips that take us far out of our daily routines. But haven’t had trouble adjusting after the majority of my adventures, except for the exceptional ones.

Yep. This is a real place. And those are real people. Really awesome real people.
The first time I can recall feeling immense sadness and desperation to turn back time was after my first real backpacking trip. It wasn’t an exceptional trip. Nothing went as planned and I had no idea what I was doing. But after spending a week in the woods, I had to take my morning oatmeal outside on an remarkably chilly upstate New York morning to alleviate the claustrophobia I felt. After facing more fears than I knew I had on Mount Rainier in 2010, I lost it on the plane trip home, overwhelmed by everything I’d experienced. The fact that I was feeling what I was feeling after leaving Arizona meant the trip was, without a doubt, one of the exceptional ones.

That first night home, putting pressure on myself to crank out blog posts about mountain biking, the 10-mile trek to Supai, the tour through the beautiful canyons and Columbia’s gear was enough to push me over the edge. It caught me by surprise. Why was I crying? It was just a trip to Arizona with a bunch of strangers, right?

Yep, just a bunch of strangers. Some of the coolest strangers I've ever met, some of whom will be lifelong friends.
I don’t often give in to emotion, partially because outward vulnerability isn’t something I do well. But sometimes, it sneaks up on me. The tears and the lump in my throat were gentle reminders that it’s okay to feel. The best solution I could think of was to disconnect and go to bed, but to no avail. After tossing and turning for an hour, my body finally gave in. But I woke up with the same sense of sorrow, further hung over from a barrage of crazy dreams.

Thanks to the wonders of modern life that brought me to Arizona in the first place – email and social media – the flood of notes and photos flying around the screens of all of my gadgets are began to alleviate some of the grief. I took a peek at trip photos on Facebook over my morning eggs, sent texts to those members of the #OmniTen I had phone numbers for, and reread group emails from the previous day.

On the hike out of Havasupai. Yep, it's real. Though sometimes, the whole trip seemed like a dream.
Being so unexpectedly vulnerable meant being forced to accept that it’s going to take me a while to figure out the true effects of the trip. This time around, I’ve found a few things that help me ease the re-entry blues:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” This succinct and simple quote is full of deep meaning. Allow yourself time to grieve, but make space in your mind and heart for happiness, too. It’s more fun to remember the good things than it is to be sad. My partner in crime and I went straight out to dinner after my flight landed, and I popped my laptop open to show off unprocessed photos and videos right at the table. Sharing memories before they faded felt great.

Plan another adventure. It’s hard to stay blue when you’ve got another exciting trip to look forward to. My next adventure will be to a brand new-to-me destination: Acadia National Park in Maine. I’m so excited to see a part of the east coast I’ve never seen. The fact that it’s a family vacation will make it even more special.

Throw yourself into activities you’re passionate about. It’s a short term distraction, but by finding things to keep busy with, it’s easier to get into a rhythm at home. I got right back to CrossFit the day after I landed, and being in a familiar place I associate with good feelings made a big difference. I didn’t want to push the sadness away, but getting into my routine eased the post-trip blues.

Keep in touch and talk about it. Though most trips don’t involve spending five days with dozens of complete strangers, sometimes the best way to get over a “Havasu hangover” is to rehash happenings with trip mates. One member of our group took on the enormous task of compiling contact information for all Havasu extension participants and sending it out to the group. Since then, we’ve all been able to stay in touch and share photos. It also helps that the entire group was made up of bloggers, journalists and editors, many of whom have already captured pieces of the trip online.

Have you ever experiences the post-trip blues, or something similar to a “Havasu hangover?” Do you have successful coping strategies? I’d love to hear them!

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