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Chip Steele started a discussion here last week about getting time off to
do the AT.
I was in Arizona at the time and I'm just catching up on my mail, but I
following might be of some interest to those who were involved in the
I wrote it in answer to a question from a prospective thruhiker, but it was a
private conversation so it never got published on the list. My standard
>First, some background - I'm an aerospace engineer with a small problem - I'm
growing older in a shrinking, specialized industry. The short version is
spent 30 years in spacecraft operations and ground system development.
>I finished the AT on 23 Sept 92 and my kids picked me up at Katahdin. A week
later I was at a Job Fair in Virginia - it was a really strange transition.
>I went to the Gathering on Oct 8, and was laid off on Oct 15. Some
I took a 6 month Leave of Absence to do the Trail - that stretched out to 7
months. When I left, my boss told me I probably wouldn't have a job when I
got back. He was right.
>On Oct 22 I got a job offer - at a 10% pay cut. On Oct 29 I got another job
offer - it was shift work - 12 hour shifts. I turned them both down. Partly
because of the conditions, partly because I just wasn't ready to go back to
work yet even though the checking account was getting really low. Truth is
that if I'd had enough money and my knees weren't so bad, I'd have yoyo'd
at Katahdin and headed south.
>In November, I spent a couple weeks in Haiti doing mechanical work at a
medical mission in the northwest highlands. It gave me some time to get my
head together. Didn't get another job offer until late January 93. Things
were beginning to get really tight. Then I didn't start work until March 1.
And it was in NJ. I lived in NJ when I was a kid - hated it then, still do.
>All this time I wasn't even sure I wanted to go back to work as an engineer.
My heart just wasn't in it. Ten months after I went to work (Dec 93), I was
caught in the great layoff game - Merry Christmas. I was one of the last in,
so I was one of the first out.
>The next 13 months were no fun. I sent out 800 resumes and had 6 interviews.
No one was hiring aerospace engineers. Finally got an offer in MD. What
it's a job. It's better than no job and I like the people and the work, so
here I am.
>The people I work with now think it's pretty neat that I did the AT. The
where I worked before were really pissed that I left to go do it. When I came
back, they wouldn't even talk about it. People get really strange about it
of them would like to do something, but don't have the guts to leave their job,
house, family, etc. That's not bad - it's just that they sometimes get spiteful
about you doing it. And that can be bad if it's your boss that feels that way.
>Second - It wasn't easy to go back to work. It took a long time for my head
to get back into the BS. Wrong - I never did get back into it. I've developed a
reputation for cutting through the BS. I've stopped a number of meetings
dead in their tracks by asking questions that either no one knows the answers
to, or that everyone knows the answers to, but don't want to face.
>Third - some prospective employers react badly to the Trail, some don't.
My attitude is that if a company's antagonistic about my doing the Trail, I
don't want to work there anyway. Had an interview in NJ. I liked the people,
was interested in the work, the money was good - but the HR type who
interviewed me was really irritated that I'd taken 6 months to do what I
wanted to do rather than keep my nose to the grindstone until I died of old
age at a desk and they rolled in the coffin to take me out.
>The resume - for a 1 month gap, nobody even notices (usually). For a six
month gap, my advice would be to be aggressive about it. I was sandbagged
by a headhunter. He told me to not mention the AT, that it wouldn't be a
positive factor in my favor. Guess what was the first thing they asked -
after I'd gotten my head programmed to not talk about it. It was a disaster.
I didn't use that headhunter again.
>On the other hand, another headhunter put a really positive spin on it. He
looked at it in terms of my being persistent, flexible, determined - a
I liked that man.
>Bottom line - it's a mixed bag. You probably won't be ready to start work
for some time (2 weeks? 2 months?? who knows??). And when you do, you
won't fit the way you did before. You'll need some time to explore the new
dimensions of what you are. It'll be better (I don't know anyone who isn't
better after the AT), but it can also be depressing because you're re-learning
things about yourself that you learned years before - but they're not quite
the same as they were the first time.
>You'll run into people/companies that think what you did is useless, a waste
of time and energy, etc. And you'll run into those who think it's good (shows
character or something). Personal opinion - 1/ don't let it bother you - it's
their problem. 2/ Don't EVER apologize for it - then they'll know they're
And you'll feel bad about it (not good). 3/ Even those who think it's good will
never really understand. They don't have the knowledge or experience to
OK - that all concerns coming back. When I left to start the AT, I knew there
wouldn't be a job for me when I got back, and it didn't bother me at all.
gone even if I'd known there'd be a firing squad waiting for me as I came off
Katahdin. That's me - doesn't necessarily apply to anyone else. The only
question anyone needs to answer is - would you do it if you knew your life
would change so much that all the plans you've made for the future would be
trashed? Because they might be. That doesn't mean your life would be
destroyed - it might just be different than what you expect. It could be
Allow me to re-phrase the question - How much do you want to thruhike the AT?
Remember - I'm writing from a different perspective. I'm not retired, nor am I
just graduating and starting a career, so some of what I write doesn't apply to
those who are. So take what applies - and don't worry about the rest of it.
On a personal note - I'm sorry you didn't get to the Grand Canyon, Chip - we
were there last Friday. It was awesome - and that's a gross understatement.
Bald Eagle, AT-92