The Appalachian Trail is all about the people. Every year, thousands of hopeful thru-hikers flock to the southern terminus of the AT to test their mettle against the brutal ups and downs of life in the Appalachian Mountains. Most of us begin alone before finding what we call our “trail families.” In this photo are Finch, Mountain Goat, and My Shadow who are cuddle together in the corner of a shelter enjoying each others comanionship and warmth as they prepare to remove their jackets and face a cold days hike. I had the great pleasure to hike with these girls for roughly two months.
While the first photo illustrates the warmth and comfort of friends on the trail, this photo displays the trails darker side. It is one of my favorite photographs for this reason. A lone hiker traverses an exposed bald on a dark and gloomy day. The trail tests us in many ways often bringing out our deepest and darkest secrets. On the Appalachian Trail (or any grand adventure) we are forced to face our demons. It is these thoughts we battle more than the mountains or rough terrain. The trail tests the mettle of our minds way more than that of our bodies. Even when we physically hurt, which is often, it is our minds that overcome the pain pushing us ever onward.
Welcome to Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, the land where ice-cold spring water bubbles forth from the ground rippling the surface like water at a roiling boil. In one spot, water (clean enough to dunk your head and drink) flows out of a cavern 1,800ft deep. The opening lies beneath a shelf of rocks and is barely larger than the width of a human torso. We soaked in the 52 degree water for as long as we could. The initial shock of the cold gave way to euphoric giggles. Better than a half gallon of ice-cream I’d say.
Four days ago, we reached the official halfway point of the trail. Initial excitement from overcoming the challenge of hiking half the trail quickly gave way to the prospect of a new challenge: eating half-a-gallon of ice-cream. The challenge dates back at least two decades to the previous owner of the Pine Grove General Store. Seeing skinny and starving thru-hikers gave him the idea. Thru-hikers are always craving ice-cream. It is cold, refreshing, and loaded with calories. Why not eat as much as it as they can?
Eating this quantity of ice-cream is as hard as it sounds. For many at least. Firecracker walked laps up and down the road making room for more and to ward off the nausea. I did not try and race, like many, but took my time savoring each bite. I felt fine upon completion easily claiming my wooden spooned stamped “member of half gal. club.” I even ate a burger afterward. Then again, I’ve completed this challenge before… Firecracker, she felt a little sick and needed to lie down. She earned her spoon though! Continue reading →
I stand in the woods on the Appalachian Trail staring at a wooden plague nailed to a tree. The West Virginia / Virginia border. “F*** you!!!” I scream staring back across the imaginary line demarking the boundaries of the two states. “I HATE YOU!!!! AHHHHH!!!!!!” I was unaware of the animosity I had for the state of Virginia and underestimated the misery of my mood from the past few weeks.
The day before this emotional outburst, Firecracker and I crossed the thousand mile mark. The impact of walking 1,000 miles hit me harder than I expected. I’ve cycled multiples of this distance twice and nearly this far another time. Walking however; it doesn’t compare. I’ve never worked so hard in my life and I didn’t even know it. When faced with this kind of hardship, we block it out ignoring as much of the pain as we can. We have to. Until, that is, we overcome the obstacle or quit.
I overcame that obstacle when I stepped over the state line leaving Virginia behind for good. We entered Harpers Ferry not long after, a town known as the psychological halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. Oh boy is it ever that! Emotion rushed into my head with with a euphoria rivaling most other accomplishments. I felt relief more than anything; relieved to have walked half of this tortuous trail. No one can take that from me. I can also put aside thoughts of quitting, at least for now, as I am “over the hump.” I’ve begun planning the second half of the hike and have a greater goal to focus on: the great mountains of the Northeast known as “The Whites.”
As for my problems with Virginia, well, they are more difficult to explain. First of all, Virginia just has this reputation. The state is huge making progress seem to halt. Romantic notions of the trail are also gone by this stage – having left the body through blood, sweat, and tears as the trail breaks us (and our bones) and tears us apart. The “honeymoon” ends. “Virginia blues” is a common expression for these reasons.
Virginia is where I began to struggle. The beginning of the trail was easy for me as I did not face the adjustment challenges that other, less experienced adventure-travelers, faced. I came into the trail with a light(ish) pack — that was actually lighter then than it is now; the reverse of most everyone out here — and relatively strong in body. I was accustomed to physical hardship and the strain of living a homeless lifestyle.
The trail for me fell apart with the end of my trail family. I have always traveled alone. The group mentality was new to me and I fell into it full force loosing sight of my own needs and my budget. I put aside care packages and followed blindly along with my friends. I spent beyond my means on fancy meals and on nights indoors in comforting beds.
With friends and family comes the sharing of pain. In an already painful environment, the inability to shield myself from the pain of my friends sent me home for two weeks. Out here, your own problems are often more than you can stand let alone the problems of others.
Stressed beyond measure and needing a new backpack anyway, I hitchhiked to Washington D.C jumping on the opportunity for a break from the trail. I also needed money and listed my bike for sale on Craigslist. It never sold and I’m not sure I want it to. I bought that bike to cycle South America and I’m not ready for this adventure to kill that one.
Returning to the trail after this brief hiatus was difficult. Only now am I back in the mental flow state necessary to complete this trail. I returned out of shape (if you’re not walking at least ten miles a day, you’re out of shape) and with a ridiculously heavy pack. I don’t know what I was thinking! I know better than this.
But now, entering Harpers Ferry felt like hitting restart. All the burdens of the past month fell away renewing my energy and my spirits. I feel strong and ready to tackle the second half of the trail. My pack has returned to a reasonable weight. I’d even call it light though I’m still carrying this computer. I’ll continue this insane walk north until I either summit the infamous Mt. Katahdin or I die. Which is actually possible. I was nearly bitten by a copperhead a few days ago, stopping just short of the striking snake. It was in a stream and the splashing of its strikes alerted me to its presence.
In Harpers Ferry we had our photos taken for the ATC. We will forever reside in those pages that are, as my Uncle pointed out, the only cross-reference to our trail lives and our real identities.
In that box are my contacts sent by my Aunt and Uncle. Thanks guys! In the last post I pondered what would be worse, pain or blindness. Well, blindness won out when the pain in my right eye became unbearable. I removed the contact and walked for two days unable to see out of my right eye. It certainly made for an interesting walk!
Plants of the trail:
Food, Feasting, and COFFEE!!!!
Signs of the trail:
As for care packages, our next stop is Waynesboro, Pa, but my Mom has already claimed this drop. Thanks Mom!!!! The next city we will stop in is Boiling Springs, Pa just past the official halfway point. Woo!!!
If you would like to send some treats, mail them general delivery to the Boiling Springs Post Office with zipcode of 17007. Write on the box in black sharpie, “Hold for AT hiker Ryan Brown.” As for what to send: snack foods of any kind (bars, nuts, dried fruit, trail mix, chocolate, crackers, cookies, etc.); dried foods; tuna, salmon, and/or chicken packets are most appreciated. The only thing you really shouldn’t send are canned goods and perishable items. Don’t take this as a challenge, but the only thing I can think of that I won’t eat is chicken feet. You wouldn’t send those would you?!?
One more thing, boxes should be mailed PRIORITY. This is most important because boxes shipped this way can be transferred to other post offices. I can call, from wherever I am, and have the box sent somewhere else. Also, let me know you’re sending one (I need to know to pick it up!) so I can thank you!
For a simpler way to contribute use the link below. If Cash is King, Paypal is Treasurer. $1 buys me a pound of pasta, enough food for two dinners; $2.50 – a cup of coffee while I write these posts. If you can smell me through the screen, $5 lets me take a hot shower in town and for $10-$20 I’m sleeping soundly in the softest bed I’ll ever know. Thank you so much!
And thanks for following along!