Appalachian Trail: Struggles End with Halfway Arrival

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.

 

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Firecracker taking a photo of thunderheads building over the mountains. We ate dinner sitting outside the grocery store. Then, we walked into the woods and camped along the road.

 

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Happy Creek Coffee and Tea in Front Royal treated us to a couple free muffins as we were leaving. Thank you!

 

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The Jim and Molly Denton shelter has a horseshoe pit in the front yard! No one would play with me however so I was left to play myself. The shelter also had a solar shower and privy stocked with TP. This is unheard of out here.

 

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The solar shower at the shelter. Water is piped in from a spring and is freezing cold. It’s also not in the sun so not technically a “solar” shower. I did clean myself though and felt wonderful for it.

 

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Volunteers from the PATC are trimming back the trail for us. I turned the corner and stood waiting, with my camera, for them to see me so I could pass by. She posed when she saw the camera! Thanks for your hard work. We certainly appreciate it.

 

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Walking through a field on the Appalachian Trail.

 

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Firecracker loves trains. She was SOO excited to see this one blocking our progress.

 

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Waiting for the train was a good time to eat my pre-made lunch. I’ve been making big batches of barley or pasta and bagging them to eat later. Cheaper and more nutritious than most bars.

 

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Our water filter is setup for gravity filtration. Her head is higher than the ground…

 

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One reason we filter water is to remove sediment. Mmhhhmmm! Crunchy water… The main reason is so we don’t get sick. I had a parasite once… Travelers Disease: When farts turn frightening

 

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Out here, we live in the woods and we bathe in streams.

 

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We play frogger crossing multiple lanes of D.C. traffic. Watching these cars wiz past was memorizing.

 

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A copperhead snake laying along the path to the privy. I noticed him on the way back…  This isn’t the one charged with attempted murder. I met him later in the evening.

 

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It’s 6pm and we are still in the notorious section of trail known as “The Roller Coaster.’ The section is 13.5 miles of steep up and downs. This is the last of my coffee. I saved it for this moment to see me through to the end.

 

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Firecracker making an early dinner as we physically and mentally prepare to push on into the night. We hiked 17 miles stopping at midnight.

 

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Cleaning out the tent in the morning before we walk into Harpers Ferry. Don’t you wish your house was this easy to clean?!? If only it came with hot showers…

 

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!

 

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My box came stuffed with extra goodies! Thanks!

 

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And a special thanks to the Bishop family who sent this stash of goods!

 

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Inside the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) hangs this sign from Mt. Katahdin. This is an original replaced in the 90’s. Seeing it brought tears to my eyes. When I see it again, I will have walked 2,189 miles across the country. Unreal.

 

Plants of the trail:

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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!
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And thanks for following along!

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2 thoughts on “Appalachian Trail: Struggles End with Halfway Arrival

  1. Ryan/Kodak, Hey there, been following you from the beginning (Springer) and have felt your struggles and grief (loss of your trail family), both by what you have said and haven’t said. :-). I am impressed by your transparency and willingness to share your struggles with your readers. I am happy for you – you seem in a better place and I’m glad you have a supportive trail partner (hi Firecracker!). Looking forward to your next post.

    • Thanks for following along! Honestly, I wish I could share more. The story out here on the AT is all in the interactions with fellow hikers. I must carefully walk the line of sharing my own story without overstepping my bounds by sharing other people’s business.

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