This message comes to you from Pittsburgh, Pa after nearly three months on the road. On December 30th, 2016, I boarded an Amtrak train with my fat-tired bicycle, a Surly ECR. On January 2nd, 2017, I arrived in San Diego, assembled my bike, and rode to a place called Barrett Junction where a hundred riders assembled for a group camp (I missed the San Diego group start arriving a few hours too late). On January 3rd, we cycled to the border and crossed into Mexico entering a town called Tecate. We stocked up on a few days of food and rode out of town to another group camp.
For the next two months, I cycled with various riders to La Paz where my time on the Baja Divide came to an end. We tackled endless climbs and bombed gnarly descents. We cycled beaches on both the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez. We ate more tacos than you would believe. And we slept beneath endless canopies of stars. Life in Baja is good.
On March 5th, I mentioned an intention to hitchhike home or at least to San Diego where I could take another train. A train would negate the need to disassemble my bike. I also prefer the slow and steady approach. It allows time to decompress and ready oneself for a new reality in a place where people typically shower daily and don’t consider as work stuffing another taco into an already full stomach. Well, another travel overheard and offered me a ride. I couldn’t say no.
I spent the next ten days road-tripping in a van with a Finnish man who was kayak touring the Baja Peninsula. We explored the backroads driving by day and camping by night. We went to Vegas then to Death Valley where everything went horribly wrong. Driving a backcountry road, he struck a rock putting a fist-sized hole in the oil pan directly beneath the oil pump. “What does this light mean?” It read “check gages” and meant we were screwed.
We were eventually towed to a service station in Death Valley by someone in a real off-road vehicle. The mechanic took days to look at the vehicle. “It’s dead. You can either have it towed somewhere or sign the title over to us and we’ll scrap it for you.” He signed the papers and they drove him to Vegas where he caught a bus to San Fransisco to catch a waiting flight home to Finland.
I began riding but did not make it far. Because of a drivetrain that was completely worn out, the derailluer refused to shift onto the bigger rings. I kept riding anyway. Until the derailleur was sucked into the wheel. I set the bike up single speed and rode back to John and his Jeep. I camped with him. In the morning he drove me to town.
I attempted to hitchhike but it was nearly impossible in this town. I decided to ride, but my drivetrain continued to deteriorate forcing me onto the highway where I used a call-box to phone for help. A California Highway Patrol officer picked me up and drove me to a town with an Amtrak station where the saga finally came to an end on the 20th of March.
I’m currently sorting through photos and working to improve the website I built in the month between completing the Appalachian Trail and beginning the Baja Divide. Expect in-depth stories and tons more photos in the coming weeks.
Ryan “Kodak” Brown
Here are some of my favorite shots from the last few months. Those that follow me on Instagram have seen many of these already. I’ll be posting more shortly.
It has been quite a while since I’ve posted but, I have a good reason. I was living in the woods. I was also working on a new project that showcases my photography and my travels. The website is also the new home of this blog. Check it out: http://www.kodakbrown.com
A quick update:
I summited Mount Katahdin on the 22nd of October, basically the last day possible. Hikers still summited the next day in sketchy conditions. They came off the mountain with minor frostbite. I rented a car and drove to NYC where I took a Megabus into Pittsburgh.
Two weeks flew by with me unable to sit still. I wasn’t ready to be done; to settle into civilized society. I loaded my bike and went camping. I slept on the couches of friends and family. Then, I spent a week+ riding to and from Harpers Ferry with a friend from the Appalachian Trail. I was ready to be comfortable after snow in the mountains forced me to call for a lift. When my dad picked me up, the temperature was 26 degrees and falling. Two inches of snow were already on the ground and more was falling.
I have been working on my photography portfolio and website since returning. I am working side jobs and selling everything I can. On December 30th, 2016, I take a train to San Diego, Ca and ride the Baja Divide, a 1,700 mile off-road route to Cabo San Lucas.
I want to discuss the topic of post-trail depression. This is a very real phenomenon, discussed over and over again by hikers but often times overlooked by friends and family. Not everyone experiences it, but I would say that most do. It is very real, and should not be taken lightly. Hikers have even taken their lives in the months following their thru-hikes. It is a good idea to consider how you’ll manage your mental well-being after coming off a long distance trail well before the time is upon you.
The reasons for post trail depression are quite obvious once you think about the position you will be in once you finish your hike: You will have just completed a gigantic goal for which you are proud, but few others understand. You will likely be homeless or penniless or both. You will likely have no job, and no sense of…
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!
What’s up everybody. I’m in Front Royal and have completed Shenandoah National Park! While I’m sad to be leaving the beauty of the mountains and the perfectly groomed trails that made for easy walking, leaving the park is a milestone. In 54 miles we’ll be in Harpers Ferry which known as the psychological half-way point. I’m excited and could use a boost to moral. Everything seems to be going so wrong.
Firecracker and I arrived yesterday on the 9:50pm trolley. We picked up Firecracker’s new tent from the post office courtesy of my Mom. She’s now using my old tent that I retired before crossing the Mexican border on my bike last year. It’s heavy and has been around, but will make for a fine, fabric home.
We assembled the tent in the park behind the visitor center and we took a nap. Neither one of us slept well the night before. With a full shelter, we were forced to cram into my tiny, one-person tent. “Get off my hair!” was the conversation of the night along with groans of pain as we kneed and kicked each other.
We walked to the grocery store for dinner. Two packs filled the cart with the baby seat holding a rotisserie chicken and a box of rice sides. Leaning against a wall of the store, we feasted tearing into the chicken with a ferocity even the bears of Shenandoah don’t possess. We must have looked homeless judging by the sneers of shoppers or the careful avoidance of eye-contact by others. I can’t say I blame them. I feel more homeless than I’ve ever felt in my life, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Reactions to our journey never cease to amaze me and even in our sorry state we offered many rides to anywhere we may need to go. One guy in particular sticks with me. As I returned to our seats along the wall, after having washed the chicken grease from my hands, arms, and face (my clothes must wait for a washing machine in Harpers Ferry. Can you say, “bear bait?!”), I hear, “Hey man, ya lookin’ like ya’ll been seein’ to many treeees.” He exhales from his e-cig a cloud of vapor that obscures the door I just walked through. “Food coma,” I mutter before sitting down.
Bellies now full to bursting, we address the next need: sleep. I pull out my phone clicking on google maps. The map reveals that the park boundary is near our location and satellite imagery reveals it’s wooded. “Perfect!” We walk to the tree-line along Skyline Drive and find a suitable place to pitch a tent. We stealth camped there last night.
It’s now 4pm and we’re sitting in a coffee shop. Firecracker is reading her book on waves. It alternates behind the science of rogue waves and surfing stories (I know this because she read me a chapter as sat in the tent avoiding a storm). Me? I’m working on this post trying to ignore the pain in my eyes. They ache so bad from old contact lenses I seriously consider going blind. I’m not sure which is worse, pain or a blurry world. The pain, apparently, cause I’m still wearing the lenses…
As for everything going wrong, I’m being dramatic. Not everything is wrong. Only a small serious of disasters that make a person — already tired and sore from walking hundreds of miles yet facing a thousand more — feel like life is conspiring against them.
After the tent fiasco and the missing mail that’s making my eyes ache, the zipper ripped off my tent. My tent stake snapped. My food bag fell off my bear line hitting the ground with enough force to tear the bag in half. I’m covered in poison ivy. Firecracker’s shoes are dead (making her complain a lot :-p). My pant seam split in the butt meaning I can no longer “go commando.” The stitches on my BRAND NEW backpack are pulling out. And to top it all off — and compounding every issue — I’m way under-slept from sleeping in shelters every night with guys like Dozer who get their names from their sleep-shattering snores. AAHHHHH!!!
But worry not dear readers! All will be well after a good nights sleep and a little bit of time. New contacts await me in Harpers Ferry along with new shoes for Firecracker (no more complaining!). Thread will fix my tent and pants; duct tape my food bag. Poison ivy goes away and my backpack might be alright. If not, Gregory or REI will fix or replace it. Mountain views and sunsets have the power to erase all but the most major of problems and like I mentioned last time, I have a bad memory for things like this.
What we eat on trail:
In the next photos: an interesting beetle on a backpack; a deer abnormally close (parks are notorious for this); a bear in the distance sneaking into our camp that we were just leaving; AHHH!!!! A BEAR!!!
I’ll try and put the Elkton to Luray post together in Harpers Ferry. We are talking about spending some time there. I have the photos narrowed down from 601 to under 100 though… I take too many photos sometimes 🙂 I’ll work on putting up that donation link some of you have asked about as well. As for care packages, anyone wanting to send us some goodies, or even staples like pasta or barley, shoot me an email and we’ll figure out where to send it!