Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Psychologically" Halfway

Harper's Ferry is touted as the "psychological" halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. If you look at a map of the AT and you pointed to the visual middle of the trail, your finger would land damn near Harper's Ferry, WV but this isn't why it is considered the half-way point. The actual 2014 AT midpoint is somewhere just north of a woods road at mile number 1092.65, whereas Harper's Ferry is situated around mile 1019. But Harper's Ferry is celebrated and will continue to be celebrated as a major milestone for a few reasons. By this point in an AT thru-hike, a person has endured countless hardships, whether that be injury, inclement weather, the loss of a hiking partner or group, or some combination of all three. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters also resides in Harper's Ferry and many a thru-hiker delight in having their photos taken outside of the building. The ATC keeps photo books dating back to the '70s full of hiker portraits.

We were beyond ecstatic to arrive in fabled Harper's Ferry (albeit by car). Our shuttle driver, Strings, parked behind the building and we four walked up the steps and opened the creaky screen door, letting it slam behind us. I don't know what I was really expecting from the small, whitewashed building, but I can tell you I was on the verge of tears. My eyes instantly settled on an aged wooden plank in the back of the room. The old Katahdin sign was beautiful and didn't seem real at all. We are at the ATC! They are going to take our picture! We're thru-hikers!

We were soon standing out front trying to keep Sheila still as the volunteer fiddled with the camera. She took a few different shots of us and we then followed her inside to watch the photo print and fill out the required information. While we were waiting, we spoke with another volunteer behind the desk and told him a little of our recent travels, what with having to skip ahead in order to finish at Katahdin by August. That's when everything changed.

The woman who had taken our picture was ready to fill out the information, including our start date and what number hiker we were to come to the ATC as a thru-hiker. She reached for the red permanent marker reserved for thru-hikers when the man at the counter stopped her.

"They aren't thru-hikers. They are doing an alternate hike since they missed some of the trail. Use the brown pen."

I was a little shocked when I heard this, but it didn't really register with me. It was as I was filling out our trail names and writing GA>ME that I realized that what he had said really bothered me. We are thru-hikers damn it. I mean, of course I understood that we wouldn't actually be hikers number 146 and 147, but being classified as an "alternate" really rubbed me the wrong way.

Chase and I have struggled through so much out here and we have found so many reasons to rejoice in the trail life. We feel like the AT has become a part of us, that the trail runs in our veins, guiding us toward Maine and helping us to grow along the way. To be classified in such a way really did some damage to my spirit. Our Maryland hike has been characterized by both of us having head colds and me dealing with the realization that the psychological halfway point isn't really halfway for us.

I've since come to terms with the brown "21" written over our ATC photo. We still have over half of the AT to hike and so much more time to spend out here in the woods and with each other. The numbers and milestones really are all "psychological," but the physical reality of what we are doing is still immense and applaudable.

Once we reach Katahdin, our AT miles hiked will be something like 1931.6 miles. Next year, we will hike the 22 miles into Damascus and party like a thru-hiker at Trail Days. We will make up the trail we missed from Glasgow to Harper's Ferry over the next couple of years as time allows on weekends and holidays.

I don't know when we will make it back to the ATC, but the next time we are there, I plan on holding my head high as we walk through the door and eating all of the cookies left for thru-hikers because damn it, I am an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.

No comments:

Post a Comment