The Halfway Hangover

In the previous post, I had briefly mentioned something I wanted to write a little bit more about to share a more in-depth version of our Appalachian Trail experience. It seemed like after hitting Harper’s Ferry, which is the traditional and iconic halfway point of the Appalachian Trail, both Lindsay and I became consistently more negative and irritable on the trail. It took a few weeks of introspective thought while hiking and to realize something in us had changed so that we could then identify the cause.

It soon dawned on us that we were not alone with our melancholic feelings. It seemed like a slow tide came over ourselves and our fellow NOBO (Northbound) thru hiker peers as we moved through the mid Atlantic states. First we blamed feeling down on the heat and the evil Pennsylvania rocks, until we realized that these feelings started long before the rocks ever did. It seemed like leaving Harpers Ferry, WV deflated everyone around us from a morale standpoint like an old party balloon with a slow and invisible leak. We somewhat affectionately dubbed this the “Halfway Hangover”.

The official halfway marker for the 2014 Appalachian Trail
The official halfway marker for the 2014 Appalachian Trail

The halfway hangover that most thru hikers in at least our immediate area suffered from could be attributed to three common components. First, Harper’s Ferry isn’t actually half way. It is about five days of hiking from the true halfway point in Pennsylvania. Each hiker goes through months of mental and emotional build-up to hit the halfway point at Harper’s, and after a day or two of celebration in the pub they leave town to still be on the uphill side of the mileage chart. Which leads directly to the second cause: when you finally get to the halfway mark next to a dirt path in southern Pennsylvania the feeling goes from celebration to dread. It’s only half over. All the aches, pains, boredom, rain, heat, bugs and expenses are only half over. The problem with this realization, and also the third factor for feeling blue, is that you don’t have a whole lot to look forward to for the next month or more. At the halfway point the dreaded Pennsylvania rocks loom nearby, the vistas and views of 4,000ft peaks are gone until Vermont, the heat is about to hit full bore with being at lower elevation, and conveniently everything is more expensive north of the Mason-Dixon line. Is it really that bad? No. But waking up in a sleeping bag you just sweat through to go pound out 25 miles of rocky ground with more snakes than scenic views can get you down after a while.

Nonetheless, most of us kept moving forward. Admittedly it’s sad to hear about people who quit after halfway or cheat ahead because they don’t want to walk anymore. Then again, there is the fact that only about 10% of those who start an Appalachian Trail thru hike actually finish, because at 7am on some rocky knoll in New Jersey you put your boots on, go to work, knock out the next 20 and just hope Vermont is as pretty as they say it is.

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