Currently sitting at the table in Harper's Ferry Hostel...
Today was an important day. I left Maryland and ended up at the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harper's Ferry. This is often called the "emotional halfway point" of the trail. It is a ritual for the staff to take your picture in front of the sign and for thru-hikers to officially check in with the ATC.
I should back up and talk about the rest of my day though. This morning was similar to a good number I had before my days off: I woke up, got ready, started hiking, and immediately started thinking about how many miles remained. The fun had been sucked out of hiking itself. All I had to tide me over was the knowledge that I would make it to Harper's Ferry tonight and that I would experience the joy of the ATC ritual. Getting there entailed 23 miles of nearly flat hiking. I rolled off the miles, getting a few views but generally not wanting to hike. The dark cloud that had hovered over me yesterday was still firmly in place. This same cloud had found me on the day I entered Connecticut, but it had dispersed quickly. I found entertainment and motivation in trying to race to Harper's Ferry to meet my mom at the ATC. With nothing in particular to pull me forward, I'm dead in the water. It's not that I should need anything to drag me along, but it is what got me this far. In order to get through the day, I allowed myself to consider getting off the trail at Harper's Ferry. With this possibility worming its way into my brain, my mood brightened. You mean I don't have to death-march every day? I started to wonder what would happen if I continued like this, being miserable for 8 to 12 hours of hiking in exchange for (maybe) two hours of social time at night. Would anything change as I hiked forward? I began to worry that I would continue to hike without any soul. Nothing is new anymore, nothing has presented itself as a challenge, the novelty is gone. I felt guilty for having these thoughts when I still have people knocking on the door to visit, when I have so many family and friends following along online. I didn't want to let anyone down, but I wanted to preserve my own sanity. I stopped to write in what may have been my last shelter log. I said a possible goodbye. In it, I mused that I might have gotten all I could from the trail for the time being. It sounds selfish, but it's true. On this trip, I spent a lot of time digesting, well, everything that has happened in my life. But that digestion and processing has slowed down and stopped. I had talked to Sole about having no new thoughts to go over while hiking, and I think that might be a result of reaching a level of peace within myself. I miss interacting with people. Those who know me well understand that I enjoy and require a little bit of solitude to recharge, but I fear I've had too much. It's clear that I can do the hiking and camping end of things, so I wonder what is left to prove. These are the thoughts that make me not want to take another step. I need to mull them over some more.
I made it to Harper's Ferry by 3, with plenty of time before the ATC's closing. I stopped for ice cream then walked up the hill. Walking up to the office kind of felt like the end. It was hard not to think of it that way. The moment passed because there was a thru-hiker out front who was evidently very drunk. I learned his name was Sawyer and that he was a northbounder who started in March. It all made sense. He was more of a "traveler". I got my picture taken, signed the printout with my info, and put it in the binder. It claims I am the 14th sobo of the year, but Matt Kirk, the now-reigning unassisted speed record-holder, was listed as 8th. Not that I'm too concerned with my ranking at this point. I enjoyed visiting the office, and checking out the ten-foot-long relief map of the entire trail was pretty cool too. I signed the log in the office, thanking the volunteers and eventually thanking the trail itself. My eyes started to burn a little, so I wrapped it up quickly. After a dinner in town, I couldn't find a way to the hostel. I knew Bernie was staying there because he had texted me. I asked him if he could talk to anyone at the hostel. What ended up happening was Bernie arriving in a borrowed truck to get me. I don't really know. Everyone at the hostel has been so nice, including the four Swedish girls who checked in when I did. The trail still provides. After second dinner and some ice cream, here I sit. I'm going to stay here tomorrow, relax, and hopefully weigh my options. This is a big one; there's no sense rushing into anything.