Harpers Ferry in West Virginia is a crucial milestone for anyone who hikes the Appalachian Trail. Known as "the mental halfway point," it houses the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the land around it is a National Park steeped with Civil War history.
For contributor Lauren Groh and her wife, Rhesia Baron, arriving in Harper's Ferry was a special day on their journey through hiking the AT.
"I was just so excited and in such a good mood, and it's such a beautiful place...that it's kind of hard not to be excited," says Groh. "You walk up and the first thing you see is the Shenandoah River and it's just gorgeous."
Groh says that after hiking and camping on the trail for nearly one hundred days, seeing the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac rivers was a welcome break in the monotony of the trail schedule.
And while Harpers Ferry is the mental halfway point, Groh and Baron also reached their physical halfway point - twice if you count the old sign marking the spot, and walking right past what is the current halfway point.
"Every year the Appalachian Trail changes in length so they have to pick one spot that will always be the halfway point," Groh explains. "We ended up taking our pictures at a sign that says, 'hey you're halfway,' but it wasn't really this year's halfway, it was the halfway point of a few years ago."
Due to available land, vegetation on the trail, maintenance, and many other factors, miles are added and subtracted each year. For example, this year's AT is a total of 2,190 miles, compared to the 2,090 miles of a few years ago, notes Groh.
With 1,095 miles under their belts, Groh admits that some days it is hard to keep a positive mindset - especially if they encounter bad weather or are not feeling well physically. But her personal experience and recommendations from fellow hikers has garnered some valuable tools to help break up the journey.
"Not every day you're going to feel the best and the most in-tune with nature. And it's an adventure - but it's a long adventure," she explains. "Not every moment of every day are you going to feel incredibly grateful to be there, and going into a podcast sometimes is a really good way to just tune out for a little bit."
Groh says that many hikers believe it's wrong to listen to podcasts, music, or anything that may take away from the natural experience, but she believes listening to the podcasts are a beneficial way to help her get her miles in. "Everyone hikes their hike the way that they want to," says Groh.
Animal sightings have also helped to break up the monotony of daily hiking. In fact, Groh says that they have now seen four bears on the AT. "We waited almost three months to see a bear and we finally saw one just before we hit the Shenandoahs!," Groh recalls. "I didn't feel scared. I just felt excited, but also very respectful of what that animal is - and it's a wild animal,"
* The first bear sighting can be seen at the 2:00 mark
The Appalachian Trail spreads over 14 states, and a quarter of the trail is in Virginia, making it the most significant and longest state to travel in the journey.
"You're popping in and out of the other states in days or weeks and you're in Virginia for about a month and a half. So that was a long time and a lot of people say its really monotonous and they get the 'Virginia Blues,' but we didn't, really. We really enjoyed it, it was beautiful," says Groh.
While the mental grind may force some hikers to leave the trail and drop out, others can sustain injuries that don't allow them to safely continue. Groh and Baron have made many friendships on the trail, and she says news of fellow hikers dropping out is a sad and difficult thing to hear. However, Groh says she is respectful of their reasons to discontinue the journey, saying, "either way it's an amazing experience."
Despite having experienced so much on their first half of the AT, Groh says she has no new affirmations or goals moving forward.
"I'm going to get to Mount Katahdin in Maine and that's been the plan since the beginning," she confidently states. "(I'm) still planning on doing it and it's all going really well."
Lauren Groh lives in the Milwaukee area, where she graduated from UWM with a degree in journalism. She writes a camp and travel blog in her free time. You can follow Groh's Appalachian Trail journey on her blog, YouTube channel, Instagram, facebook, and crowdrise campaign.