• Photo: Amanda Greene

    Each year, thousands of people attempt to go all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail as it winds through 14 states. This year, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that 3,400 individuals will attempt a thru-hike, making it one of the busiest years in the trail’s history. Already 1,500 people have set out from the trail’s southern terminus—Springer Mountain, in Georgia—on their way to Maine’s Mt. Katahdin. Among them are retirees, teenagers, endurance athletes, and recent amputees. They come from as far away as New Zealand and South Africa and and hail from a variety of backgrounds. Only about 25 percent of them will finish the six-month journey. We met up with a few of these hopefuls as they set out.
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Jeremy

    Age: 31

    From: Leesburg, Florida

    Occupation: Retired cryptologist

    Luxury Item: Digital camera

    “I’m a transitioning veteran and recently divorced. There is a lot of stress and depression in the military, but I really believe hiking heals. Re-acclimating to civilian life has been really difficult for me, and I was just diagnosed with ADHD after 30 years of not knowing why my brain works the way it does. So I guess I’m also hiking to learn to control how I think.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Teri

    Age: 55

    From: Hot Springs, North Carolina

    Occupation: Dental hygienist

    Luxury Item: A birthstone earring for each of her two grown kids.

    “I’ve lived near the trail my whole life. For me it was always a question of: Why wouldn’t I do that? My kids are grown and I’ve just retired, so now seemed like the perfect time. I know it’s going to be hard as heck. I’m most worried about how my knees will hold up. I just have to trust that it’s going to work out.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Athena

    Age: 23

    From: Salem, Massachusetts

    Occupation: Chef

    Luxury Item: Whiskey

    “I hiked Katahdin when I was 14 and got the outdoors bug. My family owns a Christmas tree farm 40 miles north of Katahdin, so my plan is to hike up and over Katahdin and keep going until I get back to my land. My grandfather is 93. He told me, ‘If I haven’t yet died, I’ll be there to meet you.’”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Paul

    Age: 51

    From: Chicago, Illinois

    Occupation: Information technology specialist

    Luxury Item: Coffee percolator

    “I’ve completed 90 marathons, but the last three years of travelling for work has taken a lot out of me and put a lot on me. I’m hoping to change my lifestyle. But I still want to eat well out on the trail. Good food isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Tomorrow morning, I’ll have the best ever cup of coffee. I spent all winter and spring trying to perfect the percolator schedule. It takes about a half in hour to get a single cup, but it’s totally worth it.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Sev

    Age 23

    From: Waco, Texas

    Occupation: Retail

    Luxury Item: Stuffed animal

    “Two years ago, I was working at Wal-Mart and in an abusive relationship. I changed my whole life so that I could do this. I spent a year and half planning for the hike. During that time, my granddaddy died. He raised me. He was a rodeo cowboy turned truck driver. When I was a little kid, I bought him this stuffed Tasmanian Devil so he wouldn’t be alone in his rig. After he died, I put a lock of his hair in Taz so he could come up the trail with me. My dad’s a tattoo artist. He tattooed the Appalachian Mountains on me just before I left.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Sandro

    Age: 31

    From: Bern, Switzerland

    Occupation: Tax auditor

    Luxury Item: Cigarettes

    “I have some real baggage I need to walk off. There are so many distractions and obligations at home, so it seemed much easier to come here, even though I had to be granted a visa. Most of my gear is American. I bought it online and trained with it at home. I didn’t want to be the first guy to see if European brands can hold up on the A.T.!”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Tom W.

    Age: 43

    From: Hershey, Pennsylvania

    Occupation: Retired coast guard

    Luxury Item: Books on a Kindle

    “When I was 12 years old, my Boy Scout leader took our troop camping on the A.T. That night, he stretched his arms out in either direction and said, ‘Do you see this trail? It goes all the way from Georgia to Maine.’ Hiking it has been a dream of mine ever since. Thinking about the trail got me through the [Coast Guard] service: it’s been my happy place.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Tom S.

    Age: 63

    From: New York, New York

    Occupation: Software designer

    Luxury Item: None

    “I’m a student of Zen Buddhism, and I see this experience as a five-month walking meditation. It’s an exercise in staying in the moment, and so I have only brought the bare minimum: no books, no spiritual accouterment. I want to let it all go and see how little I need to thrive. I don’t think most of the people in my life really get it. My daughters think I should just play golf for five months. My friends keep promising that they’ll come get me off the trail if I decide to quit, no matter where or when. One told me I could hide out in his basement for the remaining three months if I want to avoid the embarrassment of quitting. I told don’t think I’m going to need that. Still it’s nice to have the option.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    David

    Age: 51

    From: Ashland, Ohio

    Occupation: Firefighter/paramedic

    Luxury Item: Battalion cap

    “I went to the firefighting academy 20 years ago. A buddy of mine there told me how he planned to hike the A.T. after we graduated. He got called up to duty before he could, but I’ve had it in the back of my mind ever since. I’m not much of a hiker. But I’ve done a bunch of cross-country bike trips, so I get the idea of endurance. My gear is really old-school: I have a 30-year-old tent I adore, and a stinky old sleeping bag.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Kelli

    Age 25

    From: Des Moines, Iowa

    Occupation: Retail

    Luxury Item: Sparkly key chains

    “I work at a big chain fabric store, and I’m blown away by how awful and rude and self-centered people can be. Last year was a really hard time for me. I felt like I needed to find a community. I’ve always heard about how nice everyone is on the trail. A lot of people back home think I’m crazy. I’m not an outdoorsy person and this is definitely out of the norm for me. I left my dog with my parents back home—that was really hard. But I needed to get out of the monotony and find out what I can do for myself.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Miguel

    Age: 30

    From: Jacksonville, Florida

    Occupation: Military/security

    Luxury Item: Sazon spice pack

    “Now that I’m out of the National Guard and my security job is up, I’m trying to decide if I want to go into law enforcement. Hiking the trail will be a great opportunity to figure that out. I’m Puerto Rican and my family is really important to me. Before I left, my sister had everyone in our family sign a Sazon spice pack, which is the traditional spice of Puerto Rico. Carrying it I have a little taste of home.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Wendy

    Age: 37

    From: Chicago, Illinois

    Occupation: Actor/karaoke singer

    Luxury Item: Parents’ ashes

    “I’ve been through a lot of personal stuff this past year, including losing my parents. I just got my first real acting gig, so I almost bailed on this trek. I’m kind of afraid that I’ll get back and the industry will have forgotten who I am. But in the end I decided it was worth the risk. When I get back, I want to try some edgier stuff: maybe take burlesque lessons.”
  • Photo: Amanda Greene

    Nick

    Age: 23

    From: Shelton, Connecticut

    Occupation: Lifeguard

    Luxury Item: Tennis ball

    “Back where I live, there’s an older man named Frank who always comes to the pool. He plays a lot of tennis and is always throwing around a ball. Before I left, he gave it to me. So I’m carrying it back to New England for him. I’ve got to finish the trail before August. My cousin is getting married then and my mom says I have to have showered beforehand.”
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