Portraits of the Appalachian Trail
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This spring, Virginia-based photographers Chet Strange and Parker Michels-Boyce set up a photo booth at Mile 806 of the Appalachian Trail. Using a classic studio backdrop, they captured dozens of northbound thru-hikers as they made their way toward Cold Mountain in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Strange and Michels-Boyce aimed to capture the variety of folks and personalities tackling one of America’s great trails. Here are 13 of our favorites.
Trail Name: Splinter
From: Brooklyn, New York
How did you get your trail name? I got my trail name because I used to not carry trekking poles, and I would just pick up sticks off the ground to help me up mountains.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? The hardest part of the trail so far has been the gnats that hover around your ears and buzz all day, the rain every single day in May, and the rocks of Pennsylvania.
What’s your motivation? When I was 13, my family took a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, where I met some thru-hikers. From then on, I knew I wanted to hike someday. I decided to finally do it after my mother passed away a few years ago, so I took off time and did a fundraiser to raise a bit of money.
Fun Fact? In Virginia, a bear sniffed my head through the outside of my tent at 4:30 in the morning. That was probably the scariest thing that has happened to me on the trail.
Trail Name: Lou and Julie
Age: Lou, 65; Julie, 57
From: Vineland, New Jersey, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, respectively
What’s your motivation? Julie: About 12 years ago, we were on a one-week, 70-mile backpack trip across the Uinta Mountain Range in Utah and Wyoming. We felt quite proud of ourselves for doing such a big trip. Lou brought it into perspective when he commented that we only had to do it 30 more times to equal the distance of the Appalachian Trail. That was the seed that inspired the dream. We were both busy with our careers and needed affordable health insurance, so leaving our jobs was not an option. Lou retired in 2014 and did most of the trip planning, and I retired in February 2016. We were on the trail one month later.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? Lou: At 65, carrying weight on my back is getting harder, the steep ups and downs, and realizing a six-month-long distance hike is much different than a one- or two-week backpack trip.
Julie: Physically, it is much more difficult than I imagined. I thought I was in pretty good shape. I was exhausted after hiking ten miles those first few weeks. Having sore feet and not being able hike more quickly through the rocks is frustrating.
Fun Fact? Lou: Our grandson and his family visited us on the trail. We had birthday cake trail magic. It was also the birthday of one of the other hikers—Josh. It was fun to help him celebrate his birthday with a piece of cake.
Julie: We are amazed at the people. The people on the trail, the people in the towns, the people doing trail magic…anyone who does not think there are good people in the world needs to hike the trail. There are good, wonderful people all around us.
Trail Name: Terrible Lizard
From: Buffalo, New York
How did you get your trail name? A salamander fell into my water bag at a spring in Georgia, but I didn’t know and started walking away with it.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? Being far away from loved ones.
Fun Fact? Although the trail is about getting back to nature, it’s also about getting back to real human connections. I was expecting the wonderful nature part, but I wasn’t expecting the human aspect to be so wonderful as well. Also, people smell terrible after four days in the heat. And I met a guy I graduated with from high school on the trail! Never talked to him before, but now we are trail BFFs.
Trail Name: Mountain Goat
From: Pequannock, New Jersey
How did you get your trail name? I walk up hills very easily.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? The rocks in Pennsylvania.
What’s your motivation? The first section of Chapter 8 of AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller.
Fun Fact? I’ve blogged all of my days on TrailJournals.com.
Trail Name: Boyardee
From: Ferndale, Michigan
How did you get your trail name? I got it because I cooked “fancy” for a hiker. I fried bacon bits and had sriracha and olive oil since the start. It’s a bit of a play on how bad the food still was and how fancy I was trying to be with it. When a buddy saw this, he called me Boyardee.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? Pennsylvania has been the most mentally challenging. It is boring, there is shitty liquor and beer, the fucking rocks are ass, the ticks are bad, and there are no views of anything but farmland. It just blows.
What’s your motivation? It’s difficult to say what motivated me. I don’t really feel motivated ever, but when I decide to do something, I do it. I decided to hike. My reasons have changed, but I think my biggest reason is so I have something I tried that is difficult and know I did my best.
Trail Name: Sweets
From: Marietta, Georgia
How did you get your trail name? My trail name comes from my relentless sweet tooth. There have been many trips off trail just to get a Blizzard at Dairy Queen.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? I think the hardest part so far has been the rocks in Pennsylvania. It really takes a toll not only on the feet but also on my mind. I got frustrated and tired, and I just pushed through miles without really enjoying any of them.
What’s your motivation? I’ve wanted to hike the trail for a long time. After I graduated last year and saved some money, I finally was able to hit the trail and fulfill a longtime dream.
Trail Name: Pocahontas or Party Foul
From: Exeter, Rhode Island
How did you get your trail name? Someone gave me my trail name on Day Two, just because of a resemblance [to Pocahontas]. My second trail name is Party Foul. I earned that through a series of camping mishaps. I lost a bear line in a tree, and I spilled water after just boiling it for dinner. So I sign my trail name as Pocahontas/Party Foul.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? The hardest part has been being away from home, my family, my boyfriend, and my friends. It’s hard to visit home and then retransition into trail life because I miss home all over again.
What’s your motivation? As a kid, when vacationing with my parents in the Adirondacks, we would pass sections of the AT. That’s what initially sparked my interest, and I made it a goal to section hike the New York part of the trail. Later, in college, a friend told me that she wanted to thru-hike. I thought she was crazy! I looked into it more, and the rest is history!
Fun Fact? People on and off the trail, like trail angels and people who give stinky hikers rides to and from towns, are so kind and giving. It’s awesome to know that there are still so many gracious and caring people out there.
Trail Name:Jonny B Good
From: Mashpee, Massachusetts
How did you get your trail name? Another thru-hiker was walking by me and started singing it.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? I think the hardest part of the trail was the Smokies. There was a lot of elevation change, and the weather was miserable. It snowed the last two days, and the temperature got down to 15 degrees at night. One morning, I woke up and my socks were so frozen solid that I had to sit on them until they were thawed enough to yank over my feet.
What’s your motivation? I’ve wanted to do it for so many years, and it finally bugged me enough that I decided to fly down to Georgia and do it. The challenge of hiking from a mountain in Georgia to a mountain in Maine always appealed to me. I loved the idea of being outdoors for six months and living so outside the normal routines of life. Plus, it’s nice that you can eat absolutely anything you want, no matter how much, and not gain weight. I was 173 pounds when I left and I’ve lost 21 pounds so far.
Fun Fact? I’ve seen seven bears, a bunch of rattlesnakes, groundhogs, porcupines, rabbits, and a ton of deer.
Early in my hike, about ten thru-hikers and I helped carry a section hiker on a stretcher for 1.5 miles out of the woods late at night. He was having heart problems, but last I heard he was doing OK.
Trail Name: Hermano, and the dog is Wide Load
Age: 32 (Wide Load is 6)
From: Houston, Texas
How did you get your trail name? The group I was hiking with when I started was about ten years younger than me and kept calling me the big brother of the trail fam. Hermano means brother in Spanish. The Spanish part came from me being Texan. I think. I call Huckleberry “Wide Load” because of his huge doggie saddlebags!
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? The hardest part of the hike is the hike. Most people see the highlight reel via social media and other sources. The hard part is everything in between that you don’t see. The daily grind of hiking in all conditions and terrain every single day.
What’s your motivation? I lost my job as a petroleum geologist due to a massive layoff at the oil and gas company I worked for. Hiking the trail has long been something I wanted to do, just never had the time or money until now. I think a lot of my motivation comes from the beautiful experiences along the way and for the sense of accomplishment if I finish.
Trail Name: Steele
From: Dover, New Hampshire
How did you get your trail name? I gave the name to myself. A close friend overdosed and passed in January this year. His last name was Steele. I wanted to take him with me.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? Food poisoning, poison ivy, and Lyme disease. I’m hoping three ailments will be enough to experience on my trip.
What’s your motivation? It started with getting into backpacking in New Hampshire. I want to prove to myself that I can accomplish something so challenging.
Trail Name: Jingle
From: Dinwiddie, Virginia
How did you get your trail name? I got the name Jingle because I pick up spare change at the shelters. It’s heavy, and hikers don’t want to carry the weight. It still buys me a beer here and there!
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? The hardest part has been the day-in and day-out activities. Those would consist of finding the motivation to put on those wet socks, shorts, and shirt and get back out there only to never completely dry out because you’re sweating so much and it’s too humid.
What’s your motivation? I lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, for four years while my ex-wife attended Liberty University. I loved being in the mountains, whether it was for a week or an hour. After Lynchburg, I moved to Columbus, Ohio, where there was a huge lack of mountains. I got divorced a year after being there and decided I was going to pay off my debt and hike the AT with my newfound freedom.
Fun Fact? I think I’ve found close to $20 in change!
Trail Name: Princess Peach
From: Dunellen, New Jersey
How did you get your trail name? I won the hat I’m wearing in the picture at a Mariokart 64 tournament right before I started the trail. I was playing as Peach.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? I planned on hiking the trail with my dog. He has gone on every hike with me for the past four years. But after 400 miles, I realized he wasn’t up for the constant stress of thru-hiking and made the decision to have my parents watch him until I finish. That was the hardest decision I’ve had on the trail.
What’s your motivation? Most of my time out of work is spent hiking and trail running, so a thru-hike was my ultimate vacation. Once I realized I wasn’t going to stay with the company where I was working for the long run, I decided to quit and hike before I found my next job.
Fun Fact? On Cinco de Mayo, we hiked over Mount Rogers in Virginia and ended up getting caught in a snowstorm. The wind was so bad that the ice on all of the plants was forming horizontally. We finally set up camp in a few inches of snow and made burritos out of cheddar cheese, spam, and an instant rice side. It was a Corona short of a full celebration.
Trail Name: Survivor
From: West Salem, Ohio
How did you get your trail name? I got my name because I carried a hatchet and fire starters and MREs.
What has been the hardest part of the hike so far? Shin splints and Lyme disease.
What’s your motivation? Just really wanted to do something to test my mind and body.