The people in these photographs have all walked over 2000 miles to get to the point where they are standing. These are the people who haven't quit, haven't run out of money or motivation, haven't been injured or haven't been sick. They have eaten and slept together, walked through rain, snow, sun, and wind together. The people that grace these pages share a bond, a brotherhood, and a friendship that few others in the world experience.
The men and women in these pages are walking the Appalachian Trail, one of the nation's longest marked footpaths, running 2175 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the towering Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail touches 14 states, crosses six national parks and eight national forests, and climbs a total of 500,000 feet from beginning to end.
The group of hikers who walk the trail from start to finish are known as thru-hikers. Around 500 people complete the trail each year, only 20% of the amount who set out to do so. To thru-hike takes approximately six months - from mid March to September or mid-October - and a gritty resolve to endure rain, winter conditions, blisters, heat, muscle aches, and mental demons. It is estimated that walking the whole trail takes 5 million footsteps.
The hikers in these images have endured the Smokies, the Shenandoahs, and the White Mountains. Only the vast and lonely wilderness of Maine's north woods stands between them and their goal, Mount Katahdin, that towering behemoth of a mountain that stands like a beacon to every thru-hiker. For some the journey can't end soon enough, while others enjoy every step along the way.
During my five months on the trail as a ridge runner working for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, I carried my camera everywhere I went. I photographed teenagers and octogenarians, one millionaire, and drifters who were living day to day. One thru-hiker would be the first person to hike the trail with two replaced hips when he finished. Another had hiked the trail in 1981 and summited Katahdin on September 11th. He was so horrified that that the twentieth anniversary of his finish was that faithful autumn day that he set out to hike the trail again just to summit on a different day.
The goal of these portraits is to give you a sense of the diversity along the trail. The experience is as much a social experience as it is a wilderness experience. Maybe when the time is right, you will be motivated to explore the trail yourself. Maybe it is after you retire, maybe the time is now. Whatever the time, prepare to be touched by the trail forever.