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May 2013 Online Exclusive

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Portraits

These men and women were photographed as they thru-hiked the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail, from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. They each walked more than 2,000 miles—enduring the Smokies, the Shenandoahs, and the White Mountains—to get

Photo by Chris Bennett

Tracy "TrailBoss" Semar, 29, of Hewitt, NJ

One of my favorite days was when we reached New Hampshire and stayed with one of our trail friends at her parent’s house. They fed us, gave us showers and listened to us tell stories. I remember looking around the table, at this community of people who would otherwise never had known each other, all united by this crazy thing we were doing. I had this intense feeling of love and camaraderie.

When I started the hike I thought it was about mountains and miles, but in the end it was all about the people. As a jaded New Yorker, I wasn’t very trusting of people and found it hard to let my guard down initially. I wasn’t prepared for the incredible kindness and generosity of people along the trail. It renewed my faith in humanity!

My best day? Is it corny to say "all of them"? So many days leap to mind. It was always who you were with that made things amazing, of course the views didn’t hurt either. I think reaching landmarks like Whitehouse Landing and the Ferry were amazing days; these were places I had never let myself dream of getting to, and there I was! It definitely wasn’t Katahdin, which I had assumed would be a total celebration. Katahdin was very bittersweet.

What was your hardest day on the trail? One of the hardest days was early on, my dad–a long-time section hiker–was hiking with me from Springer to the NOC [Nantahala Outdoor Center] and I was going to continue on by myself after that. I had asked him to come with me because a part of me felt like I was stealing his dream. Our last night together we stayed at the NOC. Saying goodbye to him the next morning was probably the most difficult thing I ever did. I spent the rest of that day inwardly doubting myself and sobbing as I climbed my way out of the gap in the cold rain. Looking back on it, I can see how ridiculous I was being but I definitely had to go through that and it made me stronger.

Your advice: Have a plan, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it. I would have missed out on some incredible experiences if I had stuck to my plan. It’s also very easy to get sucked into the mileage game when you’re just starting out. Don’t worry about everyone else! "Hike your own hike," as they say!

Favorite piece of gear: A cheap chamois cloth. It can dry everything and continues to dry things even when wet, way better than any pack towel I’ve ever used, and it weighs nothing.

What was your base pack weight? 26-30 lbs. with food and water.

Favorite trail food:
Tortellini with pesto.

Go to the next hiker.

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