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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 to the point where they posed for their portraits. Only the vast and lonely wilderness of Maine's north woods stood between them and their goal: Mt. Katahdin, a behemoth of a mountain that stands like a beacon to every thru-hiker. For some the journey couldn't end soon enough; others enjoyed every step along the way.
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Photo by Chris Bennett

Amy "Two Step" Langbein Heath, 36, of Dallas, TX

I can not directly answer what my best day was. It has been so long that I have forgotten about the blisters, the rain, the hail, the hard days physically, the hard days emotionally, the sore knees. I now remember waking up at dawn warm and dry in my tent, then spending my day simply walking, seeing beautiful sights, arriving at a shelter for an evening amongst friends, and then doing it all over again the next day. I love that the trail forced me to live in the moment and live so simply.

My best memory is also hard because there are so many and it changes everyday. Today my favorite memory is of one day in Virginia I hiked out onto an overlook and met some dayhiker who shared their cold beer and ice cream sandwiches with me.

What was your hardest day on the trail? The day I stepped on a ground hornet’s nest in the Shenandoah National Park – I had to temporarily ditch my pack and ended up in the hospital.

Advice: Keep an open mind and leave your expectations behind – I don’t know anybody who completed a thru hike and said, “It’s just what I expected.”

Favorite piece of gear: LEKI trekking poles

Base pack weight: 18 lbs. summer – 22 lbs. winter

Favorite trail food: "Thanksgiving Surprise," which consists of instant mashed potatoes, instant cream gravy, instant stuffing, a pouch of cooked chicken, and dried cranberries.

Go to the next hiker.

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