You can spend 2,000 miles hiking with someone and only know him as Bear Bait or Twinkletoes. Such is the way of the thru-hiker tribe. Unintended side effect: That sure makes it tough to connect with transient trail characters post-hike.
That’s what Matthew “Odie” Norman found after he finished his AT thru-hike in 2013. “You climb the same mountains, stub your toes on the same rocks, and you think these people are going to be around forever. But you don’t realize how quickly you are going to go back into the real world, where you don’t know them.”
In this disconnect, Norman found his purpose: He’d bridge AT culture and the so-called real world by printing a hiker address book and keepsake, indexed by trail name. And in so doing, he’d extend the trail community beyond the trail itself.
So, with a hired photographer and a table full of baked goods, he went to Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, and started collecting class pictures. Five hundred hikers bought in. That was a start, but with some 2,000 long-distance hikers on the trail each year, documenting just a quarter of the class wasn’t enough.
Two years later, Norman went all-in, refurbishing a school bus so he could spend four months each hiking season driving up and down the trail corridor and stopping at hiker hot spots.
The Hiker Yearbook continues to grow. In 2015, Norman captured 1,700 of that year’s class of hikers. While he approached it first as a passion project, he’s looking for ways to make it sustainable and might let companies purchase ad space (he already donates ad space to trail-related nonprofits).
For future editions, he wants to photograph even more long-haul hikers and push the design beyond high school yearbook. As he says, “If your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not doing it right.” Sounds like a thru-hiker.