According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, in 2017, an estimated 3,735 hikers embarked upon the epic 2,200-mile journey, traveling from Georgia to Maine.
Known as NoBo (Northbound) thru-hikers, many of them begin their journeys on the spring equinox. They gather at Amicalola Falls State Park, the location of the AT's southern terminus, with backpacks, trekking poles and faith that they will be among the few to finish the trail.
Of the thousands that start each spring, only 20 percent will finish.
On March 20, we put a photographer on the trail to capture the first few steps of this season's aspiring thru-hikers.
Trail name: The Lorax
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Pack weight: 43 pounds
Greatest luxury item? About 2 1/2 pounds of electronics. Charger, cellphone, keyboard, iPod and Nikon camera.
Why are you here? I was diagnosed with non-hodgkin's disease in 2011. I had a pretty poor prognosis back then. I met with my oncologist last Friday and he said I was clear.
Trail name: Onstep
Hometown: Crestview, Florida
Pack weight: 32 pounds
Why are you here? I'm at a crossroads in life. I was divorced a year ago, quit my dead-end job and now I'm scouting for a new place to live. This is the ultimate adventure, a really cool way to see lots of different places.
Favorite motivational quote? "One step at a time."
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
Pack weight: 36 pounds
How did you train? Ate a lot of cheeseburgers.
What do you anticipate missing the most? A good beach day, a good glass of wine.
Aaron Thomas (son of Danny Thomas)
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Pack weight: 26 pounds
Why are you here? Mid-life crisis. I retired from the Air Force a few years ago. I'm hoping to gain clarity, meeting people along the trail and get some different perspectives on life.
Danny Thomas (Father of Aaron Thomas)
Hometown: Denair, California
Pack weight: 24 pounds
Are you feeling prepared to hike 2,200 miles? No. I'm not trail-ready.
What section of the hike are you most excited about? The end of it — Maine.
Hometown: Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Pack weight: 33 pounds
Greatest luxury item? A book, "Stillness Speaks," by Eckhart Tolle. I'm hoping it gives me peace if I'm not feeling peace.
Why are you here? I hope to get a greater understanding for what it means to be happy in life.
Hometown: Boise, Idaho
Pack weight: 70 pounds (between a backpack and a push cart).
Greatest luxury item? A frying pan.
Why are you here? I'm a prepper — not like a doomsday prepper really, but this isn't just a trek for me. It's a test for my prepping skills. I wanted something epic, but I'm not rich. My lungs are scarred from pneumonia. I couldn't do Everest, but the AT in vertical footage is like summiting Everest  times.
Hometown: Binghamton, New York
Pack weight: 35 pounds
Why are you here? I crashed my car, quit my job and broke up with my girlfriend. This is a good, hard, reset button.
Hometown: Binghamton, New York
Pack weight: 31 pounds
What's your biggest luxury item? An Anker (phone) charger that's way too big. My mom got it for me for Christmas. She really wanted me to have a charged phone on the trail.
What do you anticipate missing the most? Having a car.
Pack weight: 27 pounds
Greatest luxury item? My cell phone with all my pictures of home.
Why are you here? I'm doing this for my 50th birthday. This is a reset — a hard reset. I want to find a new intention for life.
Trail name: The Mayor
Hometown: Ocala, Florida
Pack weight: 42 pounds. It was 36 pounds yesterday, then my wife put a lot of health foods in it.
Item you are couldn't live without? My 9-ounce pack of Fritos. That's 1,440 calories in one pack.
Why are you here? Sometimes I set to do things and I never finish them. I want to say I completed something I really set my heart on.