Chattanooga Now Will these Appalachian Trail thru-hikers make it?

Chattanooga Now Will these Appalachian Trail thru-hikers make it?

May 30th, 2019 by Sunny Montgomery in Get Out - Features

Gallery: Thru-hikers

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Every year, when spring arrives at Amicalola Falls State Park, so do droves of ambitious backpackers. They come from all over the world with one goal: to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, which begins just behind the park's visitors center.

In 2018, an estimated 3,000 hikers departed from Georgia to make the 2,200-mile trek to Maine.

Made of Mettle (?)

Which of these hikers do you think has what it takes? Take our Facebook poll, then sign up for our free newsletter to find out. We’ll be keeping up with them, and will publish a follow-up this fall.

 

Every year for the past four years, that number has increased by about 15 percent, says Robert Sloan, Georgia Appalachian Trail Club member and volunteer "trail ambassador." But this year, Sloan says, numbers are down by about 5 percent.

He surmises that decline is due to the economy. Employment numbers are up and, "more jobs, less thru-hikers," he says. After all, the experience takes the typical backpacker 5-7 months.

Regardless of their motivations for attempting the AT, one thing is certain: The odds are against them. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, only one in four will finish. Still, determination fills the forest on the spring equinox, the most popular day for hikers to embark upon the journey.

Last year, we put a photographer on the trail to capture the first few steps of that season's aspiring thru-hikers. On March 20 this year, we did it again. Here are their stories and the reasons they believe they have what it takes to be one of the few successful AT thru-hikers.

Keegan Bohannon, 30, from Austin Texas, poses for a portrait at Amicalola Falls State Park before beginning his journey hiking the Appalachian Trail on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, near Dawsonville, Ga.

Keegan Bohannon, 30, from Austin Texas, poses for...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

 

Keegan Bohannon

Age: 30

Hometown: Austin, Texas

Pack weight: 35 pounds

Luxury item: A 2-ounce foam sit pad

How did you prepare?

I got a part-time job at REI — and got that 50-percent-off discount. I'm pretty much repping REI right now.

What do you anticipate being the greatest challenge on the trail?

Rain. I'm a Texas boy.

Why will you be one of the few successful thru-hikers?

I have a positive outlook.

How will you celebrate if you make it all the way?

My fiancee is meeting me in Maine and we're getting married after that.

 

 

 

Joshua Schultz, 37, from Duluth, Minn., poses for a portrait at Amicalola Falls State Park before beginning his journey hiking the Appalachian Trail on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, near Dawsonville, Ga. Schultz is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2006.

Joshua Schultz, 37, from Duluth, Minn., poses for...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Joshua Shultz

Age: 37

Hometown: Duluth, Minnesota

Pack weight: 40 pounds

Luxury item: A prayer flag

What do you anticipate being the greatest challenge?

Chronic depression; PTSD. I'm a combat vet.

Why will you be one of the few successful thru-hikers?

I think there's a good chance I'll do it because I don't care if I do it. If the universe wants me to complete the trail, then I'll complete the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lexi Patton, 23, from Vero Beach, Fla., poses for a portrait at Amicalola Falls State Park before beginning her journey hiking the Appalachian Trail on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, near Dawsonville, Ga.

Lexi Patton, 23, from Vero Beach, Fla., poses...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Lexi Patton

Age: 23

Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida

Pack weight: 31 pounds

Luxury item: Canon Rebel T3i camera

What do you anticipate being the greatest challenge?

The mountains.

Why will you be one of the few successful thru-hikers?

Why not me? It's just a walk. Advanced walking, I call it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamey Mossengren, 39, right, and Andy Schwarz, 39, both from Blaine, Minn., juggle for a portrait at Amicalola Falls State Park before beginning their journey hiking the Appalachian Trail on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, near Dawsonville, Ga. The two are members of the "Minnesota Hiking" team of AT hikers.

Jamey Mossengren, 39, right, and Andy Schwarz, 39,...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Jamey Mossengren

Age: 39

Hometown: Blaine, Minnesota

Pack weight: 24 pounds

Luxury item: Bocce ball

Why will you be one of the few successful thru-hikers?

I did the Colorado Trail (567 miles) and the Arizona Trail (800 miles) — both on my unicycle.

How will you celebrate if you make it all the way?

I turn 40 in August. My goal is to be on the top of Mount Katahdin (in Maine) on my 40th birthday.

 

Andy Schwarz

Age: 39

Hometown: Blaine, Minnesota

Pack weight: 23 pounds

Luxury item: Sony Walkman radio

Why will you be one of the few successful thru-hikers?

I've hiked the Superior Hiking Trail (310 miles), and once I rode my bike from Boulder, Colorado, to Minnesota (about 900 miles).

 

James Shepherd, 37, from Indianapolis, Ind., poses for a portrait at Amicalola Falls State Park before beginning his journey hiking the Appalachian Trail on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, near Dawsonville, Ga. Shepherd, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, will tackle the trail without the use of his colon, which was removed after he contracted ulcerative colitis during his tour of duty.

James Shepherd, 37, from Indianapolis, Ind., poses for...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

James Shepherd

Age: 37

Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana

Pack weight: 45 pounds

Luxury item: Two therapy books

What do you anticipate being the greatest challenge?

I don't have a colon, so the whole bathroom thing makes me nervous. When I was on tour in Iraq, I got ulcerative colitis and they had to remove [my colon].

Why will you be one of the few successful thru-hikers?

Once I set a goal, I do everything in my power to complete it. Besides, I'm a chef. I'm used to being on my feet 13 hours a day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paige Nealey, 19, left, from Burlin Heights, Ohio, and Loren Woods, 20, from Kayahoga Falls, Ohio, pose for a portrait at Amicalola Falls State Park before beginning their journey hiking the Appalachian Trail on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, near Dawsonville, Ga.

Paige Nealey, 19, left, from Burlin Heights, Ohio,...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Paige Nealey

Age: 19

Hometown: Berlin Heights, Ohio

Pack weight: 42 pounds

Luxury item: Bible

Loren Woods

Age: 20

Hometown: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

Pack weight: 45 pounds

Luxury item: Norwex antibacterial microfiber washcloth

***

What do you both anticipate being the greatest challenge?

Paige: Getting [Loren] up in the morning.

Loren: Not killing each other.

Why will you two be among the few successful thru-hikers?

Paige: We just want to see how far we can go.

Loren: And if we die along the way, oh well!

 

Alexandria Amadoro, 9, trail name "Dancing Queen," poses for a portrait with her father Edward at Amicalola Falls State Park before beginning their journey hiking the Appalachian Trail on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, near Dawsonville, Ga. Amadoro will be hiking to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Alexandria Amadoro, 9, trail name "Dancing Queen," poses...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Alexandria Amadoro

Age: 9

Hometown: Hamburg, Pennsylvania

Pack weight: 17 pounds

Luxury item: A "princess" seat, used for going No. 2 in the woods, and a fishing rod

Edward Amadoro

Age: 45

Hometown: Hamburg, Pennsylvania

Pack weight: 45 pounds

Luxury items: All of daughter Alexandria's luxury items

***

Age aside, Alexandria's AT story is unique, and it begins when she was just 4 years old.

"We got a letter from St. Jude Hospital asking for donations, and it had picture of a kid who didn't have any hair," her father, Edward Amadoro, says. "She wanted to know why. When we told her, she started to cry. She ran to her room and got her piggy bank and kept saying, 'Help them!'"

Over the following years, Alexandria stayed committed to her cause. In 2017, at the age of 7, she asked her parents if she could hike the Continental Divide to raise money and awareness for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. But, due to logistics, her parents asked her to consider the Appalachian Trail instead.

So on March 20, Alexandria and her father took their first steps toward the now-9-year-old's ambitious goal: to raise $3.1 million for St. Jude. As of press time, she'd raised around $10,000.

"Although I do not know them, I love them. I want to do all that I can to help all the sick children," Alexandria says.

Learn more about Alexandria's journey and donate at goalexandriago.org.