On The Appalachian Trail — You Won’t Believe The Evolution In 21 Years

I‘m grateful to Bree Carlson, a friend currently working on her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, for taking the photos above (they’re stitched together). They’re full of surprises, but to understand what’s happening you’ll need some context.

When thru-hikers get to the ceremonial halfway point — the Appalachian Trail Conference in Harper’s Ferry, WV — they take a photo. In the old days, like 1990 when I rolled through, Jean Cashin of the ATC used a Polaroid instant camera. Today it looks like they’re using a digital camera. A hiker’s pedigree is written on the photo: real name, trail name, residence, date of the photo, and the hiker number that season. The ATC counts of all the thru hikers that come to the office, every year. Unlike 1990, it looks like they’re also including the start date and email address of the thru-hiker.

Two Suprises

First, if you didn’t notice, Bree had her photo taken 21 years to the day after mine, on June 14. Sitting here in Massachusetts, I think that’s a little trail magic. It’s a positive omen. Watching Bree from afar, it tells me Bree’s going to finish her thru-hike. It’s not just about coincidence. I had different kind of good omen the first week I was on the Trail, and I rode it all the way to Maine.

Surprise number two: look at how many people are thru-hiking! Bree is hiker 424. In 1990 I was 99. That’s a 328% increase in the number of hikers at the ATC by June 14. Walking in 1990 I met another thru-hiker every 4 or 5 days, but today it’s a crowd. It’s hard for me to believe the increased popularity in thru-hiking, because walking more than 2,000 miles, from Georgia to Maine, isn’t a stroll through the woods. It’s hard work. Why are so many people hiding out on the Trail?

And I bet the little businesses that grow-up along the Trail are probably doing well.

Update: The ATC recently went live with a new hiker photo archive — they’ve scanned all the photos from 1979 to the present, tagged them in a searchable database, and it works. Here’s my photo page with info about the other hikers in the photo. And below, the uncropped photo:

1990 @ ATC office - photo probably by Jean Cashin

Top photos used with permission of Bree Carlson.

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