Humans of the A.T.

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Meet our Dirty Dozen—12 of this year’s Appalachian Trail thru-hikers—hoping to complete a 2,195 mile journey this summer.

Joseph Robinson

Trail name: General Hendrix

Home: Jekyll Island, Ga.

Age: 24

“I’m learning, in a sense, off the grid. It’s let me get more in touch with my personal side. I feel like every day, ever since I’ve gotten out here on the trail, I’ve gotten stronger. My spirit has just excelled. It’s really one of those things, you have to let go of something in order to achieve something else. I gave up my condo that I had on Jekyll, I sold my Volvo, and I left a lot of good people. But this is my shamanic journey to finally get in tune with myself. Being outdoors is my element. I don’t like the cities. I don’t like heavily populated areas. I just like to live. I’m not really looking for anything in particular because I know Mother Nature’s got my back. I’m in existence right now, just living. The older you do get, the more they’re going to try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep living.”

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Pelle Oberg

Home: Villegrove, Ill.

Age: 24

“I wanted to spend some time alone and be outside. And the ability to handle emotion: You go through a whole roller coaster of emotions in a period of four hours. You go from wanting to quit at the next road, call your parents to pick you up—to thinking, ‘I can make it all the way. I’m really enjoying this.’ Learning how to manage your emotions is something that I want.”

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Matthew Lukens

Occupation: Episcopal priest

Home: Birmingham, Ala.

Age: 30

“I grew up doing Scouts and so hiking’s been in my life for a while. A friend and I were supposed to do the trail—we went to college in Virginia and the trail comes pretty close to where we went to college. We were gonna go the day after graduation. But then a job fell into my lap. And everything in my career for the last eight years I can trace to that job, so I don’t regret it, but I spent that whole summer at a desk thinking, ‘In another life I was outdoors right now.’ Last February, I looked around at my life and thought, ‘I have the time and the money to do the trail. Not many opportunities like this are gonna come up again.’ I’d already done the planning. It was amazing just the first five days how happy being out in the woods with a pack makes me. I just love it out here. I’m probably taking a little bit of time to kind of evaluate what my next steps might be professionally, but that’s kind of ancillary to just being here.”

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Charlotte Robinson

Trail name: Teach

Occupation: Wildlife biologist

Home: Rockville, Md.

Age: 28

“I’m trying to do this whole thing without planning ahead. I’m trying to find a sense of, like, ‘it’s going to be okay’ even if I don’t have like a crazy plan laid out for myself. And even if the plan changes, that’s okay too. Because unlike real life, I feel like anything that comes up, I have everything I need on my back. It’s really comforting.”

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Hee Jong Yang AND Haneul Lee

Ages: 32, 30

Home: SOUTH KOREA

“It’s our honeymoon, so we are walking together.”

“I asked her to hike with me.”

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Alexis Newby

Trail name: Heat Wave

Occupation: wilderness expedition therapy

Home: Lafayette, In.

Age: 29

“I think there’s a healing power in nature, for sure. I think I’m a nicer, better person when I spend more time outside. There’s so many unexpected things that you find when you’re hiking. I found this on the PCT and so far I’ve found it here: Hikers, and the people surrounding the hiking community just kind of restores my faith in people. It’s just, it’s all good. People are friendly, they’re caring, and you’ll never go without. The trail always provides whatever you might need. Or even the things you think you don’t need but you do. The last trail I did, I hoped to find direction and purpose and stuff, and, uh, I didn’t. I just found a love of hiking. I’m just out here again, the same idea, right? It’s to find something I wanna do after this, something maybe a little more permanent or lasting. That would be the hope. Experience has shown that it won’t happen. But I’ll have a great time in the meantime.”

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Dan Worden

Trail name: Dan in Real Life

Dog’S name: Arizona

Home: Greenville, S.C.

Age: 50

“About six years ago I saw a Nat Geo special about the A.T., and ever since then it’s been calling me. I’m just out for a little hike in the woods. I’m trying to get out of the matrix for a little bit. It’s so easy to go to work, to come home, get up, and go to work. You get in that rut. That’s not living. I want to get off the couch and enjoy real life.”

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Kimberly Kelly

Trail name: Mama Bear

Home: Detroit, Mi

AGE: 27

“I was supposed to do the hike last year, and then my grandmother who raised me passed away really suddenly and so I couldn’t do it. She always wanted me to live for myself more. So I started the trail on April 15, on her birthday, this year. I feel like since my grandma passed away—it’s been over a year now—I kinda let go of a lot of my self-discipline and self-care and all that, and I got really distracted with work and more unhealthy coping skills. I soak up people so easily, like their energy; I feel like it influences me in a lot of ways. I feel like I’m in a place now where I get to listen to my surroundings, not people.”

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Joseph Koontz

Trail name: The Hare

Home: Raleigh, N.C.

Age: 31

“My mom brought me out. She just went through chemo for leukemia, and this was like a bucket list thing. With two weeks’ notice, she decided to bring me, and I’m really glad she did. She actually helped me by bringing me out here. When I come out of this, I know I’ll be a better person. I feel like I’ve already become a better person, just doing this. Physically, mentally, emotionally… just being around my mom’s been good for me, and just being around nature. I feel like I got lost the last six years. I mean, really it’s her illness: I thought she was going to die, so then I kind of gave up on myself. I got bogged down by that whole cliché of ‘How can bad things happen to good people?’ But then my mom recovered, and I thought, ‘Wait a second. Why am I messed up?’ Not only did she recover, but now she’s helping me recover. I will probably go back and finish college, or at least go back to working a legitimate job. This hike will help me figure it out.”

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Jacob Casavant

Trail name: Mobie

Home: Winchendon, Mass.

Age: 19

“I didn’t want to wait until I had a mortgage or a family to do the things I actually wanted to do in life. I’m getting all the big accomplishments out of the way first, and then I’ll do college and all the boring shit. I wanna hike the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail and maybe Everest. There’s more going on out here than back home. I’m just trying to see really what my ability is. I feel like nobody tests themselves anymore, and I wanna know exactly what my limits are.”

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Casey Pence

Occupation: preschool teacher

Home: Portage, Mi

Age: 24

“I think I already know myself, and that’s why I’m doing this. I’m not trying to find myself. It’s really just a reinforcement of my own power. In my life prior, I had never really done anything I could fail at. I had just done things I was good at. I’m not good at this, so it’s actually something I’m doing to really push myself. I quit my job, saved up. So I’ll kind of be starting from scratch once I’m done, but I have everyone’s support back home. I’m not too worried about it.”

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Daniel Zube

Trail name: Screech

Occupation: mechanical engineer

Home: New Hampshire

Age: 34

“I write haiku-like poems while I hike:

Appalachian Trail

Inches wide but miles long

Connecting people

To themselves and each other

As life hastens us, it waits

Thru-hiker hostel

“Rest” is a relative term

Wash, dry, plan, food prep

People who just won’t shut up

Snoring orchestra bunk house

We evolved to walk

Not to sit, drive, stare, or swipe

Efficiency gain?

Relative to time, perhaps

There’s more to time than numbers

Distracted hiker

Typing poems into phone

Smack head on low branch

 

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