Appalachian Trail
Former Penobscot Chief Barry Dana hikes with his wife Lori along a section of the Appalachian Trail on Sunday, August 6, 2017. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Outside Online followed seven hikers on the Appalachian Trail, gathering insight on how, and why, people take on the longest hiking trail in the world.

The hike began in Springer Mountain, Georgia, with all seven featured hikers intending to go the entire 2,190-mile distance. They steeled themselves for the difficult terrain ahead, taking solace in the fact that they were part of a unique, 3000+ person community that had walked the trail before them.

The Quirin family–Bekah, Derrick, and their year-old daughter Ellie–were traveling as a family, which would make Ellie the youngest person to endure the Trail. Conversely, the octogenarian Dale Sanders wanted to set the record for oldest person to complete it.

The hikers who weren’t aiming to set records have unique stories, too; Nick Shigo was coming off of cancer treatments to hike the Trail, Wendy Hayne interrupted her acting career after her parents’ deaths to take part, and Chris Walker did it because, to quote the billboard from Hot Shots, no one lives forever.

The hikers’ updates from the Appalachian Trail are an emotional rollercoaster of self-doubt, determination, and the documentation of injuries and illnesses (a norovirus forced a lot of other people off the trail during their hike). They all shared a mixture of disbelief, annoyance, and awe of how many other people were taking the same journey, each for their own reasons.

Hayne ended up leaving the trail in Virginia after rolling her ankle, and Sanders almost did until a phone call with his wife motivated him to continue. The others completed the trail, with Walker calling his experience “the best and worst thing I have ever done,” and the Quirin family considering more family adventures in the future.

Shigo’s reflections on his hike are the most poignant. While he felt no shortage of “boredom and discomfort,” he left the Appalachian Trail with “a greater appreciation for the effort things take, and … the small comforts that [he] might not have noticed. These little things … are what make all the hard work worth the effort.”