Stretching 2,194 miles, the Appalachian Trail is the world’s longest hiking-only footpath, traversing 14 states from Georgia to Maine. The trail draws more than 3 million visitors annually, including intrepid “thru-hikers” like Roxboro, North Carolina, residents Aric Sabins and Maricon Roquero. The couple was 1,005 miles into their journey—with 1,189 more to go—when this photo was taken just off the trail at Bears Den hostel, about 50 miles northwest of Arlington in Bluemont, Virginia.
The typical thru-hiker takes five to seven months to hike the entire A.T., according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and in mid-May the two were more or less on pace, having begun their journey Jan. 30. Early on, they rallied through a few frosty mornings that were “very, very cold,” says Roquero, 47, a cut flower farmer who goes by the trail name “Mushroom.” Spring’s arrival was a salve.
Virginia contains more of the A.T. than any other state (nearly a quarter of the trail’s entire length), carrying hikers through forest, farmland and the undulating mountains of Shenandoah National Park. On May 13, Sabins and Roquero logged 17 miles and were getting ready to order a pizza when they stopped to pose.
Why do it? “Everyone asks us that,” says Sabins, 56, a recently retired veterinarian (trail name: “Pink Hotdog”) who plans to return to work part time after joining the ranks of the 2,000-Miler club. “We enjoy hiking—that’s how we met, and that’s how we spend most of our time together. We thought this would be a fun way to spend the summer.”
The sweeping views and primeval tree canopy are good for the soul, he says, “but the best part of all, truly, is the people we’ve met. Not only the trail community, which is so giving, but the people in the towns we’ve visited. It’s a wonderful experience.”