It makes sense that most of the thru-hikers would live close to the trail. The residents of fourteen states that “own” the trail and provide the path for this incredible adventure have greater opportunity to grow up with the culture and catch the fever of the thru-hiker.
After returning from my thru-hike I began to research the home state of the successful thru-hikers of the class of 2014. There were only two states in the top ten that came from locations not among the fourteen trail states: Florida which had the fourth highest number of thru-hikers in 2014 and Ohio which ranked number nine. Virginia was ranked one followed by North Carolina and the third spot was held by Pennsylvania. After Florida came Tennessee, Massachusetts, Georgia, and New York. Ohio was number nine followed by Maine.
I became curious if this was a normal distribution or if my class was unusual in some way. I jumped into a statistical adventure and pulled records from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for last 15 years (2000-2014). During the 21st century, the trail states have indeed dominated the top number of thru-hikers. The only states outside of the Big Fourteen to manage to break into the top ten are Florida, Ohio, and Michigan. Both Florida and Ohio have been in the top ten fourteen out of the fifteen years. Michigan reached the elite states only three out of the fifteen years researched.
The trail state of Maryland hit the top ten list 4 times in 15 years, New Jersey was ranked in the top ten twice, New Hampshire appeared once as did Connecticut. So over the last fifteen years what state has provided the most successful thru-hikers?
Number two is Virginia with 641 completions (only 9 hikers behind).
Three is Pennsylvania sending 613 hikers all the way.
Fourth place goes to Georgia with 602.
The fifth spot is held down by the Gators of Florida with 508 (quite a gap between fourth and fifth spot)
Number six, with 495 thru-hikers goes to Massachusetts.
Ranked number seven is New York represented with 485 hikers.
The eighth spot is the state of Ohio with 419 completed hikes.
Tennessee came in number nine sending 414 hikers that traveled all 14 states.
And the tenth spot goes to Maine with 359 victorious journeys.
As I reflected over these numbers, I found my mind going to the population of each state and the number of potential hikers living there. For example, Virginia has 8.326 million people and sent 641 hikers, while Massachusetts had 495 thru-hikers but only boasts 6.745 million in population. So I did a quick “percentage of thru-hikers by state population” and found some interesting insights. Maine (ranked number 10 in actual hikers) sent 0.027% of their population (that’s 27 out of every 100,000 people) while North Carolina, ranked number 1, was represented by only 0.007% of its population, or 7 out of every 100,000 people. Looking at this statistic, the top ten appears quite different. The number in parentheses is the number of hikers per every 100,000 people.
1. Maine (27)
2. Virginia (8)
3. Massachusetts (7)
4. North Carolina (7)
5. Tennessee (6)
6. Georgia (6)
7. Pennsylvania (5)
8. Ohio (4)
9. Florida (2.5)
10. New York (2)
My respect for the hikers from Maine increased dramatically as I realized the percentage of pilgrims from Maine was over three times higher than any other state and ten times higher than either Florida or New York. Maine not only contains Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus, the climactic climb of the NOBO experience, but also some of the most active hikers in the country. Hats off to the Pine Tree State!
North Carolina Photo: http://theodysseyonline.com/unc/what-north-carolina-given-world/88981