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Our (Company) Trail Story

We decided that it was time we shared OUR Trail Story with you all. From 1997 until now, here is the story of how our company was started and the journey we took to get to where we are today.

Natalie McMillan       Inside Atlas Guides       5/27/2020
Natalie McMillan
Inside Atlas Guides
5/27/2020
A man thru-hiking with his backpack on.
Paul standing in front of Crater Lake on his PCT thru-hike in 1997.  Photo provided by Paul Bodnar

Twenty-three years ago, one of our founders, Paul Bodnar, made a decision that changed his life.

In 1997 he decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) after he graduated from the University of California Irvine with a MS in organic chemistry. Paul grew up spending summers at his grandparents’ cabin in Lake Arrowhead, just a mile or so away from the PCT.  His grandfather often took him and his brothers out to the PCT, and he was always fascinated by the continuity of a trail going from Mexico to Canada. So before hitting the interview circuit to find a job as a chemist, he fulfilled his dream of thru-hiking the PCT.

A hiker standing next to the PCT northern terminus in 1997.
A hiker standing next to the PCT northern terminus in 1997.
Paul finished his first PCT thru-hike in October 1997.  Photos provided by Paul Bodnar

At about the same time that Paul finished his hike, Alice Presley (Paul’s girlfriend at the time, now wife) also graduated from UC Irvine with a MS in organic chemistry and they both started working as medicinal chemists for Pharmacia, a big pharmaceutical company in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They worked there for five years before Pfizer took over their company and eliminated all drug discovery jobs at their job site. They were invited to move to other Pfizer locations to continue their work, but Paul already had the bug to start his own business and Alice wanted to go to law school.

So they decided to take some time to travel around the U.S. and embark on new careers.

In 2005, Alice started law school at UC Berkeley. She thought that a law degree would give her a chance to reinvent herself and give her a broad set of tools for the next step in her career. The work of Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council were two of her biggest inspirations for going to law school, and her initial goal was to become an environmental lawyer. But after an internship with the Sierra Club, she realized that litigation was not for her. She switched her focus to energy law and ended up working on large-scale renewable energy projects at a law firm in Los Angeles after she graduated in 2008. In fact, she worked on the giant Alta wind farm in the Tehachapi/Mojave area on the PCT. 

Guthook hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Guthook thru-hiking the AT in 2007.  Photo provided by Ryan Linn a.k.a. Guthook

Around the same time, across the country in Poughkeepsie, New York, our other founder, Ryan Linn (better known as “Guthook”), was dreaming of his own adventures.

In 2006, Ryan graduated from Vassar College and decided that he was going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). He had been backpacking ever since his high school introduced him to the White Mountains and Mahoosuc Range in New Hampshire and Maine. After spending a semester of college in the Rockies with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), he went on a week-long solo hike on the AT as a “bit of a crash course on long-distance hiking.” 

He met an older hiker on Saddleback Mountain in Maine who was “just so high on life.” He told Ryan about recently reconnecting with a guy he hiked the AT with in the 1970s. 

Ryan decided that he wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail too, and a year and half later, he was on the AT! He started his AT hike in February 2007 and ended in June 2007. 

Guthook standing next to the sign on Mount Katahdin.
Guthook finished his AT thru-hike in June 2007.  Photo provided by Ryan Linn a.k.a. Guthook

The following year, Ryan worked as a Wilderness Trail Crew Leader for the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. He led two crews for four and three weeks each, focusing on trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail.

The next year (2009) he thru-hiked the New England Trail and decided that the next step to keep himself going on a “thru-hiker’s life trajectory” was to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. 

While Ryan was planning his next big hike, Paul was back in Berkeley, California, working on the first edition of the “Pocket PCT,” a lightweight data guide to the Pacific Crest Trail. After releasing the first edition, Paul decided that he was going to thru-hike the PCT again to verify and add more data to his new lightweight guidebook. 

The first Pocket PCT book.
The first edition of the Pocket PCT guide book.  Photo provided by Natalie McMillan
The first Pocket PCT book.
The OG “Guthook Guides app” before apps were a thing.  Photo provided by Natalie McMillan
Four editions of the Pocket PCT guide book next to each other.
Four editions of the Pocket PCT guide book from 2009-2016. Photo provided by Natalie McMillan

Paul began his second thru-hike of the PCT on April 18, 2010. And only a few days later on April 22, Ryan began his.

It wasn’t until around the halfway point in Belden, California, that these destined business partners finally met on their hike. They ended up hiking around 700 miles together and talked a lot about this new phenomenon of hikers carrying smartphones on the trail.

By the time they reached the northern terminus in Canada on September 25, the idea of a smartphone app was born.

After their hike, Paul went to work updating the Pocket PCT as quickly as possible. With the hiking season starting in April, he wanted to get all of the data updated for the next group of thru-hikers. Ryan began working at Eastern Mountain Sports in Keene, New Hampshire, and started learning about iOS development at night. He and Paul kept in touch and began working on the first ever “Guthook’s PCT Guide” iPhone app. Ryan took over the coding responsibility and Paul processed the data. 

Guthook and Paul standing at the northern terminus of the PCT.
Paul and Ryan (Guthook) finished hiking the PCT together in September 2010.  Photo provided by Paul Bodnar
first pct iphone guthook app
The very first iPhone PCT app.  Screenshot by Ryan Linn

They barely finished everything in time for the April 2012 hiking season and ended up launching sections of the app as hikers progressed up the trail. To test the new app and collect more data, Paul decided to hike the PCT for a third time. But this time, he wasn’t going to hike solo. Alice had recently left her very stressful job as an attorney.

Over dinner one night, Alice said that she would like to hike the PCT too since it was such a big part of Paul’s life, and she wanted to see what she was missing.

They began their PCT thru-hike on April 26, 2012 and finished five months later. And after five months of testing and talking to other hikers who were using the app, they saw that the app had a lot of potential to become a useful and popular tool for long-distance hikers. 

Two thru-hikers standing next to the southern terminus of the PCT.
Alice and Paul started their PCT thru-hike in April 2012.  Photo provided by Alice and Paul Bodnar
Two thru-hikers standing on the northern terminus of the PCT.
Alice and Paul finished their PCT thru-hike in September 2012.  Photo provided by Alice and Paul Bodnar

After their thru-hike, Paul and Alice moved to a tiny cabin in Idyllwild, California, near the PCT, and Alice taught herself Android programming.

She developed the first “Guthook’s PCT Guide” Android app and released it to the Google Play Store in 2013.

She thought she would return to the practice of law as soon as she caught up on her Android work, but she never caught up, and officially joined the Atlas Guides team. 

The first Guthook Guides app for Android screenshots
The first Guthook’s PCT app for Android.  Screenshots provided by Ryan Linn

The following year Ryan started getting a lot of requests to replicate the PCT app for the Appalachian Trail. So he started gathering and processing AT data. In 2014, the team launched apps for the Appalachian Trail, John Muir Trail, and Tahoe Rim Trail. Jerry Brown, of Bear Creek Survey Service, took a chance on the new company, and partnered with the team to create a guide for the Continental Divide Trail. They also teamed up with The Colorado Trail Foundation to create the Official App for the Colorado Trail, which was their first official trail organization partner. They also partnered with Trailblazer Guides in the UK. The South Downs Way was their first trail guide outside of the United States.

A screenshot of the first Guthook's AT app for iPhone.
The first Guthook’s AT app for iPhone.  Screenshot provided by Ryan Linn
AT hiker app 2013 elevation profile
The elevation profile in the first Guthook’s AT app for iPhone.  Screenshot provided by Ryan Linn

Over the next few years, Ryan, Paul, and Alice worked like mad to improve the app and release over ten new guides for trails all over the world. They developed more and more partnerships with trail organizations and added a lot of new features to the app.

Guthook Guides app icons for different trails.
Our individual Guthook trail app icons.  Screenshot provided by Ryan Linn

In 2017, Paul and Alice decided to leave California and move Atlas Guides headquarters to Flagstaff, Arizona, where they posted their first ever job listing in search of a marketing intern. They hired me (Natalie McMillan) in July 2017 and I took over everything social media and marketing related. I was in the MBA program at Northern Arizona University and worked part-time as an intern while I went to school. When I graduated with my MBA in May 2018, they extended me a full-time offer as Marketing Director and I happily accepted – best decision I’ve ever made! 

Guthook Guides team at Arizona Trail Day
Natalie, Alice, and Paul at Arizona Trail Day in Flagstaff, AZ.  Photo provided by Natalie McMillan
Part of the Atlas Guides team.
Natalie’s MBA graduation at NAU.   Photo provided by Natalie McMillan

Since that time we have worked with many talented people who have contributed invaluably to the growth of Atlas Guides, in particular Zoë Symon in Oregon,  Alexander Gavrikov in Ukraine, and Robert and Angela Mosley in Australia. Zoë overhauled our website and app user interface, and Alexander has worked closely with Alice to improve and update the Android app. The Mosleys have collected a ton of cycling and hiking data for Australia, and are responsible for all of the content in the Cyclewayz app and the Australia hikes in the Guthook app.

Two bikers in Australia.
Angela and Robert Mosley biking in Australia.   Photo provided by Robert Mosley

Our latest team member, Dahn Pratt, has quite the background. Around the same time Atlas Guides moved to Flagstaff, Dahn was in the process of uprooting his life in Tokyo, Japan, and embarking on a two year adventure of continuous thru-hikes. He reached out to our team about a potential partnership. Although we normally don’t do this, something about Dahn’s proposal struck a chord, and we partnered up to gather trail data from existing and new trails he would hike. He hiked the Te Araroa, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Jordan Trail, and Israel National Trail, in addition to other walks in New Zealand and South America. Now he is off the trail and working full-time for Atlas Guides on all things data and analytics! 

A thru-hiker standing next to the northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail.
Dahn at the northern terminus of the CDT.  Photo provided by Dahn Pratt
Dahn hiking the Te-Araroa
Dahn finished his thru-hike of the Te Araroa in 2018. Photo provided by Dahn Pratt

Today we have more than 60 guides to trails and trail networks, over ten official trail organization partnerships, and recently released our “Social Check-in Feature.” We just moved our headquarters to Denver, Colorado, and we are excited to be a part of the Colorado outdoors scene. We will keep you up to date as Our Trail Story evolves! 


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Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association
A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author
A woman wearing a denim jacket and a brown hat stands in a field of wildflowers.

Natalie McMillan

Natalie grew up hiking in Arizona where she fell in love with the outdoors. Her favorite hikes are to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon and Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, UT. She loves taking pictures of people, places, and nature, which might explain why she has almost 47,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things related to social media and marketing and recently moved to Denver, CO from Flagstaff, AZ. You may find her frolicking around the trails and mountains of Colorado, or exploring the new city she gets to call home.