It was the kind of walk that was bound to cement a friendship or end it.

For Marceline (Marce) Guerrein, 58, and Cindy Bain, 24, both of Alexandria, the 13-month walk across America was just what their friendship needed.

"The most amazing thing to me is that Cindy and I started as friends and we're finishing as friends," said Guerrein last weekend as she sat in the shadow of the Appalachian mountains and recalled almost 4,500 miles of walking -- and the friendships and marriages that had not weathered the trip.

The two women were part of Hikanation, a cross-country walk organized by the American Hiking Society, which began with more than 100 hikers in San Francisco last April and is ending this week with 35 dogged individuals. The major purpose of the walk was to bring attention to America's trail and parks systems.

Last weekend, those 35 hikers were here, preparing for the last official leg of the trip into Washington this week.Some members of the group, however, have decided to continue to trek to the Delaware coast so they can say they hiked from ocean to ocean.

Bain and Guerrein -- with Hikanation pennants and Virginia state flags flying atop their backpacks -- will be among those going the extra miles. f

"A lot of people started together and either split up or dropped out," Bain said. "But we tented together and everything and made out just fine."

Bain and Guerrein had a providential meeting two years ago through an ad on the bulletin board of a Northern Virginia outdoors store. They were both looking for a hiking partner and they've been backpacking together ever since.

But what do two people talk about when they are together 24 hours a day for more than a year?

Bain and Guerrein exchange blank stares and then laugh.

"Well, you talk about all kinds of things, mostly food . . . McDonald's," says Guerrein, her blue eyes gleaming out of a tanned face.

"Yeah, we talked a lot about food . . . but sometimes we'd find ourselves talking about the weirdest stuff," said Bain.

"Remember one day when all we talked about was a war -- you remember what war that was?" Bain asks her partner.

"World War II, from my era," jokes Guerrein drily.

As the two women sat on a West Virginia hillside in a sea of the over developed calves of their hiking partners, they agreed that the trip was so good as to be almost indescribable. They say the Continental Divide provided the most spectacular scenery, the people in sparsely populated areas were the friendliest and Kansas was the most boring state.

"It was so flat that Cindy listened to a radio the whole way and I read a book," said Guerrein.

Read a book? While hiking?

"Sure, I'd walk right behind Cindy and get her feet in my peripheral vision, then I could read and walk at the same time. A lot of people were reading through Kansas."

The two hikers say it was also a year for finding new ways to celebrate the holidays. There was Thanksgiving in Lake Fort Smith, Ark., and Christmas in West Plains, Mo., where local residents donated a tree to the hikers.

And for Guerrein's 58th birthday she was granted a special wish -- a cocktail party.

"We were in this town and we all went to the Salvation Army to buy fancy clothes. Then we went to a bar and had a cocktail patry," Bain giggled.

What is the first thing that two women want to do after they finish their 13-month hike through valleys and plains, through temperatures as cold as 12 degrees below zero or as hot as 109?

Sleep in a bed? Sit on a chair? Eat a home-cooked meal?

"Look for another hike," said Guerrein, giving a sidewise glance at her husband Carl, who had joined her for the morning. "I miss my mountains . . . Colorado."