40 Days on the AT with a Baby Part I: Pre-Trail Planning
The following is a guest post courtesy of Katie Guillemette (full bio at the bottom). If you have a story you’d like to share on Appalachian Trials, please submit it here.
We set foot on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia on April 25th, with our eight-month-old baby girl, Liv. But our journey had started months before, with a simple Google search: “long distance hiking with a baby.”
My husband, Jon, and I are avid hikers, and always knew we would share this with our children. In the last three years, the two of us have climbed around 30 of the Northeast 4,000 Footers, logged roughly 400 miles of trails in the US and Canada, and are avid practitioners of the ultralight philosophy. We can leave for a winter hike with three days worth of food and water, camping gear suitable for -15’F temperatures in the backcountry, and still carry less than 20 pounds. In 2013, we rode 550 miles across Northern Spain in 11 days, with an elevation gain equivalent to climbing Mount Everest twice. Later that year we completed a half-ironman. Thanks to our careers in project management, setting objectives, managing expectations, mitigating risks, and establishing roadmaps is what we do for a living. Given all this, we figured if planning and hiking a long-distance trail with a baby were possible, we could do it.
Many people asked if we considered thru-hiking the entire AT. To be honest we did consider it. But our experience advised us otherwise. The reasons hikers love trails like the White Mountains are that they are remote, they push your limits, the weather is unpredictable, and conquering such difficult terrain is both thrilling and empowering. However, these kinds of thrills are hardly compatible with bringing a baby along. We concluded that many sections of the AT would not be suitable for baby Liv’s comfort and safety.
We settled on spending about 40 days to the trail, focusing on a section where the terrain was reported to be relatively easy. We would need resupplies every 4-5 days, along with services to recharge our batteries… in every sense of the word. The trail would also need to be close to an evacuation option (less than eight hours walk from the nearest busy road). Bonus points would be given to an area with decent cell phone coverage. The lucky winner was Virginia, between Roanoke and Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.
Back in December, we made a list of items specific to the reality of having Liv with us. Here’s a quick run-down:
- Diapers: Easy to wash, quick-drying cloth diapers.
- Baby food: Nursing (for its natural, nutritious, hygienic, free, and weightless benefits), combined with cereal and dehydrated baby purees.
- Water: We chose to carry a UV light water purifier, because it’s chemical free and it kills viruses (as opposed to manual filters). This meant including replacement batteries in our resupply boxes.
- First Aid: We took an advanced wilderness first aid training course. This was beneficial for three reasons: being more aware of how to prevent injuries and emergencies, being prepared to act adequately in case they happen, and assembling a minimalist first aid kid adapted to the needs of the trip, with the advice of a qualified instructor.
- Baby’s pharmacy: We had to think of the minimum items that would make a big difference, and have refills in the resupply boxes. For instance, sunscreen, bum cream, Tylenol, teething gel, powdered electrolytes for babies, all in travel formats.
- Fitness: Being into our first months of parenthood, we needed to get back into shape and strengthen the muscles that would be the most solicited. It paid off by smoothing the adaptation from home life to hiking all day, every day.
Weight was going to be one of the biggest challenges for this trip. I would carry the baby, the baby carrier, my daily water supply and the baby’s necessities. Jon would have to carry everything else for the two of us, including up to five days of food and all the gear to be self-supported while backpacking and camping. Oh, and I almost forgot, the smartphone, video camera, recorder, and other pieces of technologies required for documenting the adventure!
To reduce weight, we needed to adapt the gear we usually count on. To reduce costs associated with that, I decided to use my DYI skills. After countless hours of drawing and calculating, while refreshing my geometric notions from High School, I sewed a tarp-tent out of a combination of silnylon, netting, and Cuben Fiber. The outcome was more than satisfying. Using our walking poles to set up the A-frame tarp-tent, we were able to create a 7×7 feet floor area, with a 44 inches high ridgeline from the ground. A mosquito net fabric linked the floor to the tarp so as to make a roomy area, which was protected from insects, wind and rain. I sewed Liv’s sleeping bag from Primaloft and lightweight nylon; it was perfectly fitted to her size with a tiny bit of room to grow into and weighed under half a pound (this would be impossible to find off the shelves). For Jon and I, I made quilts out of ripstop nylon and 950 power-fill down to maximize the warmth-to-weight ratio. We made our own dehydrated meals for the trail, including the baby’s home-made dehydrated purees to reconstitute on the trail. We started Liv on these purees before we left so that she wouldn’t experience a change in her diet during the hike. All the sewing, cooking and dehydrating made sense for us, but it was a huge undertaking that I would hardly recommend to anyone. Less side projects would have made my life a bit easier in the months prior to the trip!
Someone once said that adventure is the result of bad planning. I disagree. There are so many adventures that you will embark on in life that are carefully planned, like marriage, parenthood, career, or your first backpacking trip. The anticipation and planning beforehand contributes to the overall delight of the experience. This beautiful adventure would not have been possible without extensive planning and preparation, and it paid off.
Read Part 2: On the Trail.
Bio: My name is Katie, 31, mother of baby girl Liv, born in August 2014. On a week day, you can see me in a suit and high heels, as a manager in IT consulting, but on the weekends you will find me under a layer of merino fabric and in hiking shoes, somewhere out there. In 2013, my husband and I, started a non-profit that leads groups on wilderness pilgrimages (www.randodupelerin.org). Hiking has always been a big part of our lives, since our very first date… wearing snowshoes (very sexy). In May 2015, we hiked a 415 km section of the AT with Liv on my back. It is to date our most epic hiking trip ever (www.quarantejours.com). We live in Montreal Canada where we get to enjoy all seasons of camping and hiking, even the Canadian winter!
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