[Book Review] 2000 Miles Together — The Raw, Unexpurgated Story of the Crawford Family
On March 1, 2018, Ben Crawford ushered his wife and six children, ages two to 16, onto the then-2,189-mile Appalachian Trail. He then filmed the good, the bad, and the ugly as they hiked north for the next five months and posted all of it on YouTube. Crawford’s new book recounts the journey in print, shedding new light on a well-documented – and oftentimes controversial – story.
- Author: Ben Crawford with Meghan McCracken
- Price: $19.99 (paperback); e-book price varies
- Where to buy: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, signed copies available at fightfortogether.com
Thru-Hiking in the Age of Social Media
From the beginning, Crawford questioned whether he could, or should, push his family to embrace what was, after all, his goal.
“Would I push them past their breaking points, in pursuit of a goal that probably only mattered to me?” he writes in his entertaining and at times excruciatingly intimate memoir, 2000 Miles Together. “The scariest thing for me was that we would finish the trail, all two thousand miles of it. And that someday my kids were going to hate me for it.”
As it turned out, a lot of people watching the family’s saga were eager to supply the hate themselves, based on viewing video snippets.
“I hate this guy with the fire of a thousand suns. He’s battered down his wife; she’s so hunched and dead-eyed in her appearances,” one critic wrote. “I hope his kids kick his bloviating ass to the curb as soon as they’re old enough to do so.”
This may well be the first book to grapple with the uncertain impacts of social media on thru-hiking. It’s also a brutally honest account of the joys and miseries of six months on the trail, a full-throated celebration of love and shared humanity, and a clarion call to stop treating children as fragile creatures in perpetual danger of being broken by the world.
Crawford’s voice – well shaped by editor Meghan McCracken – dominates, but it’s the kids who provide most of the book’s charm. The parents don’t restrict their language, allowing them to speak their minds and make choices freely.
“Can’t wait to be done with PA,” 15-year-old Eden wrote in her journal (reproduced as a photo), expressing a sentiment common to countless thousands of other AT hikers, age eight to 80. “The rocks hurt like buttcheek on a stick.”
It’s worth recalling that not only did The Family – the collective trail name they eventually adopted – stick together for nearly 2,200 miles, but also that they hiked through one of the most punishing AT springs in memory, enduring brutal winter storms for weeks on end.
Having charged to Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park through a freezing blizzard to be meet Crawford’s parents and go to Gatlinburg for the night, the wet, cold family instead was forced to hole up in a bathroom when the road was closed.
The next morning, tipped off by an anonymous source, investigators from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services arrived and swiftly isolated the children to grill them about their “abuse.” Officials quickly concluded that nobody was in danger and the family was one-for-all and all-for-one.
Unsurprisingly, the kids were not amused. Eleven-year-old Memory scrawled, “I am pretty FUCKING MAD” at the person who called authorities based on a few snippets of video.
“It feels like people are turning it into a human-rights thing, saying we have the right to be comfortable, but that’s not how it is on the trail,” 17-year-old Dove said in a video response to critics seeking to “protect” them. “We’re not always thinking about how we have a right to comfort. Wishing for comfort does not help you survive.”
Anyone who has hiked 2,000 miles understands exactly what she’s talking about, and countering 21st-century fixations on safety and comfort is one of Crawford’s themes.
“The problem isn’t that safety is bad – the problem is that we prioritize it in a way that the fear monopolizes our minds and keeps us from considering other values and goals,” he writes.
2000 Miles Together spends little time describing landscapes or views. But its focus on human interactions and honest emotion powerfully conveys the highs and lows of a long-distance hike.
Dove (who comes off like a born thru-hiker) challenged her father when he complains about having to carry baby Rainier in his pack. She offered to take over, and from then on, three older children and Crawford shared time carrying the baby, helping The Family to increase their daily mileage by 25 percent.
“I saw Dove as smaller and weaker. She was my kid. She was a girl. My prejudices had cost me. And now here she was, showing me up,” Crawford writes. “I found it humbling, but also incredible – I was so proud of my daughter.”
Few hikers will face a directly comparable situation, but the story is a good metaphor for the myriad ways the trail can shatter cherished, but often unhelpful, illusions about ourselves and others.
Many readers will question Crawford’s motives. He certainly invited scrutiny: pushing the family to pour on the miles through what he calls “the Technical 200” – the White Mountains of New Hampshire and southern Maine – to meet a deadline that was, in essence, a bribe to the kids; losing his patience and hurting his two boys; and failing to corral his ego.
But Crawford owns his mistakes, and I’ll take the final word of the kids, in candid journal entries written a year and a half after they finished. Not all would do it again, but all were glad they did it once – together. In the end, only the most cynical reader can doubt Crawford’s devotion and fierce love for his family, and vice versa.
Stop Trusting Viral Videos
I admit that while reading the book, I was reminded of the smartest piece of journalism I read in response to the “Covington Catholic” kerfuffle in Washington, D.C. In January 2019, video snippets appeared to show a high school kid in a MAGA hat mocking a Native American, causing the internet to go insane. The “truth” of the video was soon shown to be wildly incomplete, and a poor basis for evaluating the situation.
Ian Bogost, a media studies professor at Georgia Tech, responded with “Stop Trusting Viral Videos” in The Atlantic.
“Video can capture narratives that people take as truths, offering evidence that feels incontrovertible,” Bogost writes. “But the fact that those visceral certainties can so easily be called into question offers a good reason to trust video less, rather than more.”
This is, I think, the most uncomfortably honest thru-hiking book I’ve ever read. It’s also a genuinely fascinating read, equal parts tour through one man’s somewhat obsessive mind, straight-talking account of hiking the AT, and heart-warming confirmation that the trail does, indeed, provide. To top it off, it’s delightfully balanced by and infused with the charm and candor of six kids who have been given the rare opportunity to live as full human beings in a world that really would prefer they stay “safe.”
More Books from the Appalachian Trail
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I found the tone of this article to be chauvinistic and male centered…Ben Crawford “ushered” his family thru the AT. Hello, each of those 8 people completed a 2000 mile thru hike! Not because of Ben. This article was all about Ben and I think REALLY missed out on the amazing attributes of the rest of that family. I think a critical review needs to happen with this article.
Thanks for taking time to comment.
Looking over the review, I guess I don’t agree that it’s too focused on Ben.
First, the book itself is very much a “Ben” book, as I suspect you’ll agree if you wind up reading it.
Second, I made a point of noting that Ben’s voice “dominates, but it’s the kids who provide most of the book’s charm.” And then, to my eye, as the writer, I spend most of the rest of the review focused on the kids.
I didn’t mention in the review, but some voices definitely get more “page time” than others. In particular, in my reading, Memory and Kami aren’t onstage as often or as noticeably as the rest of the family.
But in the end, any focus on Ben is partly because to the extent that the family’s journey was controversial, almost all the criticism was focused on Ben. I read the book, in part, as his explanation of his experience and motives. Indeed, as the author, he explains that in earlier drafts of the book, it contained much more of what we might call “lecturing” about parenting philosophy and the like.
Again, thank you for taking time to comment. If you do end up reading the book, I’d be interested to hear if you still feel I’ve given too much attention to the author.
P.S. By far the most impressive human in the family, in my opinion and based on this portrayal, is Dove, as I think I’ve made clear.
P.P.S. Feel free to contact me personally if you do read the book and care to share your thoughts: [email protected]
P.P.P.S. I think it’s fair, based on the book, to say that this was Ben’s dream, hence the use of the word “ushering.” And as I’m sure you know, many people believed that he was somehow coercing his family to walk the trail. I think they are wrong, but I give him immense credit for his honesty in being willing to share family members’ genuine reservations and frustrations with hiking the AT, as well as the things they enjoyed.
Thanks so much for the response and explanation. What you say makes a lot of sense (book being from Ben’s perspective). I have purchased the book and plan to read however I did watch every one of their videos as they were hiking so that’s where I was coming from. For instance, in their videos they say repeatedly that hiking the AT was actually Kami’s dream from the start. And she definitely received her fair share of criticism. But that may have been covered in the videos and not the book.
Upon rereading I think that the use of the word “usher” set the tone of the article for me in a way that I realize you didn’t intend based on your response. So I suggest rethinking that framing but that’s just my 2 cents.
I can see where “usher” might seem too strong. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts upon reading the book, re book vs. videos.
Although I was pretty familiar with the Crawfords prior to reading the book, based on podcasts and such, I don’t think I watched any more than a few snippets of the videos.
Thanks again for taking time to write.
Thanks for the article on this and the tip! Picked up my signed copy today under the wire 🙂
First, I want to say that I really loved this family’s documentary and that’s where I first heard of the Crawford family. I’ll tell you what happened.
I always have been curious about the Appalachian Trail. And I always have liked Youtube videos about it. Back when very few vlogged their videos but just shared their slideshows on Youtube was when I first started dreaming about the possibility of a real thru hike. Then, I got married and we had one, then another, then a third child. The idea fell to the wayside.
One night I was having a few drinks and was feeling bold and toasty and told my wife that we could just do the trail AS A FAMILY! She bursted out laughing until tears literally squirted out of her eyes. So in a state of equal parts butthurt and eagerness to prove her wrong I spoke into our voice remote “Family Hikes the Appalachian Trail.” And the documentary “To the Treeline” came up, which is their hour long Youtube video of their thru hike with six children in tow. We both were speechless and just blinked silently for a few moments. So at the same time we both said “Wanna watch it right now?” And we sat down and played it right there.
Some people might idolize their family and some people are jealous and some people absolutely hate them and write about it online. But we were just stunned and admired what they did. No one is perfect, and they are not perfect either. We watched as they suffered and laughed and cried and enjoyed this huge journey together on the sacred Appalachian Trail and completed a real thru hike! Wow…. Love them or hate them or don’t care about them at all; this accomplishment demands respect.
I ended up going back and watching all of their vlog videos from the trail. I figured that there just had to be some hidden misery and super sweet moments hidden in between these clips. Well, I was right. I don’t keep up with their channel and Facebook page religiously because I don’t agree with them on everything. But that’s ok. This is a big world and a lot of people share it. What’s important to me is that people are just kind to each other and live their lives the way they want to live them, and you have to respect this family for marching to their own tune and doing something as epic and cool as thru hiking the Appalachian Trail together.
So through their channel and page I saw they planned to do a book and waited. I was able to buy a signed copy from their personal webstore. I read the entire book via the electronic copy before receiving the actual book this week. I loved this book.
A few moments and parts I really loved:
In the beginning, the author was brutally honest about the suffering at the beginning of the trail. There was no hero talk or illusion here in the first chapters about giving up modern conveniences and what would later be seen as luxuries. I have to respect the honesty here.
On page 69, where the father Ben apologizes to Rainier for flicking him in the lip after he was crying and going nuts was one of the most moving few sentences I’ve ever read. More honesty here too, and agonizing as decent folks do about mistakes like this. If you could believe it, I at that moment remembered a very similar moment where my own 3 year old son was crying hysterically and I swatted him in the mouth. It was terrible and I always remembered it. Well, I myself got down right then and looked him in the eyes and I apologized. He remembered too…. We had a moment. That part meant a lot to me. While Ben Crawford doesn’t seem like a perfect human (no one is), those kids are lucky to have a good dad like him. Lots of kids have dads that couldn’t care less about their own kid’s feelings like this and this page showed me that little Rainier’s dad really loved him. I loved that page, page 69.
The hate comments even this early in the book made me very angry. Not necessary. These are 2 adults and 6 kids thru hiking the AT. Have some mercy and celebrate them instead of going out of your way to be nasty.
Around page 79, they had an experience where complete strangers showed them true kindness at a shelter in the Smoky Mountains. I was very moved by this interaction and it boosted my faith in humanity just a little bit.
Around page 100, some more hateful comments were discovered by their family on a reddit thread. Yikes! How can people be like that? And why?
They mentioned a trail they did that was a 95 mile loop that they did as a family. This inspired me to find a similar trail in my home state and we are already planning a 30 mile section hike in Spring 2021.
Halfway through the Smokies, the internet hate machine caught up with them. In these pages, they had some real self reflection and I felt they showed some real humility here and shared it with the reader. They weren’t trying to be superior to anyone, and I respected them for what was written and shared in this section of the book.
Page 106 “Through the brightly lit phone screen, we saw an online world filled with passion and anger and so many opinions—but the second we turned off the screen, all we could see was a dirt path winding its way between trees and rocks. The people we met on the trail cared about us deeply. There was such a stark contrast between the online world and the trail—our real world.” Loved this quote from the book.
After this, someone called CPS on them and they actually showed up. The explanation in the book of how they felt, their fears, their worries, the what ifs was so raw and real and honestly shared that I felt like I was right there with them, in their shoes. I have 3 kids of my own and the thought that someone would report me or my wife for taking them on a long camping and hiking trip infuriated me. I was pissed on their behalf.
At Hot Springs when someone paid part of their bill at a tavern, I thought this was a nice gesture especially after their experience with CPS.
Loved the journal entries from their kids!
Impressive that their teenage son Seven edited the videos on trail! Wow…
When they stayed with a couple who found them by the birth video on their channel, I loved the very truthful and honest statement from their daughter Eden about the CPS incident, who basically said that they were very honest with their parents and not afraid to express themselves. Lots of maturity in these kids.
They stopped to run a marathon. I remember this from the documentary, but it was cool to read more details about this break in their thru hike.
At this part of the book, they give some background of their time living at the poverty line. These aren’t rich snobs. They’re real people that love their children and each other. This really shined here.
Interesting tale about how their dream to thru hike the AT was born. I won’t spoil it but it was cool.
Around this part of the book, they encounter a nice Christian couple who offers prayers and blessings to their family. There are a few critical, vague “religion” comments throughout the book that rubbed me the wrong way, but I appreciated how they accepted the kindness, the prayers and the blessings from this couple.
I loved their interaction with “Gnome,” a kind older Jewish man they met on trail that had tears in his eyes as he greeted and spoke with them. I remembered him from their videos, but it was so sweet to read more about this in the book.
Interesting hearing about the Degenerates and Silver and some others. Such interesting tales of camaraderie amongst such motley band of uniquely diverse individuals all drawn together by the Appalachian Trail.
Loved to see how they grew so much as people during this long adventure.
I laughed at some of the comments they shared about “yellow blazing.” There was a forest fire, people!
I was moved at the part where their oldest daughter accepted the challenge to carry little Rainier. Reading about how this made her father feel and how everyone banded together for the young boy was awesome to read about.
Felt bad for the hate they took about their little girl having a toothache. I have 3 kids and trust me: They get toothaches. They get cuts. They fall down. These things happen.
Loved the little story about the crazy driving mennonite lady. You’ll have this to look forward to when you buy this book.
Loved when they finally met in person the tatted up, dreadlocked park ranger that dismissed their fears about CPS trying to make a case against them.
Interesting stay with the cult.
Loved some of their 15 year old daughter’s colorful language in some of her journal entries. Very amusing.
Very sweet moments on Father’s day on the trail. Really loved that part.
Loved their first meeting with “Fresh Ground.”
Loved reading about Carl the “Omelette Guy,” who used his social security money to give trail magic for hikers. This book is full of stories about kind souls like this and you will be encouraged by just how many are out there doing this with their own time and money.
Page 295, I smiled when the Degenerates gave daughter Memory a special gift. Nice moment.
Loved reading about how dangerous Mt. Moosilauke was. Got me very curious about it. Loved this part of the book.
Some great parts of the book when they were going through the White mountains. Their fears, anxieties, etc. Very honest and well written.
There was a powerfully explained interaction between their teenage son Seven and the father later in the book, where the son fell. The self reflection and agonizing over their relationship, and honesty about mistakes made by the father was a very special part of the book. In this section, they said that the first several manuscripts didn’t include this, but they decided they should. This part was one of the very best and really let the reader peak into the soul of Ben, the father. An excellent part of the book.
I loved how they as a family decided about what to do about Baxter state park and the summit of Katahdin. I won’t spoil it, but it will make you appreciate their relationship and respect for each other. I loved how they handled it as a family. You can see during this part of the book that they truly do “fight for together.”
Loved the super thoughtful but simple gift that Culligan of the Degenerates gave to Ben.
Loved the really thoughtful gift that Fresh Ground gave their daughter post trail.
Ending thoughts about this book:
Be careful with your criticism online. In this case, I really felt that all of the hateful comments shared in this book shouldn’t have been included. And I don’t mean this by saying the writer made a mistake. I say this because the sheer consistence and hostility that this nice family endured throughout their entire thru hike should. not. have. taken. PLACE. I couldn’t believe how foul and personal some of these people were towards this family of 8 people. So be careful with your words. 6 children hiking with their parents, giving up modern conveniences like this is something that should be encouraged and celebrated. Not hated.
Their son Seven, is a very strong young man. During that experience near the end when he fell, I felt for him. And Seven, if you stumble upon this, I want you to know that you should be really proud of yourself. And be thankful for your family. I grew up with a stepdad that was heavyhanded and trust me when I say not a lot of dads out there are so sensitive and care as much about how their sons are feeling and just about their sons in general like your dad does. Go read how he poured his heart out about you. The fact that you stayed on trail, and edited all of those videos like that is a feat of amazing proportions for a teenager who was walking and hiking all day long for months. You had the option to give up and stayed the course. You will always have that to carry with you fo the rest of your life. Bravo, young man. I hope I can raise my own son to be as strong as you. God bless you.
This is a great book about how this family thru hiked this trail, about all the undeserved and unnecessary hate they received from random people online and how they grew as a family. I knew I would truly enjoy this book and was blown away by just how much I liked it. I loved all the stories about generous and kind hearted individuals. I loved the obstacles they overcame as a family, both physical and in their relationships with each other. But most of all, I loved how this book really showcased that they really are a family that fights for together.
Go buy this book. You won’t regret it.
You just read me the book page by page Stephen. I don’t need to go buy it.