Meet the Family of 6 Finishing Their Triple Crown
Meet the Bennetts, a family of six that has hiked the PCT, CDT, and PNT. I caught up with 5/6 of them (and a Bennett cousin) almost a quarter of the way through the AT, their last Triple Crown trail, to find out how (and why) they do it.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Where are you guys right now? And also, who are you guys?
Wildflower: I’m Wildflower, and I’m the Mama. We’re about to hit mile 650 tonight. In 2012, when my husband said, “hey, I think we should hike to the Triple Crown as a family,” I was like, “what’s the Triple Crown?” But as he explained it to me, I thought “Whoa, what American kid gets to spend six months with their parents for three or four years in a row? Let’s do it.”
Kidnapper: I’m Adam. I’m the dad. I’m 46. My trail name’s Kidnapper. Most American people like it. Most foreigners are like, “I’m not sure if kidnapper is what you think it is.”
Honey Badger: My name is Kaia. I go by Honey Badger on trail. I’m 17. I’m the second oldest kid. My older sister isn’t here right now. She’s 19, so she’s off to bigger and better things.
Wildflower: But because we couldn’t have our oldest we had to still be a party of seven. So we invited our cousin Maddie to join us.
Duffy: I’m Maddie. My trail name is Duffy. I’m 16. I’m their cousin.
Wildflower: This is Maddie’s first thru-hike. The first night we were at Springer Mountain was her first night in a tent. She’s killing it.
Turtle: Hi, I’m Tristan. I go by Turtle on trail. I’m 15 years old.
Ladybug: I’m Ruby. I go by Ladybug. And I just turned 13 last month.
What inspired you to attempt the Triple Crown as a whole family?
Kidnapper: I grew up going on a major backpacking trip every summer, 60-100 miles. I always liked the way my kids were in the wilderness. And I’ve heard it said, and I totally agree, that being outside gives you a big buffer as a parent. And I need as big a buffer as I can get. Because none of these kids came with an instruction manual.
So that was the main thing, to get them outdoors. Get them away from all the crazy, like, “oh, I need these shoes,” or “I need these clothes,” or whatever. And out here, they kind of have a different perspective on what’s important, like, how great the scenery is, rather than what my shoes are. It really gets that to the simplicity of what’s really important in life, and away from all the distractions of materialism.
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What’s been the biggest challenge of thru-hiking as a family?
Ladybug: It’s kind of hard being around everyone all the time because you get annoyed with them.
Honey Badger: It’s hard because you want to go at different paces. Sometimes, one of us will have a hurt foot, and then we all have to stop, or one of us will need a zero day and the others are itching to go more, and we need to take breaks with the whole group and do things as a whole group. It can be hard.
Wildflower: Yeah, most people are out here, and they definitely join up with a tramily, but they know that if someone’s injured, they can keep hiking on. They don’t have to stay together. But we have to stay together.
How have you guys been managing conflict with each other?
Honey Badger: If you get annoyed with someone, hike faster.
Kidnapper: At a spiritual level we pray that things would go smoothly. And that we can all get along. Without a doubt that’s been a great thing for us. And on a physical level, we’ve, as parents, found a sweet spot (of hiking distance every day). It’s been different on each trail. If you hike too far, everybody’s grumpy because they’re just exhausted. If you don’t hike far enough, and everybody’s got too much energy, and that leads to other problems. Like, “let me just tease my sister.” So we find that spot right in the middle, where you hike to where you’re tired but not exhausted.
What’s the best part about thru-hiking as a family?
Honey Badger: I would say being able to divide up gear weight. Our tent is like two pounds, but between the three of us, it’s a lot less. It’s kind of nice to be able to divide everything up.
Wildflower: As a mom, during the daily grind of civilization, you don’t get to know your kids as much as when they’re doing hard things. So we wanted to make sure our kids know how to do hard things. And an added benefit of that is you get to see so much about their real personalities, their characters, by having so much time together outside without the distractions of friends, and school, and other things in the way. I just think you just get to know each other at a deeper level. And I really enjoy that a lot.
Kidnapper: I’m not sure if they really pick up on this, but there’s definitely reminiscing when we’re back home about the massive storm, the nasty wind, and whatever. Like the song goes, “a hundred bad days make a hundred good stories, a hundred good stories make me interesting at parties.”
I’d love to hear some of those stories.
Honey Badger: Well we woke up in a puddle. That was a low.
Wildflower: I have another one. On the PCT in 2019, we usually walked in a formation with the oldest girls in front, and then Turtle and then Ladybug in the back with Kidnapper and I. We had stopped for a potty break with Ladybug. We thought Turtle would just stay with his sisters. But there was a split in the middle of a bunch of bushes. So he went one way, not knowing his sisters had gone the other way. And we knew from the weather report that a big snowstorm was coming. So the sisters were waiting. When we all caught up, we didn’t know where he was for a whole hour. So we split up, frantically searching. Just worst-case scenario going through your brain.
Turtle: I reached a campground and the river and across the river there wasn’t a trail, so I figured this probably isn’t the way. So I ambled back towards the split-off and eventually met up with mom and Honey Badger.
Wildflower: We were blowing our whistles but the wind was blowing so the whistle couldn’t carry. It felt like the worst-case scenario, as I worried about it for a whole hour thinking what could happen to him. But all’s well that ends well, we found him. He came wandering back.
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Turtle how were you feeling? When you were there all alone storm coming in no one around.
Turtle: I didn’t realize there’s a storm coming in. I was just like, “Oh, I’m on the wrong trail.”
Honey Badger: He was crying when we found him.
Turtle: Because mom was crying first!
Honey Badger: I was the one that got in trouble for him getting lost somehow, even though I was ahead of him.
I also wanted to ask all of you if you had a favorite trail that you’ve done so far?
Turtle: My favorite trail was probably the Pacific Northwest Trail. It was absolutely beautiful.
Ladybug: My favorite was probably the CDT because I got to see a lot of my old friends and family when we hiked through Colorado, where we used to live.
Honey Badger: I liked the Continental Divide Trail. It was challenging. But also, we got to pick what we were doing a lot of the time, because it has a lot of reroutes and alternates. So everyone just kind of chooses their own adventure. Also we did it in 2021, when everyone was just itching to get back out on trail. And so there was lots of people and it was just super fun.
Wildflower: Yeah, I have a really hard time deciding what’s my favorite between the PCT, PNT, and CDT. I love so many things about all of them.
So what comes next for you guys after the Triple Crown?
Wildflower: Well, for Ladybug, it was like, “could I please have a summer where I get to actually hang out with my friends and go to the lake and just be a normal kid.” So maybe we’ll do a little bit of that. She’s also said, “Can we do something cool, like kayak down the Mississippi River or go rock climbing in the Winds?”
I would love to do all of the National Scenic Trails if we could pull that off. So maybe we can squeeze in a short one and then do something that Ladybugs thinks is fun. Because next summer, we probably will just have Turtle and Ladybug with us because our kids are growing up too fast.
Ladybug, how have you been staying in touch with your friends and making new friends while you’re out here with your family all the time?
Ladybug: When we get cell coverage or get into towns, I’ll text them. Or I’ll write letters. I’ve gotten some packages from my friends too. But other than that, it’s been kinda hard.
I also wanted to ask all of you guys if you have any advice that you would give to families that are traveling or adventuring together.
Kidnapper: I think the important part is to have fun. If that means that you can’t complete the trail as a thru-hike, that’s what it means. I definitely would sacrifice the thru-hike if it meant that my kids still loved backpacking. Staying out in the wilderness is really kind of the point. If you’re only doing eight miles a day, that’s fine. And if 25 is good, then do 25. But just make sure it’s fun.
Do you have any advice for parents or people who want to be parents about how to navigate adventuring with kids and including your kids in lives of adventures?
Kidnapper: I was listening to somebody say, “from the time that your child is born, you only have 18 summers with them.” That drove the point home for me. All of a sudden, there’s a countdown. If I want to have an influence, I only have 18 summers to do that.
You may have to slow down your adventure, and you may have to be more risk-aware when it comes to adventuring because you don’t want to put your kids in danger that you would have put yourself in before you had kids. But then, there’s so much adventure that can happen even after you’ve had children. It may take you a couple years before they’re skiing double black diamonds, but they might get there. I’ve got two kids that are double black diamond skiers, and I got two kids that aren’t and don’t want to be and that’s OK.
They’re all great at backpacking. If they wanted to, they could leave their old man in the dust. It’s amazing how fast they get and how strong. So put yourself in a position where you can take advantage of the 18 summers that you have with your children, because it’s 18 short years. And it’s really, really important in such a small amount of time to make a big influence.
Wildflower: It’s important to find the balance and fight the resistance of kids who are like, “Oh, I’d rather just sit here on the couch and play this video game than go outside and do something hard.” There will be resistance. And of course, you have to listen to your kids. But there’s definitely different schools of thoughts with parenting. I remember a friend of mine would ask her young kids every day, “what are we going to do today? What would you want?” And if I invited her to do something she’d be like, “Oh, let me ask my kids if they want to do that.” And we’re not so much that kind of parents. We’re much more like “this is something we think is really cool. And we got all the gear and we’re gonna go do it. And if you really hate it, when you have kids someday, you don’t have to do it with them.”
Kidnapper: Honey Badger thought we were crazy. Like, “I’m not gonna go on this hike, I’m not going to enjoy this, I can’t believe you think I’m going to do the Pacific Crest Trail.” Then she goes on the hike, and she loves it.
Kids, what do you say to all that?
Honey Badger: I like being outdoors. I think I think the key is to find something that you like. If a kid doesn’t want to hike, maybe they like to swim, or go to the lake, or mountain bike. Finding an activity that you can do together with a kid is nice.
Wildflower: Their childhood was different than most. We didn’t put a lot of time, effort, and money into organized sports. We were really financially focused on this hike. We skied together, we did rock climbing together and mountain biking together. But as far as letting them choose their own sports and things that they wanted to do, we were kind of too focused on this trail.
Kidnapper: I grew up playing soccer, football, and baseball, and I didn’t do any of that as an adult. But I also grew up skiing and backpacking. What things will we do into my 70s and 80s hopefully? Backpacking and skiing. So the hope was to get the kids into something that they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives, rather than burnout by the time they graduate high school. But backpacking, I imagine that they’ll probably be doing this till they die.
Wildflower: I would love talk to any family who wanted to get their kids into this or had questions. We’d love to talk about gear. Because gear and trails is our favorite subject.
Is there anything else you guys want to add?
Kidnapper: These trails are getting so popular and so crowded. Here on the AT, there’s no permit system, but I think there’s gonna have to be because it’s just so crowded. There’s a lot of other trails out there. I think it’s not necessary to get stuck on doing the same trail as everybody else. But just go out there and do a trail, find one that’s rare, and then hit it.
Kids, anything else to add? Anything else that you want readers to know?
Honey Badger: My parents think that it’s all them, but it’s really all us. We work hard. They couldn’t do it without us.
Follow the Bennetts on Instagram at @kidsoutwild to watch them finish their Triple Crown!
Featured image of the Bennetts in the Smokies. All images (including featured image) courtesy of Mindi Bennett.
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