Reflections on an Family Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
This year I self-published a book called “Kids Out Wild: A Tale of Love and Suffering on Four of America’s National Scenic Trails.” I was able to include insights from each of my four children (who were 16, 14, 12, and 9 when we started the PCT in 2019).
My youngest (now 14 years old) wrote the following about our 2022 thru-hike on the AT: “The AT was my least favorite trail. I’m not going to beat around the bush. This began when the heat started, crushing us with the 90- to 100-degree heat. The consonant ups and downs didn’t benefit my opinion of the trail. I had heard that it was either going to be intensely hot or always raining. All the hikers that we met that were previously on the AT either hated it or loved it. Though I didn’t like the AT, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a beautiful and amazing trail. There were some incredible views and great people. I’m glad that I hiked the Appalachian Trail—even though I didn’t want to. The people I met and the experience I had will stick with me for the rest of my life, marking the end of the Triple Crown experience for me.”
Love and Suffering are Part of Family Backpacking Adventures
Take what Ruby says with a grain of salt. Yes, the Appalachian Trail was challenging for us, but they say that enduring 100 bad days makes you more interesting at parties (we were on the AT for 155 days). Our family has only lived in the West. The humidity/heat combo and bugs of the East really shocked us. Also, having mostly trained on trails graded for horses really throws you for a loop when you are in the White Mountains. Conversely, we stood in awe when we entered a town to see it was settled in the 1720s.
This is a Sign
The history and geology along the AT are truly remarkable, with informational signs at nearly every turn. For instance, Yellow Mountain Gap in the Pisgah National Forest featured a sign telling the story of the “Overmountain Men.” They won a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War in late September of 1780. Fox Gap had an abundance of Civil War informational signs. Here we learned about the deaths of Union General Jesse L. Reno and Confederate General Samuel Garland. In Harpers Ferry, we explored museums and delved into the life of John Brown, who led an armed band in an attempt to free slaves in 1859.
At Dragon’s Tooth, a sign educated us about the area’s ancient geological history. We learned that the rock formations began as sand 400 million years ago. Even an outhouse sign taught us about “duff” and how it breaks down human waste, an interesting lesson in biology. The Elk Garden Biological Area featured a sign describing 20 threatened, endangered, and sensitive species in the region. These are remnants of the Pleistocene era, surviving only on high elevation mountains in Southern Appalachia.
Every step of the way, we learned about those who had walked before us, about history and geology. Even on foggy days at high points like Clingmans Dome, the informational signs provided the names of the peaks visible on clear days.
We encountered numerous memorials, like the one covered in coins in memory of Wade Sutton, who sacrificed his life fighting a forest fire in 1968.
The Appalachian Trail proved to be the most educational trail for our family. It also marked our first successful attempt at hiking from one terminus to the other. We started from the southern terminus and concluded at Mt. Katahdin. Unlike our experiences on the PCT and CDT, we encountered no obstacles from fires blocking our path, nor did we need to reroute due to snow.
A monument to the 1,235 lbs. of cheese this town gifted to Thomas Jefferson.
A Bad Day on Trail Sure Beats a Day in Civilization
It has been a year since our family completed our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I wanted to take some time to reflect by writing this article. While we hiked, I had intended to write updates for The Trek, but it proved to be too much for me. Our family has seen a lot of changes this past year. Two of our oldest girls are off at college (one is currently in Europe doing a study abroad). In keeping with the “do a thru-hike every year” tradition we started in 2019, my husband is currently attempting the entire AZT. The two younger kids, the dog, and I decided to not join him because of school, jobs, and an aversion to hot weather and sharp pokey things. However, I am increasingly convinced that civilization is bad for my family’s mental health. I feel a big pull to get us all back to the trail.
Featured image drawn by Daniel Miller (IG @doodledan11)
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Thank you for this article! I cannot imagine the logistics you and your family had to endure for the hiking! God bless you all and keep you safe and healthy. You have given your children the greatest gift of time spent with their parents and they will keep and cherish the memories for ever! You Rock!!!
So exciting to hear of another thru hiking family! We hiked over 2,300 miles of the PCT this summer with our two kids (ages 8 and 10). Like you, we are hopeful more families will take on the adventure of a thru hike.
So fun reading about your family adventures. It’s nice to see more and more families bonding this way. The Netteburg family finish the PCT in a week and half with their five kids and will be triple crowners. Inspirational.