Sorry Mom: An Interview with the Parents of Thru Hikers
If your son, daughter, grandkid, niece, nephew, or other close family member has revealed to you that they are planning on thru hiking a long trail (and you’re beginning to question their upbringing and sanity), then look no further, this post is for you!
Most thru hiking blog posts are about the actual hikers themselves, the culture surrounding hiking, gear advice, etc., but I was interested in how thru hiking affects the people in our lives we’re closest to: our parents. Our parents were our biggest supporters throughout our hike, so it’s only fair to assume it had an impact on their lives as well.
So I asked our parents a few questions about how our hike affected them. Here’s what they had to say:
Before the Hike
What were your feelings the first time we told you about our plans to thru hike the Appalachian Trail?
I can sum up their answers to this question in three C words: “confusion”, “concern”, “caution”. My mom Tammy said,”I remember hanging up the phone with you feeling VERY overwhelmed and wondering how I was going to survive the journey. I had a lot of doubt, fear and concern about your safety and overall well-being.” Both of our parents did a lot of research on the trail, which seemed to help ease their apprehensions. I remember the looks on their faces when we would discuss the trail and our plans, and when we would answer their many, many questions. It was always a mixture of weariness and them hoping we we would change our minds before it was too late.
Did you think we would actually be able to complete the whole trail?
(Don’t worry, I told them it was ok to be honest!) Josh’s mom Lisa said, “To be honest, those first six weeks or so, I wasn’t so sure. Every time we talked to you, you sounded so defeated, and you seemed to be taking a lot of zero days and staying in hotels a lot. Once you got over the first six weeks, though, I never doubted it for a minute!” All of our family members were so supportive along the way. Even if they doubted our success, which was totally understandable, they never let us see it. Tammy said, “I had absolutely NO doubt you would finish! I knew that you would complete the AT as long as there were no major medical injuries. I probably envisioned you standing at the top of Mt. Katahdin more than you did along your journey.”
What were your biggest concerns about us taking on a thru hike?
This includes safety, finances, making bad life choices, etc. “I was confident that you went into this after putting in a lot of thought and planning, so I wasn’t worried about jobs or finances when you returned.”, said Lisa. Tammy said, “Once I came to grips with the fact you were going to walk from Georgia to Maine, my biggest fear was one of you getting hurt or stranded from weather conditions. It’s why I immediately invested in the Spot Gen3 (a small GPS tracking device). I have to admit that this purchase was strictly for my piece of mind. I was hoping I would somehow be able to sleep a little better at night. I don’t regret purchasing this GPS. Not only did it provide an SOS call option if something happened, but it also allowed family and friends to track your journey.” The safety of their children is every parents main concern and priority, which is why a thru hike can be really stressful for a parent. That’s why so many hostel owners had signs in their bunk rooms practically shouting at you to “CALL YOUR MOM!!”.
During the Hike
What were the best and worst parts about us thru hiking?
Our parents unanimously agreed that the best part of us hiking was that they felt they were “living vicariously” through us during our journey. Everyone said they really enjoyed experiencing our hike through our photos and blog posts. “I learned so much about the AT and I came to realize that there are still wonderful people in this world. A huge thank you to all the trail angels for taking care of my baby and son in law. The AT is not near as scary as I initially thought.”, said Tammy. As for the worst part: “watching you walk into the woods at Springer Mountain, knowing that I wouldn’t see you for so long. That tore my heart in two!”
Were your feelings about our hike ever different than friends/family members? Did you get a lot of questions or concerns from other parents/family members?
Both of our parents agreed that we sort of became “celebrities” in their social circles. As weird as that was for us, I think my mom enjoyed all the questions and concerns from people we barely knew: “I remember a lot of other mothers saying to me, “How do you sleep at night?” and “I don’t know how you do it!”. I got a ton of questions from everyone I came in contact with that knew about your journey, which was pretty much everyone I know. The hike was the topic of my daily conversations for five months. I found myself beaming with pride and sharing your journey with anyone who would listen.” Lisa said, “It was fun getting to know the hiker culture through you. In our circles, you were somewhat a celebrity. No one would talk to us without asking about you, where you were, how far you had left, etc.”
What did you find most helpful to do when you started to worry? How did you cope with the compounded anxieties and apprehensions?
The Spot GPS was a major factor in reducing our families anxieties during the hike. The Spot was equipped with an SOS button, a text feature, and an app where they could always see our location on a map. It did a lot for their sanity, as well as ours. “In the beginning, the internet was my friend. The tracking device gave me your coordinates, and then I would find the exact location on Google maps and zoom in as close as I could. I would Google images of your shelter or your stopping points to see what others had to say about it.”, said Lisa. My mom liked to maintain a “no news is good news” attitude while we were away, but was always prepared to hop on a flight first thing if we needed her.
After the Hike
Did anything surprise you about our hike?
Other than the fact that we were crazy enough to attempt it and complete it of course. According to Lisa: “It truly surprised me how often we got to talk to you. I think we talked to you more while you were on the trail than when you were home.” My mom said, “The one thing that surprised me the most were the wonderful trail angels and gracious people you met along the way. I heard story after story from you about how strangers provided food, shelter, support and comfort. These people provided rides into town or showed up along the trail with food, beverages, friendship and love. That is not only surprising, it’s remarkable and extraordinary.”
If we could go back, would you still want us to thru hike?
For some reason, I was so nervous to ask this one! According to Tammy: “Absolutely! Despite the fact I was skeptical at first and completely frightened, I still supported your dreams and goals. I am so thankful that you had this once in a lifetime opportunity and that you fulfilled your dreams and goals.” I think both of our parents are glad that we chose to go on this grand adventure, and proud that we decided to set a goal and see it through. Plus they get brag to the rest of the parents whose kids aren’t as cool as us! You’re welcome guys!
What was your overall experience of our hike? What were those 5 months like for you?
“I enjoyed it. I, of course, was happy that you lived your dream, and happy you were home. I think it was just long enough.”, said Lisa. My poor mom had to take care of our pets while we were gone, so she probably wanted us to come home the most. “The 5 months went by fairly quickly, considering my worry and stress was in full gear while you were gone. Babysitting my grand puppy and grand kitty was probably worse than if I had grandkids to watch.”
Do you have any regrets or wish you would’ve done anything differently during our hike?
My mom’s one regret: “I wish I would have taken a week off from work, met you on the trail, and done a section hike. I think this would have been great to do. It would have given me some insight and allowed me to experience a small portion of your journey with you first hand.” Josh’s mom’s wish? “I wish we would have sent you more care packages and letters along the way.”
How would you feel if we told you we were planning on doing another long distance hike?
I can just sense the hesitancy and reluctance to answer this question! Tammy said, “I will always support my children and help them reach their dreams and goals in any way that I can. Something tells me that the AT will not be your last long hike. It’s in your blood now!” Even though our parents wouldn’t necessarily celebrate if we decided to do another thru hike in the near future, we know that we will always have their love and support. “I don’t think that I would be as enthusiastic as last time unless you had saved a big chunk of money and secured jobs upon your return. However, I would support you guys no matter what.”, said Lisa.
Advice for Prospective Parents of Thru Hikers
- Get some sort of GPS tracking device (we used the Spot Gen3), as well as rescue insurance.
- Have as many friends/family members there to see your hiker(s) off on the first day- we were so thankful our families joined us on top of Springer!
- Send as many care packages as you can but make sure you coordinate well with your hikers .(Including letters from family members in the packages is a huge plus!)
- Don’t worry about not understanding all the “trail lingo” in the beginning- you’ll pick it up!
- Try to meet your hikers along the way-whether that’s for a section hike, to bring trail magic, or just to visit with them for the day, any time spent with family during the hike is cherished and a major encouragement to your hikers. It gives both of you something to look forward to.
- Embrace their journey and support them, even if you don’t agree with their decisions.
- Share your hikers journey often, and with anyone who will listen.
I think the best way to sum up being the parent of a thru hiker is this statement from my mom: “As a parent, I could not be more proud of your accomplishment. You will be able to share stories for the rest of your lives about your journey and experience with others. Not to mention you will have some really cool stories to tell your children one day. You are both a true example of what inspiration and determination looks like. I couldn’t be prouder!”
Thank you so much to our parents for being such good sports about our hike! You guys are the best!
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