Blaze, The Elder


It’s hard for this dad to talk about Blaze without his heart bursting of pride. I suppose that could be said about all my children. All kids are special, but the truth is there are many ‘firsts’ you experience with your eldest. Blaze is no exception. Wait, no, I mean, he’s exceptional. Just… well, you know what I mean.

The debate rages on as to which of us the pass was named after. This was actually after finishing the CDT, Blaze and I returned to the Cirque of Towers, just for bonus miles.

Beginning Blazes

Blaze was born in 2009, a year and a half before we finished our medical specialty training. He became a bit of a mascot to my training program. Every week, we would have four hours of academic lecture. I’d show up to class with Blaze and he would immediately be passed from person to person, happy as a clam, smiling at everybody. A typically easy first baby, the kind to convince you to have others. I’d sling cheerios across the floor and he’d crawl under chairs and around legs for hours, happily munching away every time he found another round morsel of whole grain goodness. Surely having a baby eat off a hospital floor is a good idea, right? Right? Kid’s got an immune system to take on a crowded AT shelter and an unfiltered stream. 

One day I showed up to lecture and had left Lyol with our au pair. My director sent me home to get Blaze and bring him back. He was loved and he was a bundle of joy and love to anybody who looked at him. And that’s obviously not a biased opinion at all. His infectious joy continued to our three months in a dormitory in France, learning French, and on to Africa, where he has grown up and learned varied life skills.

Lyol on his very first backpacking trip, the west rim of the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, at age nine. He happens to be wearing his father’s hat and sunglasses.

Of course, now he’s a teenager, so everything hits a little off-kilter.

Blaze Goes to School

Homeschooling usually comes easy to the eldest, and this boy is by miles our most self-motivated student. He didn’t really start in earnest until he was nine, but then took off, skipping every other year until sixth grade, and starting high school while still in seventh grade. Technically an eighth-grader this year, he has a full slate of high school classes he’s chugging through this year. In fact, this morning he just passed his senior-level document processing final. 

Lyol’s ease at homeschooling gave us the confidence of two things: 1) We can live overseas without taking away too many educational opportunities from him, and 2) We can take some time away from formal schooling to hike!

Blaze Hits the Appalachian!

Blaze is as sensitive and he is outgoing, and he came upon the Appalachian Trail with the right mix of excitement, respect and trepidation. But he did his thing, proved his ability, chugged along with the family, took on responsibilities, and conquered the trail at age 11.

Blaze on the AT with the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands. (And for the record, he didn’t approach the pony. The pony came to him. ?)

But it wasn’t until the Continental Divide Trail that the boy became a young man before our eyes. We hadn’t noticed how significant his growth spurt was, but he was clearly a strong hiker now. I mean, really strong. He could hang with anybody on trail at age 13. If my pack was full and his wasn’t, I would be puffing hard to keep up with him. And his poor siblings didn’t stand a chance.

Blaze and siblings in Glacier National Park, nearing the end of their thru hike.

Blaze is a teenager now. Pressing boundaries, spreading wings, exploring independence. He is no longer the little boy rummaging for cheerios under chairs. Don’t get me wrong, between hiker hunger and normal teenage boy hunger, he’d still happily pilfer the forest floor raw if he thought cheerios might be lying about.

No cheerios, but Blaze and Boomerang loved to forage for edible mushrooms to supplement the dinner. These two bad boys qualified.

Blaze grows into the CDT…

Blaze finished the trail the same shoe size as his dad and only an inch or two shorter than his mother. He finished taller, slimmer, stronger, deeper-voiced. However, his growth wasn’t limited to physical growth. The boy matured.

Lyol, pretending to love his little sister, Dead Weight ??

He took care of his siblings, finding creative ways to keep them motivated. He made campfires and set up tents. Blaze had the paramount duties of ensuring we had sufficient filtered water and hanging our food away from bears. He sought out more and more ways to contribute to the family as time went on. He understood ‘team’ finally. As we piled more on him, he thrived, a seemingly endless well of energy and resourcefulness. As he grew into each responsibility, he humbled his father. I am so proud. 

We had a friend land on the road as we were walking out of Pie Town. Lyol and Zane each got rides to see New Mexico from the sky! Added bonus was he didn’t lose his pie during the flight ??

Blaze had his personal time as well. For completing the AT, each kid earned an iPod touch, now a collector’s item! Onto these, they could download audiobooks. Blaze passed his days consuming Dickens, Tolstoy, Crane, Orwell, Dumas, Verne and others. Some of them he may have even understood. He would chug on ahead of us, earbuds in like any other teenager, and plug along up and over mountains, graciously slowing to occasionally allow us to catch him.

Lyol, looking very GQ, as always ??

Blaze turns west to the PCT

Undoubtedly, Lyol could turn in 20-mile days on end the entire distance. However, the rest of us can’t! So we start to pile weight on him to slow him down. At one point, we were pushing him to nearly 30 pounds and he was still maintaining big and fast miles without breaking a sweat. He’s an animal. I keep threatening him with 35 pounds this year on the PCT. His old dad needs a mule!

I know I said I needed a mule, but I didn’t know I’d get the mule droppings to go along with it. ??

Lyol became the youngest male to hike the CDT in one year. He didn’t hike the redline, but I’m sure he could have. A couple females have done it younger, one even doing the redline in a single year. And another little dude killed it, doing the entire redline by age 9 over two years. Lyol’s record didn’t last, however, as his little brother came and smashed it three minutes after Blaze hit the border 🙂 Records are made to be broken.

Blaze chillin’ like a villain at the Continental Divide Trail terminus on the Canadian border. Second thru hike is in the bag! One PCT to go!!! Triple Crown, here we come!

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