Families Who Hike Together…
Our kids aren’t the first hiking family to set off on long trails. Well, shucks, I suppose when it comes to carrying kids long distances and kids trekking long distances, that’s been going on for thousands of years. Although I suspect those parents undertaking such voyages had loftier ambitions than my children’s parents. Queen Bee and I just thought it would be a fun lark. We wanted to do it and dragged our kids along. Generations prior, the most likely cause to move long distances with children was maybe a wooly mammoth herd had already scavenged all the gatherers could gather and, being vegetarian and morally opposed to killing wooly mammoths for food, they simply had to move on to more productive pastures. Something like that.
But specifically, America’s trifecta of long-distance hiking paths, the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail… the Triple Crown… these trails have been hiked by kids before. They weren’t literally trailblazers, but they did blaze the trails for kids to come after.
Sunshine, the Original
The original superstar was a girl name Reed “Sunshine” Gjonnes. Before thru-hiking was really a mainstream thing, this girl hiked all three trails before she became a teenager. And when it came to the Continental Divide Trail, she actually hiked the entire red line, and completed it in a single year. Those who haven’t undertaken the CDT might not appreciate what a massive accomplishment that is, but take my word for it, it’s really a feat. I’m trying to think of a correlate folks could use for frame of reference.
The San Juan mountains in Colorado still have deep snow well into June. And the snow begins falling in Glacier National Park in September. To enter Colorado earlier requires special equipment, and the knowledge to use it, not to mention the conditions slow you way down. And to push that time frame any later in Glacier is to play with fire. Or, well, to play with ice, I suppose would be more accurate. So to thread that needle safely, you can’t enter the San Juans until late, but then you need to crush absolutely massive miles every day to get to Canada before it’s too late.
Sunshine (and her dad) did just that. Big miles on little legs, legs accustomed to it after the PCT and the AT.
I’ve had the good fortune to reach out and communicate with Sunshine, as she’s been very generous in sharing her story with me, as well as encouraging us we are doing good things with our kids. Sunshine has grown into a professional woman giving back to society, and it strikes me we should be proud for our kids to grow in a similar vein.
I don’t know that Sunshine’s record of hiking the redline in one year will ever be broken by a younger hikers. It’s just really challenging at that age to do it safely. Because we took so many shortcuts, hiking shorter distances between loops of trail that followed the continental divide far east or west before looping back on itself, our hike ended up being about 600 miles shorter than Reed’s. That’s five weeks shorter! Five weeks after we finished, Glacier would have been socked in with snow. No way!
A Certain Unnamed Legend…
Since Reed’s accomplishment, the Triple Crown has been completed by a younger hiker, splitting the CDT over two years. That particular hiker is an absolute legend. He is a minor and his parents haven’t given me permission to write about him, so that story will be for another day. But anybody who’s out on a long trail with kids knows exactly who I’m talking about 😉
And there have been some other big families out there too, including one on the AT this year.
In 2018, the Crawford family became the original hiking mega-family to tackle the AT, with six kids! They live a very unconventional lifestyle in general, even thru-hiking set aside. They’ve taken a lot of flak for it. We have been happy to let them be the lightning rod everybody took their anger out on before we got on the trail. Fortunately for us, people were mad enough about life in general in 2020, nobody had any energy left to direct anger at us. The Crawfords had to deal with CPS calls and all sorts of other insanity. But they managed to lug laptops and drones and make some unbelievable YouTube videos about it.
The Strawbridge Family we’ve grown oddly close to. They are a family of six, the first hiking family of six to finish the Triple Crown. When we had questions and insecurities while facing the CDT, they were SO supportive of us, never hesitating to give advice. Some hiking families can be weirdly competitive about proving their family is best, but the Strawbridges have been wonderfully friendly and helpful. They gave me their resupply spreadsheet for the PCT and all kids of other beta. Should also be mentioned this is a BIG mile family. They even SOBO’d the CDT in 2020, adding several layers of complexity to an already challenging thru.
The Bennett Family then also crushed the Triple Crown as a family of six the year after the Strawbridges. They’ve also done the Pacific Northwest Trail, which is another one with a tight weather window. All these families are just so awesome.
And there have been many more. A mom with her three daughters doing most of the AT in 2020. The Daley Family tackling a solid chunk of the PCT last year, and now the CDT this year. (And unanimously voted ‘Most Photogenic Thru-Hiking Family’ by the entire universe. They take the best pictures. I don’t know what kind of saintly patience the parents must have to be able to do it. Apologies to my own kids, but we gotta step up our game if we’re gonna compete with the Daleys.) The Daleys are extra-exceptional, because they started the PCT with kids 2, 3 and 4, like the hardest ages possible! And so many more families, I couldn’t possibly mention them all.
So we’re special, but we’re not thaaaaat special 😉
Know any other hiker families? Feel free to link them in the comments below!
To meet the members of our family of thru-hikers, why don’t you start with the baby here: https://thetrek.co/pacific-crest-trail/dead-weight/
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