What About the Kids? Confessions of a Thru-Hiking Mom

“But what about the kids?”

I had just finished my excited announcement to my father-in-law as we sat across his well-worn dining room table. He was a joyful man that I, after 14 years as his daughter-in-law, had come to respect. I listened to his words vibrate off my inner eardrums. You see, he was not the first nor will he be the last person to ask that very same question. I was planning to walk from Mexico to Canada by myself, leaving my 10- and 6-year-old behind.  How is that possible? Should that be allowed?

Here is my attempt to answer some of the questions about hiking a long-distance trail while being a mother to young children.

What Solidified Your Decision to Solo Hike?

Growing up I was a ballerina. I hit my prime dancing alongside my icons with Pacific Northwest Ballet.

That was me and I was that.

After the stage no longer held my heart I gave it to my husband instead, as we grew our family through the foster care system. We welcomed 34 children into our home, but were only gifted the opportunity to adopt our daughter and become legal guardians of our son.

That was me and I was that.

Then I found myself burnt out. Bitter and uncertain of who I was. We moved in a converted short school bus and began to run away to find our family. Yet what I found was a stranger in the rearview mirror—not sure what worth I held if I were not a ballerina, a foster mom, or a bride.

That began the calling of the PCT. In trepidation, I asked my husband if he could fathom me walking on my own. He smiled and said he would bus alongside me as my personal trail angel. That is when I knew I could do this.

I am going to spend time alone to figure out who I am once more.

How Do I Feel when People Show Concern About Leaving My Children?

I wish I could paint a picture, or create a scent, or describe an experience to encapsulate what happens within myself when I hear the question: “What about the kids?” Perhaps it is similar to the coping cycle of grief.

Denial: I am not just leaving my kids. I am always there for them, and throughout their lives. In at-risk situations I have proven to them that I am here.
Anger: How dare they ask about the kids? Is it because I am the mom? If the tall one decided to hike the PCT sans family, would they dare ask him about his fatherly duties?
Bargaining: It is it that long. They will be my trail angels. I will see them often as they hike some days with me. I am not really leaving leaving them.
Depression: I am not strong enough to do this. My mental game is dependent on those I call family. Without them I am nothing.
Acceptance: I am going to hike the PCT. My life is my journey. My trail is my trail. And that is beautiful.

Who Will be Taking Over My Role While I’m Gone?

I would like to introduce you to my secret weapon; my beloved tall one. When we found out that we could not have biological children back in the early days of our marriage, it was my husband who suggested foster care. With each and every placement that entered our home, it is my tall one they all call dad.

That perhaps is the most beautiful thing about our family. We are a family; all of us. He is deeply entrenched in the battles our children face with special needs and uncertain futures. He is the one who holds my hand when it is too weak to grasp on. When I take my first steps on the trail, the tall one will be there, as he always has been, with my messy, instant family.

What About the Children?

I saw a quote on some mom blog or Instagram that stated: “Do something they can brag about.” When meeting new friends or catching up with familiar faces, it is my children who always seem to pepper into the conversation about their mom hiking the PCT. I blush. I shrug. I explain to the confused looks what they are referring to. Because my kids are bragging about me. It does not matter who they encounter; give them five seconds and somehow the tale of their mother and the PCT is told from the whisper of young hearts.

When I sat them down to present my idea to them, I would be misleading if I said my announcement was not met with doubt. Mostly because they think a wild animal will eat me. Then again, I do believe there is a bet between my parents and my siblings of that actually happening. Overall, though, they want me to go. They are proud.

I do not know if this is the right choice to leave my children and husband to trek the almost 3,000 miles to Canada. I know if I did not start walking I will never find out how far I can go. What about the kids? Well what about them?

They seem like they are going to be just fine.

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Comments 15

  • Holly : Feb 10th

    Go!!! What a great example for your kids. Sounds like they will be cared for and get to see you plenty. They’ll be so proud of you.

    Reply
    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 10th

      Aww thank you. This encouragement means the world to me.

      Reply
  • Jesse Leifert : Feb 11th

    Fascinating!

    Do you think the experience of foster caring so many children influenced this (which is amazing)…I guess, do you think you’d make the same decision had you not had that experience?

    Will follow your journey as this is such a different direction. Sounds like your family will be close by in case you are needed. Enjoy and I hope you find what you are looking for.

    Reply
    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 11th

      No I do not think that same drive would be there. I’ve always been ‘driven’ but connecting with hiking def came from seeking outdoor space for our heart kids. They come from shelters, homeless… just urban situations.

      I think losing so much to try and give them hope was a boundary I did not keep so well. This I hope will fill me back up to love better.

      Reply
  • Denise Marie Ellison : Feb 11th

    Absolutely GO!!! You aren’t leaving anyone. I haven’t heard anything more ridiculous. You take them everywhere you go. And when they are old enough to test their full set of wings they will take you along, in their heart, in their head, in their words. They will remember the love, courage, commitment that you have shown. GO!!!

    Reply
    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 11th

      Yes!! I’m so pumped up now! Thank you!

      Reply
  • Lora Gene Young : Feb 11th

    I love that you are a foster parent and an adoption mom AND a thru-hiker!!! Total awesomeness on all levels. You be You 🙂

    Reply
    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 11th

      Thank you! It’s a crazy life for sure but it’s my crazy. 💚

      Reply
    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 17th

      You are awesome on so many levels!

      Reply
  • Mark : Feb 11th

    Great! It’s great for all of you.

    Reply
    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 11th

      Thank you! I agree!

      Reply
  • Lisa Pulsifer : Feb 14th

    Bravo! Thanks for sharing your vulnerability. You and your family have an exciting year that will challenge and mold all of you.

    Reply
    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 17th

      I do hope for that! Mold us to a new and loved version

      Reply
  • CAPT Gary Andres USN ret : Feb 23rd

    Ha! I LOLed at you description of once being a “bunhead ballerina”. I’m 65….never heard that term! I had a daughter in dance at a young age, and while it turned ou t not be her calling, I absolutely always enjoyed watching her try, and push herself, and smile while doing so. Anyway, as others have said, your accomplishments to date are to be commended, particularly in that you have made a positive difference in others’ lives. I can think of few things greater than that. And no, you will not “die” in your attempt…..rather with each mile you will be reborn. And for all that, you will be a great example to your children and others who will be fortunate enough to be touched by you in your many future years. Best of luck on your new adventure, hon…..I’m going to forward this to both my daughters as I think you serve as a fine inspiration!

    Reply
    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 23rd

      That made my day! Thank you for the encouragement. I loved hearing your perspective as a mom watching your daughter struggle and figure it out. Beautiful and inspirational

      Reply

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