Walking Distance #09 | Hiking with Kids ft. Gayheart Family, Percy Family & Heather Balogh Rochfort

In this episode of Walking Distance presented by The Trek and hosted by Blissful Hiker (Alison Young), we are joined by Jason Gayheart, Heather Balogh Rochfort, and Kayla and Fynleigh Percy. Jason Gayheart, lives in South Carolina and will be hiking the Continental Divide Trail this summer with his wife Jackie and their three children, ages 16, 12 and 8. Heather Balogh Rochfort, who you might remember from the first episode of Walking Distance, recently co-founded WildKind Closet, a non-profit that offers low cost outdoor gear rental to families. She also released the book Moms Who Hike – Walking with America’s Most Inspiring Adventurers. Kayla Percy and her 7 year old daughter Fynleigh are currently NOBOs hiking the Appalachian Trail. Unlike the Gayheart family or Balogh Rochfort family, Kayla is a single mom conquering the trail with Fynleigh.

Blissful Hiker covers how to include kids in the logistics and planning of a long hike, the most common questions about gear for kids, and motivation for kids during hard days on the trail.


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Interview with Jason Gayheart

1:35 – Introduction to Jason Gayheart and his family, who are hiking the Continental Divide Trail this summer.

2:50 – As an east coast family, why not hike the Appalachian Trail? How did the plan come to be, and how did you make it work to hike with your whole family?

3:09 – Why a thru-hike?

3:30 – You mention school, so how did you handle schooling for your children?

4:10 – So, this should be the ultimate family vacation! Was that the intention?

4:54 – Have you always had your kids hiking with you, since they were babies?

5:34 – I’m wondering about each of the kids. What is each of their hiking styles, and how do they push each other along?

6:22 – How are you managing the logistics? Does everyone carry their own things? How do you manage tents?

7:15 – How do you manage cooking and food for five people?

7:55 – This must be a real learning experience for your children too, what do you think?

8:15 – What are you looking forward to the most on trail?

9:10 – There’s plenty of dangerous things you’ll encounter on trail. How are you preparing the kids for that?

10:25 – You talk about taking the experience as it comes, but it is a thru-hike and you need to plan to make miles to complete it. What are your mileage goals?

12:00 – Someone commented on the CDT Facebook page where Jason and Blissful Hiker connected, kids can do anything; it’s often adults that hold them back. Jason’s youngest son is a few months younger than Buddy Backpacker, so setting a new record is a good motivator for the family to finish.

Interview with Heather Balogh Rochfort

13:34 – Hiking with kids often allows us to share in their curiosity and wonder, and have a more joyous experience ourselves.

14:30 – One reason Heather knows so much about backpacking with kids is because so many people told her that her outdoorsy life would come to an end when she gave birth.

15:10 – You get some of the same questions over and over about logistics and gear. So what are the main issues to consider before taking a child on a backpacking trip?

17:42 – Gear can be one of the biggest issues, which is expensive. Adults can buy one great sleeping bag to have for a long time, but for growing children, how do you suggest dealing with gear?

19:34 – You were outdoorsy before you had a child, and you still are now. You made a suggestion to get kids started early, but is there an age where children aren’t even interested? What do you do when they’re tired and you need to go one more mile?

23:10 – Someone commented in a CDT Facebook group that kids are sometimes the ones that keep the adults moving. Maybe that’s not the case with your child right now, but what are your thoughts on that?

25:46 – Would you take your daughter on a thru-hike when she turns 7?

Interview with Fynleigh and Kayla Percy

26:23 – If you were going to give advice to a little girl hiking up a hill, who was hungry, what would you tell her?

27:28 – How old are you Fynleigh?

27:30 – Can you tell me about your backpack?

27:40 – Do you know how much weight you’re carrying? What’s in your pack?

28:05 – Why do you think your mom wanted to take you along on the Appalachian Trail?

28:30 – You seem to have a smile on your face in every picture. Do you feel happy on the trail?

29:10 – Not supported in the traditional sense, Kayla and Fynleigh resupply along the trail and plan together every step of the way.

29:20 – What did you do to get ready for your thru-hike?

29:43 – What was the response from your family when you said you were going to thru-hike with Fynleigh?

30:05 – You set mileage goals for yourself, but you have even surpassed those expectations. What are your goals?

30:40 – What’s been your hardest day on the trail so far?

31:35 – It does not seem like either of you are whiners, especially Fyn. 

31:50 – Fyn, can you tell us why you’re not bothered by the rain?

32:15 – How do you think this hike is going to change you?

33:00 – As of this taping, Kayla and Fyn are halfway through the AT and just entered Pennsylvania. Their trail names are Super Mom and Super Girl. Kayla’s “why” for bringing Fyn is to teach her that she can do hard things. The Gayhearts are about to enter Colorado on the Continental Divide Trail as they head north. 

34:30 – Have you taken a backpacking trip with your kids, or are you thinking of it? Talk with us at [email protected]

Mentioned in this episode:

WildKind Closet

Moms Who Hike: Walking with America’s Most Inspiring Adventurers by Heather Balogh Rochfort

Kayla and Fynleigh Percy on Instagram

Gayheart Family on Instagram

Get all of the Walking Distance Podcast episodes.

About Alison Young

Alison Young, aka Blissful Hiker, is a former host and producer at American Public Media and professional flutist. She’s thru-hiked New Zealand’s Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as long trails in South America, South Africa, Europe, Pakistan and all over the US. In her podcast Blissful Hiker, she shares personal essays from the trail along with collected sound. Her goal in life is to hike until she drops.

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