In 2014 Toe Salad's Editor-in-Chief Damien Tougas and his wife Renee Tougas (FIMBY founder and Toe Salad contributing editor) plan to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.
As difficult as long distance hiking is, an adult couple thru-hiking the AT is not especially unique.
What makes this thru-hike noteworthy is that we are planning to hike America's most well known long distance trail with our three homeschooled kids. And of course we will do it in minimalist footwear, taking our years of lightweight hiking and short trip backpacking experience to the next level.
I'm totally clueless about hiking. What's the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,000 mile (thereabouts) footpath through the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. The trail stretches out, up and over many peaks, all the way from northern Georgia to central Maine.
Thru-hiking is the process of hiking a long distance trail from end to end. The term thru-hiking is most commonly associated with the Appalachian Trail but is used for other lengthy trails as well.
We will be hiking northbound. Which means we'll start at Springer Mountain in Georgia and walk our way to Mt. Katahdin, Maine.
We are anticipating the journey will take us six months.
Gulp, why would you want to do that?
People hike the AT for a lot of reasons. Many people get on the trail because they are in periods of transition: post-college graduation, empty nesters or newly retired. Some people start a thru-hike seeking an outdoors, rugged adventure in which "to find" themselves.
Most people don't attempt thru-hikes as a family unit smack dab in the middle of the child raising, educating, income earning years.
So, why are we doing it?
- We see thru-hiking as the next step in our family hiking journey. We have been hiking together for more than seven years, since our youngest was a toddler. Irregular jaunts grew into a once a week commitment to family hiking; most of those years in the White Mountains of New England. Regular lightweight hiking grew into a desire for regular family backpacking. Weekend backpacking planted a seed for thru-hiking. And here we are.
- We love the mountains. We are inspired by the mountains and we identify with mountain culture and activities. We want to spend as much time as possible in the mountains.
- We want to live the kind of story that inspires us. We are inspired by stories of adventure and beauty, challenge and transformation. Thru-hiking is the kind of story we want to live.
- We want to take our lightweight living philosophy to the next level. For years we have been carefully evaluating our relationship with stuff and questioning our need to own and amass a wealth of goods. Living in the outdoors, with only the goods we can carry on our backs, feels like the next step in practicing this philosophy.
- We want build our livelihood on interesting projects and unique experiences. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is the kind of work we want to do and the kind of experience we want to build our work around. We want to live adventures and share them.
Why thru-hike as a Family? (or WTF?)
Our mission is to live an inspired and inspiring life. As a family, we are inspired by people who embark on courageous, beautiful, and challenging journeys.
We are embarking on this adventure with our kids, purposefully while they are still living at home, because we want to teach them, by learning alongside them, how to accomplish amazing things.
As homeschoolers, we want to equip our children with something far greater than facts. We want to equip them with experience. We want our kids to know in their bones (and aching muscles) how to set and accomplish goals, recognize personal strengths, work as a team, and overcome difficult obstacles. We believe thru-hiking will teach us this mindset in the context of the natural world and family life.
In short, we want to have an amazing, life changing outdoors adventure with our three children in their teen and pre-teen growing years. (Our kids will be 11, 13 and 15 when we're on the trail.)
How exactly are you going to pull this off?
One step at a time. It's how we're going to hike the trail itself and it's how we're getting ready to start the trail in the spring of 2014.
As for the specifics, we are sharing those in a video series we are producing while hiking.
Part of our mission for thru-hiking is to tell the story and offer practical ideas, encouragement, and inspiration for family thru-hiking.
In our nine month video series we will cover packing and gear, food and cooking, financial considerations, family hiking realities, the AT trail itself, and thru-hiker culture.
Mostly though, we want to tell the story of our adventure.
Stories transcend situations.
You may never thru-hike, you may never hike period. But if you appreciate a good story you'll want to follow along.
But what about...?
All the what abouts will be covered in the video series.
What if you don't finish?
The Appalachian Trail is a challenging thru-hike and the odds aren't in our favor for us to finish. Only about 20% of all those who attempt to complete the trail actually do. That is part of the appeal. If everyone could do it we wouldn't want to. We love wild places that are hard to reach and proving people wrong who like to say, "that can't be done".
Even so, as responsible parents we will not risk our children's, or our own health and safety for the purpose of finishing at all costs. If we have no money to eat or one of us experiences a major injury or illness we will have to get off the trail. Risk is an inherent liability of living and as with any human endeavor there are no guarantees. We are committed simply to doing our very darn best.
Ok, this is kind of cool. How can I participate?
- Sponsor us - If you are a gear, clothing, shoe, or food company that would like to be involved, please contact us. We would love to feature your company in our video series and in our Appalachian Trail web pages and writing. Contact us and let's see how we can work together. For a list of current sponsors see our Family Thru-Hike Gear List.
- Host us on the trail - If you live near the trail and would like to provide us off-trail shelter for a night and place we can wash laundry and resupply our food (don't worry we'll go the grocery store, we won't raid your cupboards!) we'd love to hear from you. Already we've been contacted by families wanting to host us along the way and these offers are so helpful for us and very appreciated. The kids are already excited.
- Join us on the trail - If you live anywhere near the trail and like to hike, come hang-out with us, we would love to meet you! You can join us for a day hike or short backpacking section. Contact us to get the ball rolling.
- Subscribe to our video series - Beyond our Boundaries is the video series telling the story of our hike. The modest subscription fee will help support our hike as well as help us pay for the editing and production work we are unable to do while on the trail. This project was successfully launched with a Kickstarter campaign.
This trip has been years in the dream stage and two years in the planning stage. Join us as we make this crazy family dream a reality.