It happens to us all. At trailheads, by passing day hikers, shelter stays, lunch breaks, family, friends (on and on and on): “Why?” is the common question that we are asked regarding our backpacking adventures. Only those that are with us in enjoying and needing to be in the woods truly understand the pull and the connection to purposely choosing to live in the woods for long periods of time. We seemingly and purposefully answer this question without getting too deep into the weeds, but leave people knowing that this is a desire we have within us. It fulfills the curiosity in what the trail has in store for us, where our feet will take us next, and what unknowns we will encounter and overcome. It satiates the curiosities people have and leaves them more comfortable with seeing children deep in the woods for days on end.
Five years ago, our life changed. The loss of my fiancé and my father within three weeks of one another, brought the world to a new tilt and rotation. My kids and I were thrown into a new sense of gravity that had no footing, but finding our connection with nature and a more simple life was instantly needed and desired. I’d come to understand pretty quickly that my kids and I would thrive in the forest and on the trail. We found purpose and peace with nature every time we took time to stop in the woods. To listen. To feel. To heal. Our mental health was compromised by the trauma, but the healing and connection needs were met in what the forest gives back. The positive impact nature has had on us and our individual circumstances has brought us hope, grace, and resolution.
So, with this now out in the open, we have always been an outdoors family. Many day trips were had exploring trails and the such. My daughter was the kid climbing trees and playing in the yard barefoot. She’s a wildcat in every sense of the word (just like her mother). Exploring bees seeking out nectar in the garden, jumping in muddy puddles after a storm, climbing trees; feeling the energy through the earth. She finds peace in the outdoors while also seeing ways to calm her inner voice. My son has been in tow with her, enjoying the brother and sister connection siblings have while exploring and pushing boundaries to expose the glue that binds the fabric of childhood.
And It Begins
I spent my early years in Lenhartsville, PA (Blue Rocks Campground), with so much of that time on the AT up at Pulpit Rock and exploring the trail. My gramps and I would spend a lot of time outdoors fishing and exploring. There was always a sense of wonder around the trail and the feeling the outdoors gave me. It wasn’t until years later that I would realize that my love for the woods was always there.
As the kids continued to thrive in the outdoors and put on some height, I dreamt of the day for them to one day put a backpack on to carry their own things to spend more than a day on the trail. That day came just recently last year and we immediately jumped into the deep. The moment their backpack was put onto their shoulders, they had an instant new connection to the sport. To this way of life. They leveled up their confidence and compulsion to get out into the wild. We got out onto the AT almost straight away for some shakedown hikes after visiting our local REI to gear up. Jumping straight into the bubble last summer in Boiling Springs and Swatara State Park, we met some amazing thru-hikers (R&R, B-Cubed and others). My daughter immediately fell in love with their stories, the trail names, the community, all of the things. With this experience came an opportunity for us to get a taste for long distance hiking. I had this idea at that point in time to plan an end-to-end hike on a local trail in PA. With some logistical planning we were ready to go for our first adventure. In August 2022, we spent every weekend section hiking end-to-end the Horse-Shoe Trail in PA. This 141 mile trail brought us so much experience and wanting more adventure. The kids honed their skills on tent setup, cooking, water filtration, clothing… it detailed how the coming adventures would pan out. We experienced every season the east coast has to offer on this hike and through the suck, we loved almost every minute of it. Upon our finishing of the Horse-Shoe Trail (the day before Thanksgiving), I asked the kids their thoughts on section hiking the AT from Maryland to New Jersey and with smiles on their faces, they asked “When?” (While my kids would have loved to attempt a thru-hike, thanks Crawford family for that!). It was in this moment, I knew they were hooked, and wanting more. This was the moment our next adventure would begin.
Our starting a YouTube channel and Instagram account to document and chronicle our journey was just the beginning. We added a few new item’s to our equipment (new stove, quilts, sleeping pads, to name a few) and we have received an incredible amount of support from friends and family since our end-to-end hike last year.
Along with this much larger endeavor came a desire to raise money while on the trail. We decided to go forward with raising money for mental health, in memory of both my father and the kid’s mother. For every mile we hike in 2023, we will be donating to To Write Love On Her Arms (twloha.com). There was some back-and-forth with going through with raising money publicly and drawing attention to our hike, but it felt right to draw attention more to what these children are capable of and for others to also see that backpacking with their kids is possible and enjoyable.
Along with this we will be logging all of our miles on a Google spreadsheet (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YwlHRMHO49vkFp6YWHJb5TgEx-peRHzguBADh99J8B8/edit?usp=sharing).
We are not ignorant to the fact that if we do not finish the miles in front of us on these long distance hikes, there is a sense of disappointment or sadness. What’s important to us, from the beginning, is the experience. There is no failure out there on the trail. We are free out there. We are love. We are present. Just “Be”.
We set foot at the Mason-Dixon Line on Mother’s Day and intend to be out on trail until mid-June until we reach New Jersey.
See you all out there and Journey On!
Beans, Wildcat & Solo
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