Joe Leithauser shares:
This spring break Peter, Clare and I spent two days and one night hiking 20 miles on the Appalachian Trail. The Genesis of this hike with my two oldest children originated the summer of 1990. That summer soon after graduation a few of my college friends and I embarked on a 5 day/4 night trip on the AT through the mountains of North Carolina. This hike was cut short after the first day when I contracted an eye infection that nearly cost me the sight in my left eye. Ever since that summer I have had an itch to hike the Appalachian Trail. Soon after marrying Susan, I realized how close the Appalachian Trail came to her home town of Hagerstown, MD and began thinking about a trip through Maryland with my yet to be born children.
Why did I make this trip – Susan and I try to put our kids in safe but uncomfortable situations. This is one of the reasons we went to Africa last year and a two day hike with no contact with the outside world and the only things you have are what you can carry on your back definitely qualifies. I wanted to give them an experience that would build their confidence and push them closer to their limits with a sense of struggle. I think it is difficult to raise kids in relative affluence and teach them what it is like to struggle. Hiking 20+ miles and sleeping on a raised platform in freezing temperatures was a struggle for me and the kids.
What went well – We made it!! We planned the trip well. We got to our shelter on schedule and had plenty of food and water. Hiking in the snow on the second day with Clare and Peter in their colorful raincoats was beautiful. We had good hiking boots which kept our feet warm and dry.
What I would change – Training would have been a good idea. The kids and I were in decent aerobic condition, but not prepared for 20+ miles of hiking with a full pack. As I got into the car at Harper's Ferry I was walking like a 90 year old man. Hiking in warmer weather would have made the trip more comfortable. It never got above freezing the two days we were on the trail.
What I learned – The personality traits of your children are magnified when they are put in uncomfortable situations. Susan and I have seen Peter and Clare's traits before and this two day trip had them on full display. Clare showed tremendous grit, determination, goal focus, confidence and leadership. Peter showed his ability to adapt, athleticism, caring of others, trust and optimism. They operated as a team with me and treated their environment and each other with love and respect. I learned that I'm not 22 anymore and at 46 I'm not as physically able as I used to be.
I would absolutely do this again and, like our trip to Africa, the kids and I will remember this forever. I am proud of the kids for what we were able to accomplish and even more proud of how they did it. Peter, Clare and I will start planning a trip with Sally soon…
After and before photos: