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Blog - Kids on the Trail

Farmer Family

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Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of sitting on hard classroom chairs, children could learn from nature and hard work? This year, one family will do just that. In January, we had the chance to interview Christen Farmer, who will be taking four of her children, ages 17- to 11-years-old, on the Appalachian Trail for a thru-hike. Find out how a family of five plans for, and plans to learn from, a 2,190-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Trail Names:
Willow
Goldilocks
Blaze
Trail Mix
Little Wanderer

The kids and I have been camping since I can remember. While we have hiked and camped extensively for years, and even though most of it was primitive camping, we were always able to get there with a car. So, we have never truly "backpacked.” That will be a new experience for us. We are planning a NOBO hike starting in March. This is our start date because it is the youngest child's birthday and that will put all 4 of the kids having their birthday while we are on the trail.

How and why did you decide to complete a thru-hike as a family?

bridge.jpgWhile traveling, my husband ended up working a job near Boiling Springs, Pa. I had heard of the A.T. before, but never really explored what it was. I told my aunt about the trail being nearby, and she told me I had to at least put my feet on it and get a picture because it was such an iconic trail. Easter Sunday in 2017, my oldest daughter and I decided to go hike a portion of it. When we came off the trail from the campground and hit the intersection for the A.T., I was mesmerized. The second my foot hit the Trail, there was just something about it that I KNEW it was going to impact my life. At that second, I had no idea how. I still don't really. When I started researching and thinking about taking the kids, etc., I realized that, for whatever reason, God had placed this in my path, and it was a giant that I had to defeat, and taking the kids along was a part of it. I don't know if that's for me to spend the time with them, if there is something that they are going to get out of it that I can't see, if there are people along the way that I am supposed to reach or help, or vice versa, or exactly what, but it's just something that I KNOW. I guess the real answer to that question is yet to be discovered, but I do know that it is a God-calling. We decided we had a year till spring of 2018, the kids were home-schooled anyway, so why not?? So not only the idea of doing the trail, but our first time ever being on or studying the trail, to our start date was less than a year.

Can you describe what your planning process has been?

Here we are 2 months from our start date. We have had a few tents donated, and a friend has sent us some sleeping bags and a few other items, but, other than that, we still have nothing. Again, I am trusting that if this is a God-calling, He will provide. Our plan is to purchase the items we still need when we get taxes [back] but that will basically put us buying gear and heading straight to the trail without any practice runs. We have watched videos, we have researched, we have slept in the back yard in single-digit temps, we have hiked day hikes with backpacks to get used to carrying weight, etc. We are doing the best that we can to prepare with what we have and having faith that the rest will work out.

How will the children’s school work be handled?

We are basically an unschooling family anyway, which means we don't follow any certain curriculum. Having traveled as much as we have, we kind of let learning just happen. We have done Jr. Ranger badges (which there are several along the A.T. we can do), we have learned science and nature at the national parks and with camping, etc. Each kid will have their own journal on the trail which will account for their spelling and writing. Math will be calculating distances, reading maps, counting money in towns and rationing food, things like that.

Is everyone equally excited about a thru-hike?

At first, everyone was excited. I am now finding out that at the time they thought it was just another crazy idea that Mom had that would eventually fall to the side and we wouldn't do it. Now, some of them aren't quite as excited, but that's ok. My son is probably the only one right now still looking forward to going. The 3 girls are looking forward to seeing friends we met in W.Va., N.Y., and Pa. and seeing the waterfalls, and overlooks, etc. but they are torn on the whole hiking-for-6-months idea. I know my children and I know that they balk a lot of times when I start talking about trails, but, once we are out there, they have a blast and are glad that we went. I would not make them go if I didn't honestly think they would enjoy it. We are well aware there will be days we are just going to have to "embrace the suck," but I also know that the good that will come out of this will be worth every crappy day and we only grow, get stronger, and learn from bad experiences.

What are the biggest concerns for when on the Trail?

My biggest concern obviously is safety, but also for emergencies like falls, etc. We all have whistles, so, if one must go off trail for any reason, we will have a buddy system and be able to communicate so they won't get disoriented from the trail. I've read that happens a lot. My husband wants us to get a Garmin inReach or something similar where we will be able to text off satellite and he can track where we are via GPS. Kids are more concerned about bears, LOL.

Any advice on preparing for a thru-hike or section hike with a family?

farmer-family.jpgGiven how little we have been able to prep as I wished, I think my biggest advice is, if it's something you really want to do and feel your family will enjoy, then make it work. We won't have the top-of-the-line, ultralight (or probably even semilight) gear, but Grandma Gatewood had a sack over her shoulder and people way before our generation made it just fine. I would rather be able to do it with old, outdated, heavier equipment, than to not be able to do it at all. Time with your children is precious. They are gone and too busy before you know it. Treasure the years that you can be selfish with their time and pour your heart and soul into them and getting to know them.  You won't have a chance for a redo.

We wish the Farmer family an educating, exciting, and successful thru-hike! If you have ever dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail with your family, it doesn’t have to be just about the miles. Check out these books on how to get kids hiking and engaged with nature:

Also, it’s never too early to teach your children Leave No Trace practices!

You can follow along with the Farmer family on Facebook and Instagram.

*All photos courtesy of Christen Farmer



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