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Our Plans to Thru-Hike the AT

Our family is hosting the story of our thru-hike at our other blog Toe Salad. Please visit Our 2014 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike page for more details. To follow my more personal journey, as a mother/homemaker/homeschooler (and at times reluctant hiker) preparing for our thru-hike, see my Appalachian Trail category of posts here at FIMBY.

Brienne was three years old when our family started hiking on a regular basis. And it was actually the loss of another activity that opened the door for this one.

Renee with little Brienne

Damien had taken up cycling a few years before and had started to get competitive. And the deeper he got into that sport the more time, resources and energy it took away from our family. Cycling is expensive and time consuming.

Damien made the difficult decision, at the time, to "retire" from the sport of cycling. He wanted to pursue physical activity with our family so that family life wasn't a limiting factor in living an active, outdoors lifestyle. This has been a guiding principle for Damien ever since.

I was thrilled, and I still am, that Damien cared so much about his children and spending time with them, that he was willing to sacrifice something he loved doing to build something together as a family instead.

Daddy holding Brienne's hand

I had no idea it would lead to this. If I had any idea I might not have been so thrilled. I'm joking, but there have been seasons where I haven't been so thrilled, as I grew through my discomforts and surrendered some of my own expectations so I could truly be Damien's partner in our outdoor adventures.

We both made sacrifices for common goals and pursuits. And we don't regret those decisions for a minute.

After we had been hiking a couple years we made a commitment to one day a week outdoors together as a family, with hiking as our "go-to" activity. Setting aside a whole day allowed us to factor in travel time, up to 90 minutes one way. The mountains of western Maine were our stomping grounds.

We loved the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire. A seed was planted.

family summit mountain

Back up the story a little bit to when Brienne was still in diapers. There was a fateful camping trip with our church in which we borrowed two car loads of gear, and used a ladder to hang tarps in the trees. (If you are at all familiar with our lightweight philosophy you know this makes us cringe now to think of it. And it made Damien thoroughly frustrated at the time also.)

The tarps didn't help. It rained for two days and we packed up our preschoolers, who were having the time of their lives, and vowed to never again go camping. I remember the talk we had. Camping was no fun, why would we subject ourselves to that again?

Well, it's obvious we reconsidered that stance. We realized that camping, specifically tenting, and scaling down our gear so it could handily fit in a family car (no truck needed), was an affordable way for a family of five, living on one income, to travel and go places.

car camping light

So started our camping journey.

And then one year we put the two together - hiking and camping. It's called backpacking. Carrying all your gear and food on your back and setting up camp in the wilderness (or at a designated wilderness camping spot).

Wilderness camping isn't so unique, lots of men, especially young men are drawn to this. But to pursue something like this with kiddos and a petite wife requires a lot of thought and planning. Thankfully, Damien is a technical guy with a gift for research and patience to try out different ideas.

This is where lightweight gear became not just nice but necessary.

And so we started a years' long process of evaluating our needs, buying what we could afford, selling old gear and upgrading to new gear when we could. We saved our money, hunted for sales, and even wrote gear reviews to help us acquire what we needed, always with an eye towards a long term, lightweight philosophy - for living and backpacking.

hiking up

The Appalachian Trail

For years I knew that Damien dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. When he first mentioned it I thought it was an insane idea. I was incredulous that people actually wanted to do that.

The Appalachian Trail is an approximately 2,000-mile (3,200-km) footpath through the Appalachian Mountains of the United States from central Maine to northern Georgia. 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.

I relegated thru-hiking the AT to the back corner of my mind, in a box labeled Damien's Dreams. I keep these dreams in the dark recesses of my mind because my very literal, and detail-oriented brain can only handle so many out-of-the-box ideas at one time. And let's just say freedom homeschooling takes up a lot of that space!

Katahdin summit

Over the years, as we hiked, nearly every weekend and started backpacking on a regular basis, I warmed to the idea of thru-hiking. I had many, many questions about how we would accomplish such a feat but Damien is a patient problem solver, and I knew that if I said I was willing to do it, he would figure out the way.

Part of the reason we moved two years ago, leaving our restrictive visa-status in the US to start over again in Canada (with the freedom to build our own livelihood), was so that we could actually make something like long term hiking happen, if we wanted to.

It was last March when I told Damien "yes" I would do this. Not just follow him in a journey of epic proportions, but be his partner.

Renee backpacking

We set a date. (Sounds like getting married. But that's what marriage is, saying, "I'll be your partner" over and over again. It's good.)

We decided to thru-hike the AT in 2014. Very similar to the way we set a date for our move back to Canada and planned, saved, and schemed the means to make that happen.

We made that decision over one year ago. Last March thru-hiking shifted from dream state to planning state. And nearly every decision we've made since that time, from where we rent, the purchases we make, to the projects we pursue, have been through the lens of "will this help us reach our thru-hiking goal?"

Thru-hiking the AT started as Damien's dream, became an idea I was willing to consider, and then an idea I fully supported, and now is a project in motion.

I thought it was about time I told you. Officially.

kids with backpacks

Next year our family will be thru-hiking the AT

This is a journey (just getting there, never mind completing it) full of logistical complications, physical difficulties, and potential set backs.

We have children we have to provide and care for and so this is not a do-or-die dream (Mt. Katahdin or Bust). Our children's well being is our primary concern. But barring a major disaster or injury (one of my biggest concerns) or completely running out of funds (a possibility?) we plan to hike from Georgia to Maine over the course of six months, through the Spring and Summer of 2014.

We have many reasons for wanting to do this. And I will be sharing those in coming posts.

Thru-hiking the AT is at the forefront of our family life now and so I will be talking about that a lot here. I will be talking about the why's and how's as we countdown to this next big adventure. And we will be sharing our adventure, while doing it. But one thing at a time.

Hiking cape chignecto in mist

If you're new to FIMBY this may be the first time you've heard of thru-hiking. For those of you who have followed my blog for awhile I have been talking about this dream, indirectly and directly, for a few years already. I don't think this comes as much of a surprise to those of you who've been around a few years.

It's just about time I announced it officially since AT preparations are going be a dominant theme in our life for the next year. And as a family story blog I want to start writing more publicly about these plans.

For those of you who find this kind of family adventure intriguing (some of you no doubt will think we're crazy, that's ok, I'm used to that) you may have questions. I am happy to answer those here, though some of my answers may be "I don't know, we haven't crossed that bridge yet".

stream crossing

I will tell you that Damien is the expedition guide and I am his assistant. As such, he has an overall clearer picture than I do about many pieces to this puzzle. At least, I'm hoping he does. Ha! Ha!

If you have questions please fire away in comments. Anything goes - questions about food, finances, physical fitness, homeschooling on the trail, gear, housing, motivating kids and teens, and more. And of course I'm sure you're all wondering what minimalist shoes we'll be wearing. Oh right. Wrong blog.

vibram five fingers
my first pair of minimalist shoes - vibram five fingers circa 2008

I probably won't be able to answer all those questions in comments but your questions will help inform future posts about this adventure. We are doing this hike primarily for our own family and to reach our goals but we also want to encourage other families who have similar dreams. Even if your dream is not to thru-hike the AT I bet you have others, and we'd like to help you make those happen.

Our family is hosting the story of our thru-hike at our other blog Toe Salad. Please visit Our 2014 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike page for more details. To follow my more personal journey, as a mother/homemaker/homeschooler (and at times reluctant hiker) preparing for our thru-hike, see my Appalachian Trail category of posts here at FIMBY.

Resources: 

26 May 13

Comments

It's official and public, YES

It's official and public, YES! I can't wait to hear more about this. Since reading the "Wild" memoir by Cheryl Strayed, I understand a lot of the more logistical aspects of thru-hiking (like the pick up boxes, etc.). Are your kids hesitant hikers or are they as excited as you are? I'm interested to see how an already minimalist family pares it down even more. :)

BTW, are you taking any technology? Probably not, eh? I'll miss the posts for 6 months, as I'm sure others will. What a huge goal accomplished!

Sarah M

Ah! Big sigh of relief over

Ah! Big sigh of relief over here that we get to hear all about it as it's going on! As I read in some of the other comments, why is this trail a little bit more challenging than the others that were mentioned? Do you know how many miles, roughly, you'll be going (averaging) each day to do it in 6 months or will you take time off to see some of the cities along the way? 

We just did a lot of hiking with our kids this weekend locally, and we all had a blast. On Saturday we went one an easy 1.5 miler in a local park about a mile away from our house. In the afternoon after lunch and our rest time, we took the kids over to Canada (yup, we just hop on over!) and there is a beautiful and large park called  Cambell Valley (horse, biking, hiking, etc.) and did a 2.8 miler. The kids ran the whole time! It was cool but sunny and quite a lovely hike.

The next morning we let the kids choose our route and did about 1.6 miles just for a quick jaunt outside. Not too bad for a 4 & 5 year old, I think!

Sarah M

That sounds about right. Most

That sounds about right. Most people start in the 8-10 range IIRC, are usually doing 20+ in VA, and then drop back down some in the NE. Most people also start with ridic packs and far too much gear which won't be an issue for you guys.

Very interesting. From the

Very interesting. From the PCT and Strayed's 20-22 miles/day, I was wondering what the kids would do! Your estimation seems really do-able for a family of already experienced hikers.

So many people here are cheering you on!

Sarah M

 

Renee, we live 45 minutes

Renee, we live 45 minutes (via car) from Wind Gap, PA. We could help with stocking up and getting laundry done in Wind Gap by providing transport. Or you could stay with us on your way through, for a break from the trail. We could pick you up in Wind Gap and bring you here (and then back, of course). Showers, beds, plenty of food, a swimming pool (July & August), washer/dryer/clotheslines, some AC, Internet access (my husband says it's slow). Just let us know.

Our family has been blessed and challenged by your family's example. We'd love to meet all of you. We homeschool our three daughters (6, 6, and 8) and enjoy being outdoors. We're in Hunterdon County, NJ, out in the country (Alexandria Township). Well, for New Jersey it's country, LOL. Our hardware store doesn't close for lunch. ;)

One thought I had was that you could set up sponsorships for trail miles. People could sponsor 25 miles or 50 miles or whatever. Perhaps Damien knows if other thru-hikers do this?

Hi Renee and neighbor of

Hi Renee and neighbor of Hunterdon County,

I would love to assist you also when you hit PA, I'm also in Hunterdon County- High Bridge, and need to look at my map to see how far away we are from Alexandria township..sure it's not far at all, we are also about 45-60 min away from the trail at the gap.  No pool at our house, but we do have floor space (some air mattresses) to crash on along with a washer / dryer / hot shower and a loving black lab named Bella along with a funky cat Spice.  Yes, and plenty of food!  I can't wait for your journey to begin this has been a dream of mine also..more recently than when I was younger but I don't think I would be able to make it..I've always had bad knees since a child (not much cartilage between my joints) that at times causes much pain...luckily switching to a plant based diet has really helped but I still get pain especially when I hike.  We actually did part of the trail last Oct  (7.6 miles) up to Sunfish Pond and while my two boys (8 & 6) were not thrilled, Bella loved it and I suffered coming back down to our starting point...so I will live vicariously through you, your family and your upcoming adventures.  Would love the opportunity to meet the family one day..wishing you god speed on your journey!

I am so excited to hear every

I am so excited to hear every detail! I have a lot of questions, but mostly out of curiosity rather than need (if that makes sense?). I'm smiling ear-to-ear! Woohhoo!! Three (perhaps 5 is better?) cheers for the big-dreamin' and hard-workin' (and generally inspiring) Tougas family!!

It is already two years ago

It is already two years ago that you have moved? Time flies! Congratulation for your plan! It´s sounds great! I love the post too! We have 3 small kids and we are starting to hike in near future! You are real inspiration to me!

Fantastic news. You will be

Fantastic news. You will be living out a dream of mine that I will almost certainly never be able to make come true. To be able to do this as a family is a wonderful thing and I look forward to following your fantastic adventure together.

How exciting!  We have hiked

How exciting!  We have hiked the very bottom of the AT (I've lived in GA all my life) & a couple of my cousins have done the entire thru-hike.  What an amazing adventure for your family!  I can't wait to read all about it!

We are a family of three,

We are a family of three, soon to be family of four. My husband and I have been hiking together for years, pre kids. We have continued to hike and backpack with our little boy starting when he was just weeks old. Now he is two and it is getting a little harder to outfit him and to find gear to accommodate his size. Where did you find gear for your kids, ESP backpacks, when they were smaller. Getting kids lightweight gear has been out biggest struggle so far. Thru hiking has always been a dream for us. I can't wait to hear about it!

We hike almost every weekend

We hike almost every weekend with our two kids and hope to continue as we have more.  Our daughter is currently 3.5yo and our son is 21mo.  We really like the REI Sprig 12 pack for them.  We waited to buy them the packs until they were walking more than not (around 18mo for each of them) and at first they only carry an empty backpack, but they love them.  Once they are used to the backpack we add lightweight snacks followed by water and eventually a jacket and maybe a favorite toy.  The pack is a bit big on them when they first start, but since it is pretty empty neither kid has had a problem with it and it grows really well with them (it claims to be for a 5-8yo so it should last quite a while).  The pack has a pouch so that you can add a hydration pack once they are ready for it and it is pretty much big enough for water, food, a jacket and some basic emergency supplies once they are older so it will carry what they need while being hard to overfill once they are packing it themselves.  It also has a built-in whistle on the chest strap.

I can't believe all your hair

I can't believe all your hair, in that first picture with Brienne! :)

Good luck, I think this will be a great experience for all of you. I'm sure you know this already, but don't miss reading Bill Bryson's book on hiking the AT.

I think your AT adventures

I think your AT adventures with your family could be a book in the making, especially if there is not a detailed family one out there...!

Look forward to hearing more!

Look forward to hearing more!

I guess, in terms of questions, I'd like to hear more about what attracted Damien to the Appalachian Trail as a project for the family (as opposed to other hiking routes, like the route in the north of Spain that some people do as a pilgrimage).

Is it the size of the challenge? I know a lot of people like 'Munro-bagging' in Scotland (climbing nearly 300 mountains over a certain height), so I wondered if it were similar. Or are there other factors that make the AT particularly appealing?

I'm also interested in how you plan to do the food side of things - that's an awful lot of food dehydrating to prepare for...

Oh, I have a million

Oh, I have a million questions, but maybe that is because I am a "question asker"...I think that is my "unofficial" phrase to explain my intense curiosity about the HOW.

How do you plan, prepare, and pack food for a trip like this?

This might be a silly question, but I really don't know (as we have only ever done day hikes and have not researched anything beyond that.....yet) Can you add to your supplies as you need? Can you add some veggies three months into the trip somehow? Is there a stopping point along the trail for that?

Are you starting in Georgia or Maine?

What about growth spurts? Are you packing gear that is a bit big for them so if the kids decide to have a huge growth spurt they will have shoes that will fit at the end of the journey? I only ask this because last fall Kaylynn grew so fast that we were trading her shoes out every month and we just let her wear too short pants because we simply could not keep up with her growth.

What are the kids most excited about? What are you most excited about?

What are everyone's fears/hesitations?

If you are ending in Maine, would you be up to having a "party" meet you at the end for a HUGE congrats?

I think this is enough questions for now, but I have more brewing. I look forward to hearing more about your trip, and I am so excited for your family!

 

 

 

So excited to follow you and

So excited to follow you and your family on this journey. My uncle thru-hiked the AT when I was very small (30+ years ago) and I remember he and his hiking partner coming to our house for a short break and soaking many hours away in our wooden hot tub. My strongest memory is of their very impressive beards! :) I've hiked short sections of the AT in a few different states but now that I live in the Southwest, it's a long ways away. Can't wait to hear more about your plans for food preparation, what gear you're bringing, and how you'll be physically preparing for the hike.

What a wonderful adventure! I

What a wonderful adventure! I just read Tsh's plans to travel around the world before I read your AT plans. I am eager to read all about bothe of your trips, planning stages and all :)

I am a homeschooling mom who lives northeast of Atlanta and have relatives who live in Sautee, GA (very close to the start of the AT), so please do not hesitate to email me with any questions you may have... I might just be able to help! :)

Thank you so much for sharing

Thank you so much for sharing (and continuing to share) your family's dream!  When my husband and I were first married, hiking on our honeymoon, we ran across a bit of the Superior Hiking Trail here in MN.  Reading about your preparations reminds me I once had thoughts (those 15-years-ago thoughts) that we should come back and do more, maybe much more, of that gorgeous trail.  Now that our girls are getting older, maybe it's time to revisit those thoughts!  Thank you for the inspiration.

I would like to hear more

I would like to hear more posts about your gear.  Specifically, where you have found good gear on a budget for kids.  I am continually frustrated as we are getting into more outdoor things as a family (I already have an outdoor background) that I can't find much good for kids.  It seems that most stuff starts fitting better for kids 10 and up.  Specifically, packs.  We cannot find a pack that works for our oldest.  Any ideas what to try?  She is tall and slim and sensitive to the way things feel.  The "little life" brand packs I've seen are WAY too small although they work great for toddler/preschool.  I am talking specfically for day trips- but with the idea that they get used to hauling a few things on their back at this age and then when they are older they will be more used to it....  So anything on gear you've found for children around age 4-10 would be helpful.  

How exciting, I was wondering

How exciting, I was wondering if you guys were planning a trip based on previous posts.  I found your blogs a year or so ago and they have really helped push our family back outdoors.  My husband and I both loved hiking, camping and backpacking before we had kids, but somehow we stopped really doing them regularly once we were out of college.  Almost a year ago now I found your blog and we decided to give the one day a week outside a try and it has been a great thing for our family.  We are still working out the logistics and our kids (ages 3.5yo and 21mo) are begging to go camping, but we only have a small car and are expecting a third child.  I would love a post on how to fit car camping gear for a family of 5 into a passenger car.  I would also love to hear more about how you trasitioned your kids from hiking to backpacking.  What age was your youngest and how much of the gear did you wind up carrying?  We aren't there yet, but we live near some wonderful backpacking opportunties (including the Grand Canyon) and would LOVE to take our kids once they are old enough.  

Wow!!!! Can't wait to hear

Wow!!!! Can't wait to hear more about it. I'm here in Georgia so wave when you're down here! ;)

Because I'm so close to the start of the AT, I've entertained (for about 5 minutes) the idea of hiking it, but can't even fathom doing it all in one stint. Seriously awesome.

 

Wow it will be really cool to

Wow it will be really cool to follow your progress on this.  

I did most of the Colorado Trail (409 miles) in 2010 and learned a couple things that might be useful too you.  Also I lived near the Virgninia AT so I know some about the southern end of the trail.  Here are a few tips.

1.  Clean your socks!   On a two or three day trip socks don't get all that dirty but after 7 or 8 days my socks got really gritty and hand washing never seemed to be enough.  Dirty socks made blisters and hot spots even worse.  Wool socks wear out faster so you might consider synthetic.

2.  Budget carefully!  I ended up spending a lot more money then I'd planned on.  I bought more food in trail towns then I expected too and I spent nights in hotels that I didn't plan on.  I don't think you can or should plan every single stop of a 2000 mile trip but its worth thinking about.  You will be tempted to stop when you are tired and dirty or when a hiking friend is stopping. 

3.  Rain gets worse over the long haul.  On a two or three day trip rain is no big deal but being out in it day after day gets tiring.  Make sure your rain coats have comfortable hoods even if that makes them a bit heavier.  Quick drying clothes are good.  I switched from a wool shirt to a synthetic one and it seemed to dry a lot faster.   

4.  Budget for some gear to wear out.  You'll be replacing shoes, and socks for sure.  You'll probably also have to replace a few random things.  You might rip a hole in a raincoat, wear out a sleeping pad or otherwise destroy a few things.  2100 miles puts a lot of wear and tear on gear.  I'd probably budget $200 or so for gear replacements (remember you may not be able to bargin hunt if a critical peice of gear fails suddenly).    

5.  Most stores along the AT probably won't stock ultralight gear or barefoot style shoes.  You'll probably have to mail order these.  However shoe stores and stores like Dick's Sporting Goods (pretty common in the US) may have Merrell and New Balance minimalist shoes.  

6.  Since you're up north you may not have encountered poison ivy.  You will deftnately see it in the south.  Not a big deal just know what it is.  

Well good luck, it should be a cool trip.  

Luke

What a great adventure!  We

What a great adventure!  We live in VT, and the AT has been a dream of mine for years, having done just the high peaks of VT so far.  It has been a long term goal of mine as the kids get older.  My oldest will be 13 this summer, and I was thinking when he was 16 we could sort of push through it pretty quickly in one summer (finishing in ME).  I am excited to follow along and see how it goes for you and younger kids.  I found that last summer, when my boys were 10 and 12, I could hardly keep up with them anymore.  Their abilities changed in one season!!  Best wishes on an awesome adventure!!

Maybe I will need to rethink

Maybe I will need to rethink waiting!  You have inspired me to start checking out parts of the trail this summer.  So much fun to even just think about and start planning.

Hi there!

Hi there!

I'm one of your regular, homeschooling mama readers, and love following what your family is doing!  Just wanted to offer our home in case you need anything while passing through New Hampshire!  May the Almighty make your paths straight!  So excited for you!  Send me an email if you'd like my contact info.  

 

Hilaree (wife to a writer and mama to three wild children)

Ditto to what Chris said.

Ditto to what Chris said. When you have the dates set please let me know. I'd love to come and hike for a few days with you along the AT and can definitely help out while you're all in my neck of the woods :) Exciting times ahead for all of you - I'm very jealous and will be reading your updates with great interest.

I am thrilled for you all!  I

I am thrilled for you all!  I love reading hiking memoirs...am about to read Up. I would love to hike the AT...at least portions of it...praying for wisdom and grace as you attempt this as a family.  Do you know of other families who have done the AT with children?

There are many families that

There are many families that have completed the AT with children. In 2000, I hiked with a family with six children, one an infant, who called themselves the Family from the North.

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