(Neva), Papa Chip (Jay) and I (Mama Chip/Tammy) left our home in Florida to
help our 14 year old daughter with her pursuit to become the youngest solo thru
hiker on the Appalachian Trail. There aren't any recognized awards or Guinness
World Records; this is for Chipmunk's personal satisfaction.
In response to the many
who have asked, "are you crazy?", I'd like to say no but honestly, I believe
there is a little crazy in just about everything we do. But, to set the record
straight, this idea was Neva's but we worked together to find the right gear
and safety devices; and we worked and re-worked our support plan to keep her
safe while she pursues this. When we hiked a portion of the AT in Shenandoah
National Park this past October, Chipmunk "connected" with the experience and
announced, "I'd like to hike the whole thing". Of course, we thought she
meant all of the AT that runs through Shenandoah; she corrected us and
explained how the trail runs from Georgia to Maine, in case we'd never heard of
it. We had. In fact, it is on our bucket list and we figured we'd pursue it
as a couple after Chipmunk started college.
In the past 6 months,
Chipmunk's quiet resolve and hours of research and training told us that she
was serious. We made some serious spending cuts and shored up our savings. I
sold things we didn't need on ebay; Papa Chip fixed up and sold some bicycles
from the garage. We worked for many hours on our older Class C motorhome to
ready it for what we figure will be about 6 months on the road. Chipmunk
worked ahead to complete her home schooling curriculum for the year. Just when
we felt we were about as ready as we could be, "Murphy" struck.
We received an email from
Adventure Cycling requesting Papa Chip to lead a trans am bicycle tour (VA to
OR) from May 18th-August 18th. I read it and alerted him to this new "bump in
the road". At first, he was going to decline it, wondering how he could leave
Chipmunk and me for 3 months during her hike? and who would maintain the quirky
systems on the motorhome? With only a little hesitation, I told him he had to
take it; that someone was going to pay him to do what he truly loves: riding
his bike. He wondered how we were going to make this work and I reminded him
that we've survived far worse circumstances and that somehow "we always find
The biggest obstacle was
the motorhome. It's bigger than I like to drive and as I mentioned: it's
quirky. I came up with an idea that would make 6 months on the road a bit
cramped, uncomfortable and not very posh: a truck camper. My every day rider
is our old dependable work horse of a truck, the 93 Dodge Ram with the Cummins
Diesel engine. We checked Craigs List, found an older camper that fits into
our truck bed and paid $1400 for it. We spent another $300 replacing the
fridge, fixing broken parts and bringing it "up to snuff". Losing $1700 from
my road budget was not what I had planned but it meant that our plan was back
on track and two out of three of us would be pursuing our dreams at the same
time. (Don't worry, my next adventure is already in the works!)
On April 1st, Chipmunk
ascended the 1 mile approach trail off the forest road to Springer Mountain.
She posed for pics at the top, kissed us goodbye and disappeared into the
forest. The first day was the hardest and we stared for hours at the spot
where she would descend and meet us; it almost seemed surreal when she
appeared, limping. She had rolled her ankle only 2 miles into the start of the
Appalachian Trail. She could have sent us a "SPOT" message or called us from
her cell phone but she didn't. She found a few sturdy sticks, stuck them down
into her boot to better support her ankle and hiked on. Her ankle was sore the
next morning but she insisted that she'd be find and wanted to hike. When she
arrived at her pick up point that evening, her face was sullen and her gait was
really off. While compensating for the sore ankle, she rolled the other ankle.
Together we decided that she needed new higher boots. She took a Zero day and
we drove to the REI in Buford, GA where she got new Vasque boots,
waterproofing, and ankle compression sleeves ... and my budget for April lost
its little bit of "wiggle room".
She returned to the
trail the next day and during that week, we met up with her at the gaps where
scarey one lane cliff side forest roads and occasionally paved county roads
intersected the AT. She got Trail Magic from individuals and church groups who
understand how hard it is for the hikers to do what they are doing. Chipmunk
learned to do her "business" in the great outdoors and had a newfound
appreciation for a good shower and a comfortable bed. She was sore but upbeat.
She told us great trail stories and showed us video clips she took on her
phone during her hiking day.
The boots were a huge
help and she hiked in mostly cool, sunny weather until she had to cross from
Woody Gap to Neel Gap. She left us in her waterproof treated clothing and her
new boots and headed into the woods with her head down as freezing rain fell
steadily. We waited at Woody Gap for about an hour, thinking she might turn
around. We drove onto the next possible meeting spot, Neel Gap, and waited as
the weather worsened. The freezing rain turned to hail and it blew sideways
most of the afternoon. We watched other hikers come into the hostel looking
defeated. We heard that there were 2 or 3 hikers taken off the trail with
Hypothermia; we confirmed they weren't our daughter. Late in the day, she
emerged from the woods and was wet, cold and her face was red and chafed. I
cried. She cried a little, too but then turned her focus to putting on warm
dry clothes and getting hot chocolate. Within 30 minutes, she was chatting
with the other hikers and comparing notes on the trail conditions. We could
see that her determination to cross Blood Mountain in that weather had earned
her a lot of respect.
Although she did a few 1 night stays in the trail shelters, when she
entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, she (and we) had to prepare
for 2-3 nights' stay away from us since very few roads intersected the AT in
the park. She also purchased the thru hiker's permit allowing her only 8 days
to pass through the park. She spent 2 nights in a row amongst her newfound
hiking friends and met us at Clingman's Dome and then again at Newfound Gap for
an overnight stay in the camper. Each successful night away has made it a
little easier to cope with the next. Two days ago, she left Newfound Gap and
we will pick her up today at the North Boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains
National Park. She will have hiked over 235 miles so far.
Throughout this past month, she has carried her full pack with tent,
sleeping bag, 2 days' food, change of dry clothes, cooking apparatus, first aid
kit, etc. When an easier forest road ran alongside the trail, she stayed on
the trail. When her friends slack packed, she declined to, saying "I'm tough",
when they asked why. She said she wants to do this adventure in a way that
there will never be an asterisk next to her name in the future.
She and we thank you for caring about what she is doing. Her goal is to
make it to Katahdin and although we truly hope she does, we are keenly aware
that less than 25% of the those who start an AT thru hike, actually complete
it. She's aware that fellow hikers have left the trail because they've run out
of money, are injured, have had equipment failures or wasn't fully ready for
the reality of how hard this is. We have put a lot of thought into keeping her
safe and healthy and helping her manage the injuries and pain.
Today we learned that one of Chipmunk's
favorite hikers, Whisper, is off the trail for 7-10 days as per doctors'
orders. She has both a sprained ankle and a stress fracture. She is
recuperating at her dad's and hopes to rejoin the trail in Hot Springs, NC. We
also learned that Runaway had a dentist appt this past Tuesday and planned to
rejoin the trail but we know little more than that. (Whisper & Runaway,
we'll be looking out for you; let us know if we can be of any help). Chipmunk
plans to take a Zero day tomorrow, get a haircut, score some ice cream, rest
and then return to the trail this Sunday.
If you'd like to send Chipmunk a
message, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
and her twitter handle is @openlymtngoat.
Thanks again for your interest,
Tammy (Mama Chip), Jay (Papa Chip),
Neva (Chipmunk) and her dog, Coco (Chocolate Chip)
For sponsorship opportunities, send message to email@example.com