One thing for sure, the woods were calling. It had been since November that I sectioned Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap, so I made a few calls. My buddies, "single barrel" and Paul were going on this trip and neither had issues with bringing my son.
Then I called "greentick18d" who was a senior medic Special Forces team mate and is now an emergency room PA. He knows my son, and is the reason Iím out on the trail today. He also has five kids and has taken his older son on a similar hike. "What a - ya think?", I asked. "Hank, your son doesnít have an ounce of body fat on him, so make sure you take the right gear and clothing to keep him warm." Local Georgians will not plant until the first full moon after Easter because it is known to freeze. Thatís all I needed, freezing rain and a hypothermic son on the trail. Heíll surely fall in love with the AT after that, right?
I was still not convinced this was a good idea, so I called another former team mate whoís involved with the Boy Scouts. "Whatís the skinny McGuiver?" His trail name is McGuiver because he has more gadgets in his pack for every contingency under the sun and quickly unlocked a car for a stranded hiker who had locked her keys in the car at the trailhead. It took him 45 seconds to unlock the car with his Spideco knife, a golf tee, and the carís rear windshield wiper. Just ask "single barrel" and "greentick18d" as they were there. "Hank, I took the scouts in the past on a 15 miler with 30lb packs, but it was a flat historic trail and those boys were twice your sonís age. They were some hurtín puppies afterwards."
McGuiver also told me if my son had any of his daddy in him, he could probably make it. The recommended pack weight was 10lbs. I hung up the phone concluding, ĎItís doable with a light pack and the right gear, if my son has any of his daddy in himí.
The next morning I headed to REI with my son. We spent four hours trying on the right gear, picking out his chow, and enduring the toy section. Let me tell you, itís a challenge finding gear for your kid, but the day prior to the trip after every thru-hiker has bought out the store to start at Springer with their 55lb pack, good luck. Yes, I wasnít supposed to depart until Monday with my buddies, but with my son, I planned to leave a day earlier. That would give us an extra day on the trail. "Single barrel" could link up with us on Monday at Carter Gap.
When we loaded the car, there I was with my scale. My sonís pack weighed 15 lbs with water and food. Five pounds over McGuiverís recommendation, so I had him walk up our steep driveway a few times and he said it was just fine. If it proved to be a bit heavy for him on the trail, I could always offload some weight into my pack. But I thought it would be good for him to endure a little weight on the first day, after all Iím a former Green Beret whoís used to humping a 65lb+ external frame Alice Pack with full kit up the side of mountains off the trail. As McGuiver has quoted, "We donít need to train to find out how bad it can suck". So I drove off with my wife and daughter in tow to see if my son had any of his daddy in him.
Now for those of you who might misinterpret my words for a harsh taskmaster of a dad, I have this to say. Iím a compassionate father who treats his children with a great deal of love and affection. To that you might say, ĎGreen Beretís can be affectionate?í Oh yes, we arenít like the Malaysian tracking instructors with our children who beat us with a bamboo cane over the shoulder or across the outside of the thigh from behind every time we missed a sign on the trail. We are pretty laid back. Our wives and children are not soldiers. We have our standards and understand the psychology of those who quit. So when I said, ĎI left to find out if my son has any of his daddy in himí, please do not misconstrue it as if it was hell or high water and a trekking pole across the back for not going the distance or speed.
It grieved my spirit deeply to see a dad recently charge out on the T Ė ball field screaming at his son, "I brought you out here to play ball, not catch bugs!!!" when the boy was more focused on the bug at his feet than the ball that rolled past him at shortstop. Enough said, I love my son and would love for him to enjoy the AT, but if that is not his thing, thatís cool.
- Planned Deep Gap to Beech Gap: 5.3 miles.
- Actual: Deep Gap to the end of the ridge line southeast of Standing Indian due west of Kilby Gap where the trail begins to button hook: 4.1 miles.
We hit the trail at 4:45pm and started the ascent to Standing Indian. My sonís pack weighed 15 lbs with water. From the shelter at Standing Indian I carried his pack for a mile. TIP: The easiest way to carry a childís pack is to wear it on your front side. Slip your arms through the shoulder straps so that they rest above your elbows on the triceps or over your shoulders if the shoulder straps are long enough. Lesson Learned: Always be prepared to carry your childís pack during segments of the trail and adjust your plan accordingly. There is nothing worse than pushing them far beyond their capacity and turning them off to the outdoors. I actually caught flack from a female thru-hiker for carrying his pack. Whatever!
Be prepared to endure a bit of whimpering and complaining. Just past Standing Indian Shelter I heard, "Daddy, I donít like the AT, why are we doing this? I havenít found one snail yet . . . ughh. Daddy, do you know where the snails are?" My heart sank. Maybe I was wrong about those extra five pounds. With compassion I said, "Son, the snails are out here somewhere and only the good Lord knows where they are. There are things you will see on the AT that you will never see at home like bears, snakes, cool bugs, owls, hawks, lots of neat things." Then I stopped and took a knee looking him straight in the eyes and said, "Will, I'm so proud you are out here. The Appalachian Mountains helped Davey Crocket become a man and perhaps we will cover ground that he actually walked on. [Our nightly reading had been a chapter from Davey Crockett] Youíre doing great, just a few more blazes and weíll be at our camp. Would you like to help start the campfire?" His entire demeanor changed . Baltimore Jackís T shirt is so true especially with kids, "One Blaze at a Time".
At 7:15 I began looking for an acceptable place to tarp it for the night. With a map reconnaissance, the terrain at the end of the ridge line looked promising so we pushed on until 7:45 and found a great place 50 meters off the trail. As I began to set up the tarp, I asked him to gather kindling and rocks to make a fire ring. Ooops, "Whatís kindling daddy?" After showing him what to look for, he was at it. Kids have a great sense of purpose and accomplishment when they are given opportunities to contribute to the campsite. Donít be afraid to task them with small responsibilities and give them liberty to accomplish them without your micromanagement. This builds their confidence, self worth and esteem. They might bring back sticks that are too green to be used for kindling or rocks too small for a fire ring, but thatís an opportunity to praise them for their efforts.
Fires are big morale boosters for all of us. In the service, we called a fire "Ranger TV". After we turned on the television, we ate dinner and hit the rack after letting the TV die out. When I said goodnight to my son and praised him for doing so well, I heard his little voice pierce through the darkness, "Daddy, I didnít mean what I said earlier about the AT, I actually love it." My heart rejoiced, and I went to sleep misty.
- Planned: Beech Gap to Carterís Gap: 3.2 miles.
- Actual: End of the ridgeline southeast of Standing Indian due west of Kilby Gap to Betty Creek Gap: 8 miles.
After a great nightís sleep, I decided to lighten my sonís pack from 15 to 10lbs. I did this by offloading two .5 liter platyís, some snivel gear, and his food bag into my ULA Conduit which placed it 7 lbs over max rated capacity- it held up just fine. Those 5lbs made all the difference in the world as we covered 8 miles on this day. We were only planning to make it to Carter Gap, but I knew that the next day was a big day; 10 miles to include summiting Mt Albert. Therefore, every extra mile we covered on this day was one less mile on the next.
At Carterís Gap, I took off his shoes and socks, doused them with some foot powder and let him run around in his Crocs. He ate a Honey Stinger bar which has 20grams of protein, some sweet beef jerky, and met a 14 year old named Jake from Florida who was backpacking with his dad and brother. Jake gave him some kid friendly gum. All I brought was Dentine fire gum, shame on me! I didnít even bring any motivational candy for him, like M&Mís or Hersheyís bars. How in the world did I forget that? When I was eight my dad who was a U.S. Forest Service demo man always had gum and Hersheyís chocolate bars. I can remember him giving me one square of a giant Hersheyís bar every so often as we hiked up June Mountain in California. Thatís one thing I wonít forget next time Ė my sonís pogey bait.
After a 40 minute break, we hit the trail. Two miles into the hike from Carterís Gap my son was beginning to whimper a bit, he complained that his feet were hurting and I observed his gate to be a bit labored so we stopped for a break. This is when "Single barrel" whipped out a GU Chocolate Outrage Energy Gel and asked my son if he wanted some chocolate. I gave him two junior strength chewable Motrin as well. Within 15 minutes he was motoring on the trail as we pressed all the way to Bettyís Creek. The junior strength chewable Motrinís are a lifesaver. We had a nick name for everything in the Army and Motrin was called "Ranger Candy". It sure worked as one of my buddies completed a 22 mile road march with the 1st and 2nd Metatarsal Bones broken and canted with full kit (65lbs+). Before the road march, I had to cut his boot lengthwise just to get his foot into it, then turned it into a makeshift cast by wrapping it over and over again with duct tape. Motrin works wonders, just make sure you have some food in your stomach and your little oneís do too.
When we made camp at Bettyís Creek, my son was off collecting kindling and tending to the fire - under close adult supervision. Fire safety is so crucial with kids. They can go up in flames if their clothing catches fire and even start a forest fire. Teach them fire safety and constantly reiterate it. A good practice is to let them place sticks on the fire when itís time by holding their hand and guiding it. Bring a few marshmallows along in a zip lock bag- 1-2 per evening for roasting. They love it. I forgot the marshmallows too, booo dad.
- Planned: Carter Gap to Rock Gap: 10.9 miles.
- Actual: Bettyís Creek to Winding Stair Gap: 13 miles.
Our first backpacking trip and my son knocked out 13 miles at six years old. This was a great day on the trail, but it didnít begin that way. It had rained on us at Bettyís Creek and although we were dry under the SilTarp and the rain had subsided by 6:00am, Noahís flood visited my sonís sleeping bag which adversely affected his morale. I had him do his business prior to putting him down for the night but should have rousted him a second time when I turned in.
Lesson Learned: Make sure your little oneís pee before bed and wake them up for a second time when you go to sleep. Kids are not prone to getting out of their sleeping bags in the cold to pee, especially in the dark, and you really donít want them to anyway because they can wander off.
The morning was cold in the high 40ís and being cold and wet really made him shiver. By the time we arrived at Mooney Gap I called my wife and left a message that I might have to exit the trail and need her to arrange a shuttle for us out of Franklin. Even with gloves, his little fingers were cold. It is extremely important to monitor your children in the woods. If they complain about cold fingers, actually feel them to see how cold they really are. I knew we had two options at this point. Get him in a sleeping bag under a tarp on the side of the road and wait for a shuttle or keep moving. But without confirmation from my wife, I chose to keep moving. The next bailout points on the map were Bearpen Gap and Mt Albert where the forest service roads can be accessed from the trail. If weather conditions did not improve, we could exit there.
Within a half mile of Mooney Gap, the great heat tab in the sky broke through the clouds !!! The sunís warmth lifted his morale and we stopped to make some hot chocolate, eat some jerky, and split an ostrich stick. That is when I knew we would make it to Mt Albert.
Itís amazing how resilient children can be. As we started ascending Mt Albert, he was scrambling up that mountain like a goat exclaiming to "Single barrel" that it was just like his rock wall in the backyard at home. Thatís when we gave him the trail name "Little goat". When we summited, he was up that fire tower before I had my pack off, "Wait a minute son, wait for daddy" The thumb nailed pictures for this article with the fog resting in the valleys were actually taken by "little goat" atop the Mt Albert fire tower. Lesson Learned: Let your kids pack their own disposable camera, they love taking pictures!
Mt. Albert was a wonderful experience for him. It boosted his morale and gave him a sense of accomplishment. As we all know the AT can get a bit monotonous. The Ipods on many of the thru-hikers are a testimony to the monotony of the trail. Mt. Albert broke that and he loved the climb. As we ate lunch, some man with a black T-shirt saying, "One Blaze at a Time" summited. This man exuding a genuine love for the AT approached me with encouragement that that my 6 year old son was on the trail. He was a wealth of knowledge and asked where we were headed. I told him we planned to camp at Rock Gap this evening then exit at Winding Stair Gap the following morning as we needed to catch a 3:15 flight out of Atlanta. He gave me a friends name in Franklin who owns a hotel that is hiker friendly and told me where to camp if the Rock Gap shelter was full. In the midst of this conversation, some lady asked if she could have her picture taken with him. After he departed northbound, she walked up and asked if I knew who that was. I said, "No, but he sure knew a lot about the trail and was excited that my boy is out here." "Thatís Baltimore Jack, heís famous", she said. As she departed, I thought, ĎOK lady, whateverí. Little did I know that man was Jack Tarlin.
We enjoyed some chow up on Mt Albert. I had French pressed Starbucks Sulawesi coffee in my Jetboil which was fantastic. The Jet boil coffee press is the heat and works much better than the Nalgene press. There are less grounds in your coffee, it is much lighter and takes up less volume in your pack. Little Goat wasnít really enjoying his freeze dried bacon and eggs that he chose at REI, so I whipped up some loaded mashed potatoes for him. Lesson Learned: Freezer bag cooking is my preference, but itís a bit hard for the little ones to eat out of the larger bags. Use the small bags or better yet, pack a pan they can eat out of- thatís what I did and it worked great.
After Jack Tarlin had departed and Little Goat finished his mashed potatoes, I couldnít pack up quick enough. All I heard for 15 minutes was, "Letís go daddy, címon". Rock Gap Shelter here we come!
We left Mt Albert after a good hour break where I was able to air dry Little Goatís sleeping bag and long underwear from the night before. He helped me filter water from behind the Big Spring shelter as we heard a bear tearing through the brush. That was exciting for him. After filling our platys and splitting a protein bar we pressed on. He was doing Ninja Turtle moves with his walking staff, jumping off logs and having a great time. This is when I started a game that made the time pass quickly, we named it White Blaze French Fries. For every white blaze he identified, he would get a French fry in Franklin. He racked up 64 French Fries all the way to the Rock Gap shelter that day.
We also played, whoever sees the next white blaze first, gets to eat whatever and wherever he wants in Franklin. He won of course- Burger King Kidís meal with a Dr Pepper and Vanilla milkshake. When he began to drag a bit and complain about his feet after the sixth mile that day, I tried the GU Energy Gel again with two Motrinís and off he went. It was then we began to sing songs, I taught him some old cadences and he loved those- you could hear us in the woods singing "Pain . . . in my toes. Pain . . . in my feet. Pain . . . in my legs. Pain . . .in my back . . . is weakness leaving my body and making me . . .STRONGER!" Then he wanted to sing his own version and have me repeat Ė "Pain, in a slug, on a leaf in my feet etc. etc. ad infinitum. I must have heard that for 3 hours along with the diahrea song- ĎDiarrhea, diarrhea papapiaí and everything else young boys giggle over. One time he was laughing so hard he could barely walk straight. He even taught me the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song and a few hymns heís learned in Sunday School.
At Rock Gap it was off with his shoes & socks and on with the foot powder and Crocs again. As I filtered water from the spring with "single barrel" and Paul, who "little goat" called "old woman" Ė a trail name we have to change, he searched for bugs. He found a cool centipede, but it was poisonous. TIP: You need to be up on whatís poisonous and whatís not on the trail. Be sure you can identify poisonous plants because they will come back with a beautiful Christmas wreath to hang on your front door made out of poison ivy if youíre not careful. That is a huge "barney" on any trip!
Since the Rock Gap shelter was full, we pressed on. The camp sites near the parking area Ĺ mile down the trail from Rock Gap were full as well. So we kept going, crossed over Wallace Gap Road and started the uphill climb singing our pain song. As we reached the top, there stood Baltimore Jack and his friend watching Little Goat with amazement. Jack Tarlin grabbed some M&Mís from his pack and said to my son that he thought heíd never see him again past Mt Albert. "Job well done, Will-Henry". He remembered my sonís name. I enjoyed getting to know Jack on another 30minute break.
It was 7:30pm now and although Jackís offer for us to stay at his campsite was tempting, since we had been walking from 8:00am, Little Goat wanted that hamburger meal. Jack gave him a map of the entire AT which hangs on his wall with the picture they took. It was a special moment for me and my son. We said our good byeís and hit the trail as the sun was setting in the West. We exited the trail at 9:20pm after walking for roughly an hour under headlamp in the pitch dark singing a few more cadences. After a photo op at the AT sign on HWY 64, we drove straight to Franklin for that kidís hamburger meal, Dr. Pepper, and vanilla shake. I was in awe- my 6 year old boy covered 13 miles from 8:00am to 9:20pm on the AT. After all, he did have a little of his daddy in him. Now, heís begging to section Georgia!
</SUP>Packing Considerations for Children
- Pack Weight: A good rule of thumb is no more than 15-18% of their body weight. My son weighs 50lbs; therefore his pack should weigh no more than 8.5-10 lbs. Initially, his pack weighed 15 and he made it approximately 2 miles uphill from Deep Gap to the Standing Indian Shelter before I carried it for a bit.
Packing List for Children (Fall & Spring)
- Fox40 whistle on lanyard: This to me is the greatest piece of safety equipment your child should have on him at all times. I even had my son sleep with it. He was never allowed to take it off. If for some reason they wander off in their discoveries and look up to see no one is around, all they have to do is start blowing that whistle until you locate them. Rehearse this with a game of hide & seek around the house several times. This reiterates to your child the importance of that whistle for you to locate them. STAY PUT, DO NOT MOVE, AND KEEP BLOWING YOUR WHISTLE UNTIL I FIND YOU. Rehearse it once on the trail as well. "Itís only to be used if you donít see me," I reiterated several times. Thatís why I let him pick out a bird call to take with him.
- Channel Craft Wildlife Hawk Call (3.0 oz.): Comes with an instructional DVD from REI. It sounds like a wounded rabbit so be advised, it could attract coyotes, wolves, bobcats and Mountain Lions if they are in your area. Downside: It can get a bit annoying when your son is blowing that thing for 30 minutes straight, but itís fun. One time a hawk let out a huge screech right above us as it soared by. My son loved that.
- Cross trainer shoes: I donít know why parents put their kids in stiff lugged backpacking boots. Itís a sure prescription for a case of blisters and thatís one thing your child shouldnít have to endure on the trail. "Little Goat" wore the running shoes he plays in everyday. They held up great, and he was blister free even after the 13 miles on day three.
- Socks: SmartWool Hiking socks for kids. He packed two pair for a planned 4 day trip. The Merino wool nylon blend helps insulate even if wet and helps keep the feet dry. These are great!
- Camp Shoes: Crocs (4.7oz. for kid size 12-13): I think these are indispensable for keeping your childrenís feet healthy throughout the trip. They are extremely lightweight. On longer breaks or when we made it to camp, I would douse his feet with some of my good ole GI foot powder and let him run around in Crocs. This letís those little doggies air out and gives the shoes a chance to do the same.
- Base Layer: Smartwool Lightweight long underwear. Get out of those musty clothes at the end of the day and put on something clean, comfy, and warm. At the end of a day on the trail, thereís nothing better for your kids. These double as pajamas on those cold nights. Smart wool will retain its insulation properties even when wet.
- Mid Layer bottoms: REI Kids Fleece Pants. Used only in camp. Very comfy and my son loved changing into these after a wet day on the trail!
- Pants: REI Sahara Convertible Pants. Worked great and I could have ditched the pack shorts to save a few ounces, but the shorts are good to have in case the pants get soaked.
- Pack shorts: Patagonia Do-Gi Shorts. Very lightweight and dry easily. The material is very soft to the touch which cuts down on rashes.
- Short Sleeve Nylon Pack Shirt: Columbia Sportswear. Indispensible. Dries fast and helps reduce pack abrasion.
- Mid Layer Top: REI Boulder Ridge Fleece Vest. This item proved to be indispensable and worth every penny of the $24 it cost. Served as my sonís mid layer and only one time during the trip did I wish he had a fleece jacket.
- Marmot PreCip Jacket: I have one and it is awesome. The only drawback is the kidís model does not have pit zips. It is breathable, which cuts down on condensation that can lead to hypothermia. I purchased it in the color orange so my son would be more visible in the woods. At night, the reflective material works great and helped me keep track of him. Super lightweight.
- Marmot PreCip Pants (4.8oz.): These are great pants but they stayed in the bottom of his pack the entire trip. I have never used mine either. I have found that with or without rain gear, youíre going to get wet hiking in the rain. They are great in keeping your dry clothes dry around the camp. But on the trail, they are worthless unless the temperature drops and thatís why I bought them for my son. For summer trips, theyíll stay at home. For winter and fall trips, weíll pack them.
- Sleeping Bag: Sierra Designs Big Dog +40 sleeping bag (29 oz.). This was the hardest thing to find as most kids sleeping bags are heavy and much too much volumous to fit in their packs. I almost purchased an adult Mtn Hardwear bag but found the last Sierra Designs Big Dog 40 in the store. It worked great and compressed well for 2/3rds the price. It also has a pillow in it which my son thought was cool! I found that the sleeping pad stays didnít work (these are blue straps under the bag to secure it to the sleeping matt). Great idea in theory, but it failed my sonís field test so we discarded them). The attached black mesh sack at the foot of the bag was also worthless on the trail, snip, snip. Ditching the straps and the sack reduce the bagís weight by 1.5oz. The Big Dog 40 also has an internal mesh pocket to stuff your clothes into for the next morning. Very useful. My son and I, highly recommend this bag.
- Compression Sack: Sea To Summit Ultra Sil Compression Sack, XS. This worked great with the Sierra Designs Big Dog 40 sleeping bag. Donít expect your six year old to be able to stuff the Big Dog 40 into it on their own. Tip: Stuff the pillow at the head of the bag in first.
- Sleeping Bag Liner: Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner (4.7 oz.). This thing wound up in a ball at the bottom of my sonís bag after the first night. My son didnít like it at all. I think Iíll exchange it for a Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite liner even though it weighs (8.1 oz.). The material in the Reactor liner feels more like cotton sheets and gives you an extra 5 degrees over the silk liner. I plan on modifying the bag liner with a sewing machine to fit the Big Dog 40 bag.
- Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Ė Short (11 oz.). Worked great and was easy for my son to fold up. I love the orange color which helped me keep an eye on him when he walked ahead of me on the trail. This is all you need if you sleep on the ground. However, if you plan to stay in the shelters with their hard floors, I recommend you pack a self inflatable Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3 Ė Short, in addition.
- Compass (1.2oz.): He enjoyed learning the basics of using his own compass. I purchased the Silva Guide 426 and attached it to his pack with the lanyard so he wouldnít lose it. By the end of Day 2 he could orient my map to the terrain and point to North, South, East, and West.
- Headlamp: Black Diamond (3.1oz. with batteries). Required for walking on the trail at night unless itís a full moon.
- Water Bottles: .5 liter platypus with drinking tube attachment (1lb, 2.6oz. filled) (See Hydration). My son packed three of these, two of which I offloaded into my pack. At the end of the day, the little kids only need one with a tube to sip on. When itís empty, fill from your water supply.
- Hand warmers: for emergency (1.8oz.).
- Pocket Toothbrush (1 oz.): Dad carried this with his in the food bag along with the toothpaste where they all belong.
- Snow Peak Titanium Spork (0.6oz.): What can I say? Itís the only utensil one needs to chow down, but it's a bit short for eating out of a large freezer bag.
- Cup: REI Ti Ware single walled (2.0oz.). My son loved to have his own cup of hot cocoa while daddy drank his French pressed coffee.
- Pack: REI Jet UL Pack 22 0z. I blew off the kidís packs because they were 2lbs or more. My ULA Conduit weighs 20 oz., why should a kidís pack weigh more? The hip belt on the REI Jet pack ran a bit low. Anyone have a heavy duty sewing machine for sale so I can start making kids UL packs?
- Cold Weather Cap: Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon Hat. The menís small fit just fine and kept his ears warm at night.
- Patagonia Boonie Hat: The wide brim helps keep the sun off the back of your childís neck & face. Use sunscreen in conjunction with the hat.
- Gloves: Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch (1.1oz). I purchased the ladies small and still had Ĺ inch of growing room at the tips. The kids gloves were stocked out.
- Skull cap liner
- Walking stick
- Trash bag: Heavy Duty, 2mil, 42gallon contractor bag (3.4oz.). Worked great as a UL ground cloth. Can also be used to make a solar still, but who has need of that on the AT? You can reduce the weight by cutting it in half.
- Fox40 Whistle (See Equipmet).
- Poisonous Plants & Creepy Crawlies. As a parent, it is vitally important to be able to identify poisonous things on the trail. Check the area they want to explore and establish the boundaries. Like I said above, if you donít teach them to identify plants such as poison ivy and oak, theyíll return from their adventure and present you with a beautiful wreath made of poison ivy or red stained teeth from some crazy berry. As far as poisonous bugs and snakes, teach them that if you see something donít pick it up until daddy says itís safe to touch. "Little goat" loves animals and he will pick up anything that slithers, crawls, or wriggles. All you need is a pretty red touch yellow coral snake slithering over his shoes and itís all over. PLEASE: educate yourself as a parent and be mindful.
- Food & Eating. As a parent itís important to have the right balance. If it were left up to your child, heíd pack red vines, twizzlers, nerds, Gummy bears, sweet tarts, and everything under the sun. Itís OK to pack a little something, but the sugar will leave them with a trail hangover like a bottle of bad tequila will do you after a college party. Chocolate is the best candy for the trail. Other than that, itís important to let them know the trail is not a place for momís short order cooking. We all have to eat out of necessity, liking it is not an option. On that note, I let "Little goat" pick out a few meals at the store. If he didnít like them on the trail- OK, Ďthree more bites, choke it down, and Iíll whip something else upí. The Honey Stinger bars were a big hit with him and so were the Clif Builders protein chocolate bars. Both pack 20gís of protein which equates to fuel for their little engines and muscles. He loved the Ore Ida instant mashed potatoes available at the grocery store. Ramen was big a hit and is super lightweight. On days one and two a few green bananas will hold up just fine, but be advised; they are a magnet for wasps. Sweet Teriyaki style beef jerky was a hit and so was the ostrich stick. As a parent, you might want to serve a few things at home so see if they are palatable before taking them on the trail. Bottom Line: A tired kid after a day on the trail will not want to eat. They have to, so be prepared to spoon feed.
- Hydration. Dilute Gatorade or Propel 50%. Kids have a tendency to over hydrate especially with a camelback. If they drink too much water, which is a tendency in hot climates, they can wash the electrolytes out of their system and end up with a heat injury. I rigged a .5 litre platy with a drinking tube for my son and developed a rule that when I drank, he drank. Ensure that you monitor the color of their urine. If itís yellow, they need to drink more frequently.
- Hyper & Hypothermia. Kids body fat percentages normally run much lower than adults. One of my buddies said, "Hank, your son doesnít have an ounce of fat on him, so make sure you take the right clothing to keep him warm." Even though you might be warm your child with 2% body fat can be freezing. Monitor your child by sticking your hand down behind the neck to check if they are overheating. Watch for flushed red faces. In cooler weather, when you stop for a break, put a jacket on them. When you start moving, take it off and stow it where it can be easily accessed. Be extremely careful in rainy climates as you may not think that they can overheat, but they can, especially in rain gear.
- Camp Fires: Never leave a child at the fire unattended.
- Songs & Cadences Ė work like an Ipod for the uberwealthy thru-hikers from Greenwich, CT.
- Bird call (See Equipment)
- White Blaze French fries. Counting blazes can be fun for your child. Devise games with the blazes or give them a piece of protein bar, chocolate or whatever after completing a set number of blazes. On day two, "little goat" knew that 2 blazes meant a turn in the trail. Stop and let them tell you which way to go, and have them explain why.
- Bugs, Snails and Wildlife. The snail "littlegoat" found on the trail day one served to motivate him an additional mile. I let him sleep with it. The beetle he found on day two heard more about Spongebob, Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Squidward, and Plankton than I think he cared to but that beetle was worth 4 miles of taking "Little goatís" mind off the trail. Please: know whatís poisonous and whatís not on the trail.
- Taking pictures: Let them go to town with a disposable camera. The pictures are something to cherish.
- Let your child know where you are on the map. By the end of day 2, Little Goat was able to orient my map to the terrain with his compass. I observed it was best to show him not just our destination campsite but how far we had already gone. It was a sense of accomplishment.
Distances & Pace
I think 4 miles a day is all you should plan for on the first trip. This helps them get acclimated to packing and gives them plenty of time to play around the camp. 1 mile per hour is a general rate of travel with breaks. This is a bit slow for most of us. My calves were screaming after the trip because I was not getting the full range of motion in my stride. I found it best to have my son take the lead, that way he set the pace. I realize that there are some a-typical kids out there. Jack Tarlin told us about a boy named Moses who has sectioned all of Georgia and I have read on Whiteblaze.net about a few 6year olds who have thru-hiked with their parents. Have fun with them and push them a bit, but within their capacity. Who knows, they may surprise you with a 13 mile day. Kids also recover much quicker than we do. The day after the trip I checked his feet and asked if he was sore at all. "Not a bit dad!" Someone said that youth is wasted on the youth- what Iíd give to recover like that.
Things Iíll take next time for my son:
- UL trekking poles. These would have been helpful for descents and are much lighter than a walking staff.
- Candy (M&Mís, Hershey Bars, Marshmallows)
- Kid friendly gum
- Sanitizing hand gel Ė kids get super dirty in the woods, digging for worms and turning over rocks. Sanitize those hands before they eat.
- Small Ziploc bag of wet ones. These are great for washing little faces.
- Disposable Camera