Asha at camp, getting ready to check out the sunset
This summer we learned an important lesson: regular humans can do superhuman things. We learned that by thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail with our two kids, 8 and 12 years old, and a rambunctious dog. We had no prior backpacking experience. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences we have had as a family.
The further north we got, the more we had incredible views
A year ago, in the midst of COVID, we were forced to cancel our annual trip to visit our family in Ecuador. Three out of the four of us are from Ecuador and it was important to see the people we loved and to keep the kids connected to their culture and their first language, Spanish. We had also lost a number of relatives to COVID and we wanted to be there to grieve with our family.
But the pandemic had diﬀerent ideas for us. At home in Vermont, we felt stuck and filled with anxiety. As a way to look forward to something - anything - and since we couldn’t be in the Andes like we had hoped, we began hiking a local mountain each week. We were lucky to live in Vermont where trails abound, and soon our day hiking addiction turned to dreaming about the possibility of thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, a 272-mile footpath through the Green Mountains, beginning at the Vermont-Massachusetts border and ending at the Canadian border.
Allison soaking in the view on top of Camel's Hump
Most people assume that our kids were enthusiastic hikers; the reality is that they usually complained when we told them that we were going hiking. But we would always go anyway. It became non-negotiable, and we learned to expect resistance. The first mile of every hike, even if the terrain was completely flat, was filled with “I can’t do this!” or “this is the worst day ever!” But we learned that after they got that out of their systems the complaining would die down, even when the terrain got harder. After months of hiking like this, and knowing that our thru- hike was coming up, they began to look forward to the challenge of our hikes.
Lucas and Asha having fun, with views of Camel's Hump in the distance
We started doing our day hikes with full packs, so we could all get used to the weight. But while we had assumed we would fit in lots of shake-down backpacking trips before the Long Trail, the reality is that we were only able to do one overnight backpacking trip two weeks before the start of our thru-hike.
We began our thru-hike the day after a 3 week stretch of constant rain. The trail was a mix of river and calf-deep mud, which was challenging. Our feet were never able to dry out and we began contemplating trench foot. While we had done lots of day hikes with full packs on, our bodies were not used to doing so day after day, on slippery rocks and mud. Vermont was living up to its nickname, “Vermud.”
Each day was a mix of emotions for all of us. The second day, Lucas, our 12 year old, looked at our map- we were on the first of 12 sections- and said, “we will never finish this! It’s taking us forever! We’ll never even get to section 2!” But he also said later, as we hiked along, “You know, I never realized it, but hiking is actually fun!”.
The farther north we ventured, the terrain became increasingly difficult
Slowly, we began to see patterns emerge. While we had previously thought Asha, our 8 year old, would be the slowest hiker, we realized that if we put him in front and pretended that he was a race car, racing Mashi, our dog, he could zoom through miles no problem.
Every day held challenges, exhaustion, laughter, joys, and frustration. At one point in a spat of anger, Asha turned around and started walking South (we were hiking North). After about 20 minutes we got him back on track. There were days when we staggered into camp, exhausted to our limit. On our longest day, a 15 mile day, Asha cried from exhaustion the last mile and a half as it poured down rain on us. It was miserable.
But we kept going. Slowly, we felt our bodies getting stronger. And while the terrain became more technical the further north we got, it also became more rewarding, with spectacular vistas, fun rock scrambles, and ladders we had to carry our dog up and down.
Mashi, the pup, was not a huge fan of ladders. We had to carry him up and down, like a briefcase
It was when we climbed Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont, that we knew we had made the right choice to thru-hike with our kids. For days, Lucas had talked about how excited he was to stand on the summit and therefore be the tallest person on land in the entire state. But we had read terrifying descriptions of the climb online, and had even received a message from thru-hiker friends who had done it a few days prior, strongly recommending us to take the bypass trail because Mansfield’s “Chin” would be extremely challenging with kids and a dog. To top it oﬀ, it had rained the night before and the rocks and boulders we would be hanging onto were slick.
Feeling amazing at the highest point in Vermont, on top of Mt Mansfield
At the trail junction we had to make a decision. Do the bypass, or head up The Chin. Lucas, our fearless adventure-seeking 12 year old, wanted to do the Chin. After a quick family huddle, we decided to go for it. We were nervous and scared, and as we started shimmying up and around wet boulders that hung hundreds of feet in the air, we became terrified, knowing one wrong step would be the end. We worked together, supported each other, and shouted words of encouragement. When we got past The Chin and eventually up to the summit of Mansfield, we were filled with adrenaline, excitement, and pride. We had done a hard and scary thing, together, as a family.
We had already hiked 200 miles and we were getting closer and closer to Canada. Miles came easier, even though the terrain was increasingly diﬃcult. The last week on trail, it was us parents who needed to stop at the end of the day, while the kids wanted to keep going. Asha even said he wanted to night hike, which we never ended up doing because the adults were always so tired by the end of the day!
Asha, hiking up Madonna Peak
The last day was filled with every emotion possible. We ran into a few hikers who were on their first day of their southbound journeys, and we remembered our first days, when we were new, stiﬀ, getting out of camp late because packing up took so long, and feeling like finishing might be impossible. But here we were, 30 days later, a few steps away from Canada. We were simultaneously filled with relief and sadness that it was over, joy, excitement, and so much pride. We, just a regular family, had walked 272 miles to Canada.
So many friends have said that what we did was superhuman. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What we learned is that even regular families like us can do superhuman things. Kids can do so much more than we believe they can. And dogs will follow you to the end of the world and back, just because. But we already knew that.
So close to Canada! It felt unbelievable to be this close to the end