When my kids were younger, I searched for a hobby which would allow us to bond as a family, release our emotions in a helpful way, stay healthy, and avoid spending too much money. Hiking quickly became that outlet. We started with a double stroller, then graduated to the kid-in-a-backpack life, and soon all three of them were exploring on longer trails. The steady progression from loops in our local forest to overnight trips in neighboring states eventually led us to discover the Appalachian Trail. Once I learned of a 2000-mile hiking trail within a few hours of our home—with an entire subculture devoted to it—I knew we had to go.
We took a few section hikes on the AT ranging from three days to two weeks long, but I wanted a bigger challenge. I knew we could last a few weeks, so I pushed medical appointments and other responsibilities out to accommodate the uncertainty of how long we’d be hiking. Well, “a few weeks” in March of 2021 turned into a month, then two, then three. We returned home 102 days after we left. We hiked 1136 miles of the trail and had incredible experiences which changed the ways we view the world around us.
While we were on the Appalachian Trail, the highs were higher, and the lows were lower. When you sleep on the ground, wake up and pack, then walk all day searching for a place to sleep on the ground again… it can get monotonous. We were lucky to have things which broke up the monotony: exciting milestones and landmarks in each section, new friendships which quickly developed into deep bonds, and “trail magic.”
One day we had walked in pouring rain for hours. No one could feel their toes. Since no other hikers were around, we stopped at a shelter, unpacked our wet gear, and hung it up inside. For a few hours, it slowly dripped dry as we journaled and ate. By evening, our Tiger Wall tent, quilts, and clothes were damp instead of soaking wet—which was a big mood booster! Baby K asked to lead us in a yoga flow, and by the end, everyone was laughing and making up new stretches. The misery of that morning had been long forgotten.
We spent a stormy night on top of Roan Mountain, sleeping on the floor of the shelter with four other adults. As the fog rolled in, we started a storytelling game where each person added a sentence to the plot. Pretty soon, everyone in the shelter was participating! It was my constant joy to watch other hikers laugh and play with my kids.
Then one morning in Shenandoah National Park, we hiked past some stables as the horses were getting ready for the day. We took the opportunity to empty some trash, then watched. A kind employee asked if the kids would like to pet the horses, and an hour later, we’d fed treats, brushed them, and learned their names. Opportunities like this seemed to wait around every corner, mainly because our daily schedule was so flexible: the only thing we had to do was hike!
What’s next? At the moment, we’re experimenting with smaller-scale adventures that are “normal” to many families but new to us. My two younger daughters joined a soccer team and Big K returned to dance classes while volunteering with a local nonprofit. We’ve become “foster parents” for the Humane Society and are enjoying time with new animal friends. This fall we’ll continue backpacking and trying bikepacking for the first time. The kids are currently planning a thru hike of the Colorado Trail for next summer. Wherever we end up, I know it’ll be an exciting adventure with them in the lead.
About the author: Tracy and the three Ks live in Kentucky. They enjoy exploring the natural and historical wonders of the Appalachian region, and can be found hiking, backpacking, or biking on any given weekend. Their adventures on Instagram @hikingwiththe3Ks hopefully inspire families from diverse backgrounds to explore the wilderness right outside their doors.