This is a piece I wrote for Hike Like A Woman for an inspiring woman series. As a woman in love with the outdoors, I find people like Andrea who are thru-hiking with children a great inspiration. I love stories that show how possible life is. For the original post, click here.
By Mara Kuhn
On a backpacking trip a few years ago with my best friend we discussed what our lives will be like once we have children. I furrowed my brow and said that I wasn’t ready to swap backpacking for an RV.
Not too long after I was home I came across a story about Buddy Backpacker, a 5-year-old who had just completed a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. The youngest to ever do so.
I sent it to my best friend and told her we had no excuse once we had children to stop backpacking. This little guy just hiked more than I probably will in my entire life.
Buddy is a great inspiration to me, but even more so is his mother, Andrea.
She shows me that having small children is not a setback in your goals as an adventurer. And even more important, she instills a love of nature and an active lifestyle, which is vital to a child’s life. It is also vital to everyone’s life and the future of the planet.
The family of three, Andrea, Dion, and Buddy, now age 8, began their journey on the AT in April of 2013. Since completing a thru-hike on the AT, the trio thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014, and are currently hiking the Continental Divide Trail. When completed the 8-year-old will have hiked nearly 8,000 miles.
Buddy, Andrea, and Dion are scheduled to complete the CDC this month. Buddy could become the Youngest Triple Crown of Hiking.
Via email interview, Andrea said she had never been backpacking before she and Dion moved with Buddy to Colorado. Buddy was 4 at the time. She said she was raised on Long Island in New York and at 24 sold everything she owned to move to Colorado.
The family began making trips to Rocky Mountain National Park.
“I had never been backpacking before this,” she explained. “Dion is an Eagle Scout who grew up backpacking. He taught me everything I know.”
Andrea says she believes it is vital to raise children with a love and respect for nature.
“If children are raised outside, hiking and backpacking, it will be what they know and learn about,” she said. “Not every hike or walk will be remembered but the lessons they learn along the way surely will be. If you just stick a child in front of a screen and walk away, they become accustom to that and think that is the norm.”
She said she had all the opportunities in the world when she was growing up but wasn’t encouraged to take advantage of them.
“I want my son to grow up knowing that he can do absolutely anything he wants and that Dion and I will help him in every way to achieve those goals,” she said.
Being an adventure mom is easier than being a city mom, she confessed.
“Bringing Buddy outside empowers him to explore the world on his own two feet,” she said. “This means I don’t have to spend the day thinking up projects and activities to do with Buddy. The world is his playground; the trails are his adventures. Everything we see along the way is a new experience and story.”
Even though Buddy is learning a plethora on the trail, the family also homeschools.
“It takes a lot of prep work before getting on trail to make homeschooling while hiking or traveling possible,” she said, adding that they use video lessons to assist.
She said bringing Buddy thru-hiking is the easy part. It is getting through it as an adult that is the hard part.
“Buddy wakes up fresh and rejuvenated every day while we are sore and aching,” she said. “Children are meant to be active at such a young age, it’s up to us as parents to try and keep up.”
Buddy is also an inspiration and role model to other children.
“We have a lot of parents email us and tell us that they’ve read our blog to their child and it has inspired their first hike or camping trip,” Andrea said.
“Buddy loves to hear about this and see photos people send us of their trips with their kids. I think kids hearing about Buddy hiking 2186 miles at 5 years old inspires other kids to get outside and see for themselves what they are capable of.”
The 8-year-old also is an inspiration to children to have a healthier lifestyle by being more active. Before hiking when Buddy was 3 to 4 years old, he was overweight from fast food and a sedentary lifestyle, she said.
“Even at a young age, he was on his way to an unhealthy and obese lifestyle,” Andrea said. “So by taking him out thru-hiking at 5 years old that solved that problem. Buddy was loving being out hiking and he was melting the unhealthy fat off without even knowing he was exercising. I think seeing this change even in a child as young as him could inspire anyone.”
Buddy’s story also shows children and adults the importance of setting goals and working toward them.
“Buddy is so proud of everything he’s accomplished and loves to share his stories with anyone who’ll listen.”
Buddy is who inspired his mom to become an outdoor woman. Andrea said she fell in love with the outdoors as soon as they started hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.
“Spending so much time outdoors has completely changed my life. I have never been so healthy and happy before – we all are; it’s amazing,” she said.
She said she couldn’t imagine going back to a desk job and only being able to get outside on the weekends.
“Getting through incredibly tough terrain or awful weather and seeing it through to the other side gives you a sense of personal accomplishment I just haven’t found in anything else,” she said.
Sometimes it takes all of a person’s physical and mental strength to get through something, she explained. And after they are through it, they find out they didn’t even need all they had to get past what they thought might not be possible.
Andrea said she never imagined she would become a Triple Crown Hiker. She said she never even heard of the Triple Crown of Hiking until they were on the AT.
“I hadn’t even heard of the AT until we moved to Colorado!” she said.
Although they have had an amazing trip without much delay, the trio has had a few setbacks. On the AT the government shutdown of 2013 caused the them to skip Shenandoah National Park. They had to go back in January to complete it. Also postal package delays and bad weather has kept them in towns longer than they had liked, she said.
Andrea said her favorite part of being on the trail is meeting people from all walks of life. They become like family.
Her least favorite part of thru-hiking is when rains and strong winds cannot be stopped with a poncho or umbrella.
“At that point though, you just set up the tent and wait it out,” she said.
Buddy’s least favorite part is running out of yummy snacks, she said.