One of the most common things that other hikers want to know from me is what it is like to thru hike with a parent. While I certainly cannot tell you what it would be like to hike with YOUR mom, I can tell you what it was like to hike with my mom. My mom and I have always had a close relationship. I feel very lucky to be able to honestly say my mom is one of my best friends. I think a lot of this comes from when we lived overseas. We moved to Germany when I was 7 years old, England when I was 10, and then back to Michigan when I was 14. We always moved in the summer and I would have a couple months in the new country before school started and I didn’t know anyone yet. If I wanted to go somewhere, or hang out with someone, my mom was the one who was there for me. It may have started out that she became my friend out of necessity (sorry Mom!) but she remains my friend by choice.
I can’t imagine thru hiking with anyone other than my mom. You spend a LOT of time with the person you hike with. The first thing you see when you wake up is your hiking partner’s face. You have to think about not only your own needs but also the needs of the person you are hiking with. You spend 24/7 with your hiking partner and it is inevitable that you will drive each other crazy at times. Luckily my mom and I are so similar that we generally agreed on how far we wanted to hike each day and had a very similar hiking pace. Of course we didn’t agree on everything but I think we became good at compromising and also recognizing when the other person was feeling a bit irritated and needed a break.
I haven’t told my mom how proud of her I am for finishing the trail. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but hiking the Appalachian Trail is HARD. It’s hard on your body and it’s hard on your mind and at times the hiking is even a bit dangerous, where one wrong step could have serious consequences. I know it got a little frustrating for my mom through New Hampshire and Maine when my 22 year old body was still getting stronger and she was feeling worn down, but I really admire her for hiking at age 50 and keeping up with a youngster! I know that she frequently had thoughts of quitting but she stuck it out and tackled every step of the trail. Simply put, she is amazing!
While hiking with my mom I lost track of the number of times when I laughed until my stomach hurt and I had tears coming out of my eyes. We have a similar sense of humor and were constantly making each other laugh as we hiked along. I think an important trait of a successful thru hiker is being able to find humor in just about any situation. There are so many days when it’s really hot, or you’re sore and tired, and hiking is not exactly the most fun activity you could be doing. You have to be able to find humor in things to keep going. We laughed together, we laughed at ourselves, we laughed at each other, we laughed when we fell down, and we had a blast hiking together. Often when we would lay in our sleeping bags at the end of the day, one of us would think of something funny that happened that day and before we knew it we were both laughing uncontrollably. I think I had all my best nights of sleep on the trail when I had a good laugh right before falling asleep!
Hiking with my mom not only provided an endless source of comedy, but it also supplied a source of motivation. There were plenty of days when I didn’t feel like hiking or felt like stopping early in the day. Hiking with a partner gives you a reason to keep going when you just don’t feel like it. It probably would have taken me a good deal longer to finish the trail if I had been hiking it alone! There was always someone there to lift me up if I was feeling down and you never get lonely when you have a hiking partner. There were days on the trail when the only other person we would see would be each other and it felt like we were the only ones in the woods. But since I always had my mom by my side, I never felt alone.
Along with all the positive things that came with hiking with my mom, there were some downsides as well. I was a little envious at times of the people my age who were hiking the trail alone. They were able to hike in a group of people when they wanted, and hike alone when they wanted. When you hike alone, you only have yourself to think about- you take a day off when you need it, hike as long as you want to, take breaks when you feel like it, and do things completely on your own schedule. A lot of times people will hike together for a while, but will go their separate ways when one of them wants to take a day off and the other wants to keep hiking. Or, one of them gets injured so the other one continues on alone. In Erwin, when I was sick, we had to take two days off. Even though my mom felt fine, she had to take two zeros that she didn’t need because her hiking partner needed them. You also might expect that one of the downsides of thru-hiking with your mom would be just that- hiking with your mom. However, because of our relationship, it mostly just felt like I was hiking with a friend.
The downsides of hiking with my mom are nothing compared to the positive things about it. We are now even closer than we were before the hike and we truly have memories to last a lifetime. I feel so fortunate to have been able to go on such an incredible adventure with my mom. A lot of people don’t have a parent healthy enough to take on such an endeavor or they have parents who don’t have such an adventurous streak. I am so lucky to have a mom who is also a best friend. I have someone who I know will be by my side for the rest of my life- to laugh with, cry with, celebrate with, and remember our incredible journey with.
“You can always tell when two people are best friends because they are having more fun than it makes sense for them to be having.” ~Author Unknown
Love you mom, and I can’t wait for our next adventure!