Our Plans to Thru-Hike the AT

Our family is hosting the story of our thru-hike at our other blog Toe Salad. Please visit Our 2014 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike page for more details. To follow my more personal journey, as a mother/homemaker/homeschooler (and at times reluctant hiker) preparing for our thru-hike, see my Appalachian Trail category of posts here at FIMBY.

Brienne was three years old when our family started hiking on a regular basis. And it was actually the loss of another activity that opened the door for this one.

Renee with little Brienne

Damien had taken up cycling a few years before and had started to get competitive. And the deeper he got into that sport the more time, resources and energy it took away from our family. Cycling is expensive and time consuming.

Damien made the difficult decision, at the time, to "retire" from the sport of cycling. He wanted to pursue physical activity with our family so that family life wasn't a limiting factor in living an active, outdoors lifestyle. This has been a guiding principle for Damien ever since.

I was thrilled, and I still am, that Damien cared so much about his children and spending time with them, that he was willing to sacrifice something he loved doing to build something together as a family instead.

Daddy holding Brienne's hand

I had no idea it would lead to this. If I had any idea I might not have been so thrilled. I'm joking, but there have been seasons where I haven't been so thrilled, as I grew through my discomforts and surrendered some of my own expectations so I could truly be Damien's partner in our outdoor adventures.

We both made sacrifices for common goals and pursuits. And we don't regret those decisions for a minute.

After we had been hiking a couple years we made a commitment to one day a week outdoors together as a family, with hiking as our "go-to" activity. Setting aside a whole day allowed us to factor in travel time, up to 90 minutes one way. The mountains of western Maine were our stomping grounds.

We loved the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire. A seed was planted.

family summit mountain

Back up the story a little bit to when Brienne was still in diapers. There was a fateful camping trip with our church in which we borrowed two car loads of gear, and used a ladder to hang tarps in the trees. (If you are at all familiar with our lightweight philosophy you know this makes us cringe now to think of it. And it made Damien thoroughly frustrated at the time also.)

The tarps didn't help. It rained for two days and we packed up our preschoolers, who were having the time of their lives, and vowed to never again go camping. I remember the talk we had. Camping was no fun, why would we subject ourselves to that again?

Well, it's obvious we reconsidered that stance. We realized that camping, specifically tenting, and scaling down our gear so it could handily fit in a family car (no truck needed), was an affordable way for a family of five, living on one income, to travel and go places.

car camping light

So started our camping journey.

And then one year we put the two together - hiking and camping. It's called backpacking. Carrying all your gear and food on your back and setting up camp in the wilderness (or at a designated wilderness camping spot).

Wilderness camping isn't so unique, lots of men, especially young men are drawn to this. But to pursue something like this with kiddos and a petite wife requires a lot of thought and planning. Thankfully, Damien is a technical guy with a gift for research and patience to try out different ideas.

This is where lightweight gear became not just nice but necessary.

And so we started a years' long process of evaluating our needs, buying what we could afford, selling old gear and upgrading to new gear when we could. We saved our money, hunted for sales, and even wrote gear reviews to help us acquire what we needed, always with an eye towards a long term, lightweight philosophy - for living and backpacking.

hiking up

The Appalachian Trail

For years I knew that Damien dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. When he first mentioned it I thought it was an insane idea. I was incredulous that people actually wanted to do that.

The Appalachian Trail is an approximately 2,000-mile (3,200-km) footpath through the Appalachian Mountains of the United States from central Maine to northern Georgia. Thru-hiking is the process of hiking a long distance trail from end to end. The term thru-hiking is most commonly associated with the Appalachian Trail but is used for other lengthy trails as well.

I relegated thru-hiking the AT to the back corner of my mind, in a box labeled Damien's Dreams. I keep these dreams in the dark recesses of my mind because my very literal, and detail-oriented brain can only handle so many out-of-the-box ideas at one time. And let's just say freedom homeschooling takes up a lot of that space!

Katahdin summit

Over the years, as we hiked, nearly every weekend and started backpacking on a regular basis, I warmed to the idea of thru-hiking. I had many, many questions about how we would accomplish such a feat but Damien is a patient problem solver, and I knew that if I said I was willing to do it, he would figure out the way.

Part of the reason we moved two years ago, leaving our restrictive visa-status in the US to start over again in Canada (with the freedom to build our own livelihood), was so that we could actually make something like long term hiking happen, if we wanted to.

It was last March when I told Damien "yes" I would do this. Not just follow him in a journey of epic proportions, but be his partner.

Renee backpacking

We set a date. (Sounds like getting married. But that's what marriage is, saying, "I'll be your partner" over and over again. It's good.)

We decided to thru-hike the AT in 2014. Very similar to the way we set a date for our move back to Canada and planned, saved, and schemed the means to make that happen.

We made that decision over one year ago. Last March thru-hiking shifted from dream state to planning state. And nearly every decision we've made since that time, from where we rent, the purchases we make, to the projects we pursue, have been through the lens of "will this help us reach our thru-hiking goal?"

Thru-hiking the AT started as Damien's dream, became an idea I was willing to consider, and then an idea I fully supported, and now is a project in motion.

I thought it was about time I told you. Officially.

kids with backpacks

Next year our family will be thru-hiking the AT

This is a journey (just getting there, never mind completing it) full of logistical complications, physical difficulties, and potential set backs.

We have children we have to provide and care for and so this is not a do-or-die dream (Mt. Katahdin or Bust). Our children's well being is our primary concern. But barring a major disaster or injury (one of my biggest concerns) or completely running out of funds (a possibility?) we plan to hike from Georgia to Maine over the course of six months, through the Spring and Summer of 2014.

We have many reasons for wanting to do this. And I will be sharing those in coming posts.

Thru-hiking the AT is at the forefront of our family life now and so I will be talking about that a lot here. I will be talking about the why's and how's as we countdown to this next big adventure. And we will be sharing our adventure, while doing it. But one thing at a time.

Hiking cape chignecto in mist

If you're new to FIMBY this may be the first time you've heard of thru-hiking. For those of you who have followed my blog for awhile I have been talking about this dream, indirectly and directly, for a few years already. I don't think this comes as much of a surprise to those of you who've been around a few years.

It's just about time I announced it officially since AT preparations are going be a dominant theme in our life for the next year. And as a family story blog I want to start writing more publicly about these plans.

For those of you who find this kind of family adventure intriguing (some of you no doubt will think we're crazy, that's ok, I'm used to that) you may have questions. I am happy to answer those here, though some of my answers may be "I don't know, we haven't crossed that bridge yet".

stream crossing

I will tell you that Damien is the expedition guide and I am his assistant. As such, he has an overall clearer picture than I do about many pieces to this puzzle. At least, I'm hoping he does. Ha! Ha!

If you have questions please fire away in comments. Anything goes - questions about food, finances, physical fitness, homeschooling on the trail, gear, housing, motivating kids and teens, and more. And of course I'm sure you're all wondering what minimalist shoes we'll be wearing. Oh right. Wrong blog.

vibram five fingers
my first pair of minimalist shoes - vibram five fingers circa 2008

I probably won't be able to answer all those questions in comments but your questions will help inform future posts about this adventure. We are doing this hike primarily for our own family and to reach our goals but we also want to encourage other families who have similar dreams. Even if your dream is not to thru-hike the AT I bet you have others, and we'd like to help you make those happen.

Our family is hosting the story of our thru-hike at our other blog Toe Salad. Please visit Our 2014 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike page for more details. To follow my more personal journey, as a mother/homemaker/homeschooler (and at times reluctant hiker) preparing for our thru-hike, see my Appalachian Trail category of posts here at FIMBY.
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  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on May 27, 2013, 1:57 a.m.

    It's official and public, YES! I can't wait to hear more about this. Since reading the "Wild" memoir by Cheryl Strayed, I understand a lot of the more logistical aspects of thru-hiking (like the pick up boxes, etc.). Are your kids hesitant hikers or are they as excited as you are? I'm interested to see how an already minimalist family pares it down even more. :)

    BTW, are you taking any technology? Probably not, eh? I'll miss the posts for 6 months, as I'm sure others will. What a huge goal accomplished!

    Sarah M


    • renee

      renee on May 27, 2013, 11:16 a.m.

      You better believe we're taking technology! We will be sharing our hike, as we do it. I couldn't stop writing for 6 months! I"ll be sharing more about that in the future. And also addressing the kid's interest and hesitancies.


      • Sarah M

        Sarah M on May 27, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

        Ah! Big sigh of relief over here that we get to hear all about it as it's going on! As I read in some of the other comments, why is this trail a little bit more challenging than the others that were mentioned? Do you know how many miles, roughly, you'll be going (averaging) each day to do it in 6 months or will you take time off to see some of the cities along the way? 

        We just did a lot of hiking with our kids this weekend locally, and we all had a blast. On Saturday we went one an easy 1.5 miler in a local park about a mile away from our house. In the afternoon after lunch and our rest time, we took the kids over to Canada (yup, we just hop on over!) and there is a beautiful and large park called  Cambell Valley (horse, biking, hiking, etc.) and did a 2.8 miler. The kids ran the whole time! It was cool but sunny and quite a lovely hike.

        The next morning we let the kids choose our route and did about 1.6 miles just for a quick jaunt outside. Not too bad for a 4 & 5 year old, I think!

        Sarah M


        • renee

          renee on May 28, 2013, 12:11 p.m.

          Sarah, The AT is the easiest of the three (really) long distance trails in the US. There are some shorter, but still long distance trails around the countries. We didn't consider any of those because of the fondness we have for the AT (we've hiked portions of it in Maine and NH) and also the social aspect of the AT. 

          We hope to average 15 miles or so/day but we will not start at that pace. We will start slower. We will make regular town stops, every 4-5 days for food. At these stops we will also wash our clothes, use internet access, and eat copious amounts of whatever is available (if our experience is like that of every other thru-hiker we've read about). We don't plan to "visit" these towns per se in the usual tourist sense - we'll be there to re-supply. During some of these town visits we will also stay in hostels/hotels/motels for a break from the trail. And we hope to also stay in people's homes - people we meet through our blogs and also people who might follow our journey while we're on the trail.



          • renee

            renee on May 28, 2013, 6:14 p.m.

            Sarah, let's amend that to 12-15 miles. I don't always have the best sense of these things (smile). We we start slower and probably have some stretches that we do longer mileage and then the Whites will slow us down again at the end. Or so, my thinking goes...


            • Chris Wallace

              Chris Wallace on May 28, 2013, 6:17 p.m.

              That sounds about right. Most people start in the 8-10 range IIRC, are usually doing 20+ in VA, and then drop back down some in the NE. Most people also start with ridic packs and far too much gear which won't be an issue for you guys.


            • Sarah M

              Sarah M on May 28, 2013, 11:36 p.m.

              Very interesting. From the PCT and Strayed's 20-22 miles/day, I was wondering what the kids would do! Your estimation seems really do-able for a family of already experienced hikers.

              So many people here are cheering you on!

              Sarah M



          • Beth B

            Beth B on June 24, 2013, 2:51 p.m.

            Renee, we live 45 minutes (via car) from Wind Gap, PA. We could help with stocking up and getting laundry done in Wind Gap by providing transport. Or you could stay with us on your way through, for a break from the trail. We could pick you up in Wind Gap and bring you here (and then back, of course). Showers, beds, plenty of food, a swimming pool (July & August), washer/dryer/clotheslines, some AC, Internet access (my husband says it's slow). Just let us know.

            Our family has been blessed and challenged by your family's example. We'd love to meet all of you. We homeschool our three daughters (6, 6, and 8) and enjoy being outdoors. We're in Hunterdon County, NJ, out in the country (Alexandria Township). Well, for New Jersey it's country, LOL. Our hardware store doesn't close for lunch. ;)

            One thought I had was that you could set up sponsorships for trail miles. People could sponsor 25 miles or 50 miles or whatever. Perhaps Damien knows if other thru-hikers do this?


            • renee

              renee on June 24, 2013, 3:42 p.m.

              Beth, Yes! We would love a PA break and support on the trail. I will send you a private e-mail. We used to live in NJ, Bergen County. 

              PS. Trail "sponsorships" sound cool. Many thru-hikers are assisted along the way by friends, family and strangers. It's part of what makes the hike such a wonderful experience - the people you meet along the way!


            • Kimbely

              Kimbely on July 19, 2013, 4:36 p.m.

              Hi Renee and neighbor of Hunterdon County,

              I would love to assist you also when you hit PA, I'm also in Hunterdon County- High Bridge, and need to look at my map to see how far away we are from Alexandria township..sure it's not far at all, we are also about 45-60 min away from the trail at the gap.  No pool at our house, but we do have floor space (some air mattresses) to crash on along with a washer / dryer / hot shower and a loving black lab named Bella along with a funky cat Spice.  Yes, and plenty of food!  I can't wait for your journey to begin this has been a dream of mine also..more recently than when I was younger but I don't think I would be able to make it..I've always had bad knees since a child (not much cartilage between my joints) that at times causes much pain...luckily switching to a plant based diet has really helped but I still get pain especially when I hike.  We actually did part of the trail last Oct  (7.6 miles) up to Sunfish Pond and while my two boys (8 & 6) were not thrilled, Bella loved it and I suffered coming back down to our starting point...so I will live vicariously through you, your family and your upcoming adventures.  Would love the opportunity to meet the family one day..wishing you god speed on your journey!


  • Sarah

    Sarah on May 27, 2013, 3:14 a.m.

    I am so excited to hear every detail! I have a lot of questions, but mostly out of curiosity rather than need (if that makes sense?). I'm smiling ear-to-ear! Woohhoo!! Three (perhaps 5 is better?) cheers for the big-dreamin' and hard-workin' (and generally inspiring) Tougas family!!


    • Sarah

      Sarah on May 27, 2013, 3:16 a.m.

      **Hard working not in the aimless way... but the purposeful way--to make dreams come true. Just wanted to clarify. 


    • renee

      renee on May 27, 2013, 11:26 a.m.

      Curiosity is ok. I have learned a lot from simply being curious about other people's lives. I may not make the same choices other people do, but I can always learn something.


  • Katja

    Katja on May 27, 2013, 6:08 a.m.

    It is already two years ago that you have moved? Time flies! Congratulation for your plan! It´s sounds great! I love the post too! We have 3 small kids and we are starting to hike in near future! You are real inspiration to me!


  • Jason Elsworth

    Jason Elsworth on May 27, 2013, 6:36 a.m.

    Fantastic news. You will be living out a dream of mine that I will almost certainly never be able to make come true. To be able to do this as a family is a wonderful thing and I look forward to following your fantastic adventure together.


  • Christi

    Christi on May 27, 2013, 11:36 a.m.

    How exciting!  We have hiked the very bottom of the AT (I've lived in GA all my life) & a couple of my cousins have done the entire thru-hike.  What an amazing adventure for your family!  I can't wait to read all about it!


  • Amber

    Amber on May 27, 2013, 12:04 p.m.

    We are a family of three, soon to be family of four. My husband and I have been hiking together for years, pre kids. We have continued to hike and backpack with our little boy starting when he was just weeks old. Now he is two and it is getting a little harder to outfit him and to find gear to accommodate his size. Where did you find gear for your kids, ESP backpacks, when they were smaller. Getting kids lightweight gear has been out biggest struggle so far. Thru hiking has always been a dream for us. I can't wait to hear about it!


    • Theresa

      Theresa on May 27, 2013, 7:37 p.m.

      We hike almost every weekend with our two kids and hope to continue as we have more.  Our daughter is currently 3.5yo and our son is 21mo.  We really like the REI Sprig 12 pack for them.  We waited to buy them the packs until they were walking more than not (around 18mo for each of them) and at first they only carry an empty backpack, but they love them.  Once they are used to the backpack we add lightweight snacks followed by water and eventually a jacket and maybe a favorite toy.  The pack is a bit big on them when they first start, but since it is pretty empty neither kid has had a problem with it and it grows really well with them (it claims to be for a 5-8yo so it should last quite a while).  The pack has a pouch so that you can add a hydration pack once they are ready for it and it is pretty much big enough for water, food, a jacket and some basic emergency supplies once they are older so it will carry what they need while being hard to overfill once they are packing it themselves.  It also has a built-in whistle on the chest strap.


  • Amy

    Amy on May 27, 2013, 12:27 p.m.

    This all sounds like quite the adventure! I love to see a family pursuing their dreams. I look forward to reading more about it. 


  • Nancy

    Nancy on May 27, 2013, 12:35 p.m.

    I can't believe all your hair, in that first picture with Brienne! :)

    Good luck, I think this will be a great experience for all of you. I'm sure you know this already, but don't miss reading Bill Bryson's book on hiking the AT.


    • renee

      renee on May 27, 2013, 12:47 p.m.

      Nancy, my hair is almost that long now! 

      We started, but never finished Bryson's book. We didn't find it inspirational or very enlightening. I can't exactly put my finger on why, it was three or four years already. And I've forgotten what exactly turned us off, but I know we didn't finish it. I have a thru-hiking friend here, he's done the AT twice, and he feels the same way and even says the thru-hiking community in general were not big fans of the book.  

      I find most thru-hiking tales wanting, mostly because they are almost always about singles or individuals leaving behind family to do it. I am inspired by families doing difficult things. 


      • amy g.

        amy g. on May 27, 2013, 4:03 p.m.

        I think your AT adventures with your family could be a book in the making, especially if there is not a detailed family one out there...!


  • Alison

    Alison on May 27, 2013, 1:13 p.m.

    Look forward to hearing more!

    I guess, in terms of questions, I'd like to hear more about what attracted Damien to the Appalachian Trail as a project for the family (as opposed to other hiking routes, like the route in the north of Spain that some people do as a pilgrimage).

    Is it the size of the challenge? I know a lot of people like 'Munro-bagging' in Scotland (climbing nearly 300 mountains over a certain height), so I wondered if it were similar. Or are there other factors that make the AT particularly appealing?

    I'm also interested in how you plan to do the food side of things - that's an awful lot of food dehydrating to prepare for...


    • renee

      renee on May 27, 2013, 1:58 p.m.

      The AT is most appealing to us at this point because we don't have to fly a family of five to do it. Damien is not inspired by the Camino de Santiago. It's not as physically challenging and anyone who can walk and  set up a sleeping bag in a hostel can do it. We want something a bit more challenging. We want to challenge ourselves a bit, which is one of our missions for this hike. To teach our kids life lessons about challenges. And to teach ourselves.

      We choose the AT specifically, over the PCT or CDT because it's the easiest to access for us on the east, has the most supply points, is a terrain we are familiar with (I don't want to hike in the desert) and is the most social long trail in the US. We LOVE meeting people. And a few of our family members, three of us, are extroverts. We want our kids to meet interesting people. We are not interested in being hermits.

      So those are the reasons for picking the AT. 

      We dream of hiking Scotland one day. That might be a couple-only trip. We only have eight more years of being responsible for funding kid's traveling with us. They may live with us for some time yet but we will not be funding their adult lives .

      Re: Food - I talked a little bit about that in this comment on an older post. I will be talking more about that in the future. It's one of the biggest issues of hiking a trail like this with kids - keeping everyone fed & healthy. Like at home, only without all the grocery stores!


  • Charity Johnson

    Charity Johnson on May 27, 2013, 1:34 p.m.

    Oh, I have a million questions, but maybe that is because I am a "question asker"...I think that is my "unofficial" phrase to explain my intense curiosity about the HOW.

    How do you plan, prepare, and pack food for a trip like this?

    This might be a silly question, but I really don't know (as we have only ever done day hikes and have not researched anything beyond that.....yet) Can you add to your supplies as you need? Can you add some veggies three months into the trip somehow? Is there a stopping point along the trail for that?

    Are you starting in Georgia or Maine?

    What about growth spurts? Are you packing gear that is a bit big for them so if the kids decide to have a huge growth spurt they will have shoes that will fit at the end of the journey? I only ask this because last fall Kaylynn grew so fast that we were trading her shoes out every month and we just let her wear too short pants because we simply could not keep up with her growth.

    What are the kids most excited about? What are you most excited about?

    What are everyone's fears/hesitations?

    If you are ending in Maine, would you be up to having a "party" meet you at the end for a HUGE congrats?

    I think this is enough questions for now, but I have more brewing. I look forward to hearing more about your trip, and I am so excited for your family!





    • renee

      renee on May 27, 2013, 2:07 p.m.

      Food - yes, Charity, that is the big one (food and finances both) and we will be writing dedicated posts to that topic for sure. But I wanted to tell you a few things first. We will only be carrying 3-5 days of food at a time, until we hit the 100 mile wilderness in Maine, but we'll be experienced by then (smile). We will be resupplying at the many towns along the route. We will also be mailing food packages to ourselves. The dehydrated stuff mostly. 

      We will buy new supplies and gear in general, in the even of a growth spurt lets say, along the way. There are outfitters. Our tents and packs and most of our clothes should last the trip but I'm sure we'll have to replace some things as we go.

      Our route is Georgia to Maine. And yes we can party when we get there!


  • Kathleen

    Kathleen on May 27, 2013, 2:42 p.m.

    So excited to follow you and your family on this journey. My uncle thru-hiked the AT when I was very small (30+ years ago) and I remember he and his hiking partner coming to our house for a short break and soaking many hours away in our wooden hot tub. My strongest memory is of their very impressive beards! :) I've hiked short sections of the AT in a few different states but now that I live in the Southwest, it's a long ways away. Can't wait to hear more about your plans for food preparation, what gear you're bringing, and how you'll be physically preparing for the hike.


  • amy g.

    amy g. on May 27, 2013, 3:58 p.m.

    What a wonderful adventure! I just read Tsh's plans to travel around the world before I read your AT plans. I am eager to read all about bothe of your trips, planning stages and all :)

    I am a homeschooling mom who lives northeast of Atlanta and have relatives who live in Sautee, GA (very close to the start of the AT), so please do not hesitate to email me with any questions you may have... I might just be able to help! :)


    • amy g.

      amy g. on May 27, 2013, 3:59 p.m.

      and that would be both... unless we lived in Renaissance times when it seemed that both was spelled in all manner of ways ;)


    • renee

      renee on June 2, 2013, 8:39 p.m.

      Thank you Amy! We have some other contacts in northern Georgia also (people we met through blogging). It seems we will be well received when we arrive and get started on our journey.


  • christyb

    christyb on May 27, 2013, 4:23 p.m.

    Thank you so much for sharing (and continuing to share) your family's dream!  When my husband and I were first married, hiking on our honeymoon, we ran across a bit of the Superior Hiking Trail here in MN.  Reading about your preparations reminds me I once had thoughts (those 15-years-ago thoughts) that we should come back and do more, maybe much more, of that gorgeous trail.  Now that our girls are getting older, maybe it's time to revisit those thoughts!  Thank you for the inspiration.


  • Alaina

    Alaina on May 27, 2013, 5:32 p.m.

    I would like to hear more posts about your gear.  Specifically, where you have found good gear on a budget for kids.  I am continually frustrated as we are getting into more outdoor things as a family (I already have an outdoor background) that I can't find much good for kids.  It seems that most stuff starts fitting better for kids 10 and up.  Specifically, packs.  We cannot find a pack that works for our oldest.  Any ideas what to try?  She is tall and slim and sensitive to the way things feel.  The "little life" brand packs I've seen are WAY too small although they work great for toddler/preschool.  I am talking specfically for day trips- but with the idea that they get used to hauling a few things on their back at this age and then when they are older they will be more used to it....  So anything on gear you've found for children around age 4-10 would be helpful.  


  • Theresa

    Theresa on May 27, 2013, 7:53 p.m.

    How exciting, I was wondering if you guys were planning a trip based on previous posts.  I found your blogs a year or so ago and they have really helped push our family back outdoors.  My husband and I both loved hiking, camping and backpacking before we had kids, but somehow we stopped really doing them regularly once we were out of college.  Almost a year ago now I found your blog and we decided to give the one day a week outside a try and it has been a great thing for our family.  We are still working out the logistics and our kids (ages 3.5yo and 21mo) are begging to go camping, but we only have a small car and are expecting a third child.  I would love a post on how to fit car camping gear for a family of 5 into a passenger car.  I would also love to hear more about how you trasitioned your kids from hiking to backpacking.  What age was your youngest and how much of the gear did you wind up carrying?  We aren't there yet, but we live near some wonderful backpacking opportunties (including the Grand Canyon) and would LOVE to take our kids once they are old enough.  


  • Jamie {See Jamie Blog}

    Jamie {See Jamie Blog} on May 27, 2013, 9:34 p.m.

    Wow!!!! Can't wait to hear more about it. I'm here in Georgia so wave when you're down here! ;)

    Because I'm so close to the start of the AT, I've entertained (for about 5 minutes) the idea of hiking it, but can't even fathom doing it all in one stint. Seriously awesome.



  • Luke Schmidt

    Luke Schmidt on May 27, 2013, 11:02 p.m.

    Wow it will be really cool to follow your progress on this.  

    I did most of the Colorado Trail (409 miles) in 2010 and learned a couple things that might be useful too you.  Also I lived near the Virgninia AT so I know some about the southern end of the trail.  Here are a few tips.

    1.  Clean your socks!   On a two or three day trip socks don't get all that dirty but after 7 or 8 days my socks got really gritty and hand washing never seemed to be enough.  Dirty socks made blisters and hot spots even worse.  Wool socks wear out faster so you might consider synthetic.

    2.  Budget carefully!  I ended up spending a lot more money then I'd planned on.  I bought more food in trail towns then I expected too and I spent nights in hotels that I didn't plan on.  I don't think you can or should plan every single stop of a 2000 mile trip but its worth thinking about.  You will be tempted to stop when you are tired and dirty or when a hiking friend is stopping. 

    3.  Rain gets worse over the long haul.  On a two or three day trip rain is no big deal but being out in it day after day gets tiring.  Make sure your rain coats have comfortable hoods even if that makes them a bit heavier.  Quick drying clothes are good.  I switched from a wool shirt to a synthetic one and it seemed to dry a lot faster.   

    4.  Budget for some gear to wear out.  You'll be replacing shoes, and socks for sure.  You'll probably also have to replace a few random things.  You might rip a hole in a raincoat, wear out a sleeping pad or otherwise destroy a few things.  2100 miles puts a lot of wear and tear on gear.  I'd probably budget $200 or so for gear replacements (remember you may not be able to bargin hunt if a critical peice of gear fails suddenly).    

    5.  Most stores along the AT probably won't stock ultralight gear or barefoot style shoes.  You'll probably have to mail order these.  However shoe stores and stores like Dick's Sporting Goods (pretty common in the US) may have Merrell and New Balance minimalist shoes.  

    6.  Since you're up north you may not have encountered poison ivy.  You will deftnately see it in the south.  Not a big deal just know what it is.  

    Well good luck, it should be a cool trip.  



  • Andrea

    Andrea on May 28, 2013, 1:16 a.m.

    What a great adventure!  We live in VT, and the AT has been a dream of mine for years, having done just the high peaks of VT so far.  It has been a long term goal of mine as the kids get older.  My oldest will be 13 this summer, and I was thinking when he was 16 we could sort of push through it pretty quickly in one summer (finishing in ME).  I am excited to follow along and see how it goes for you and younger kids.  I found that last summer, when my boys were 10 and 12, I could hardly keep up with them anymore.  Their abilities changed in one season!!  Best wishes on an awesome adventure!!


    • renee

      renee on May 28, 2013, 11:46 a.m.

      We are taking 6 months to hike. Starting in Georgia, we will go as far as we can get. Our kids will be 15, 13 & 11 next summer.


      • Andrea

        Andrea on May 28, 2013, 11:51 a.m.

        Maybe I will need to rethink waiting!  You have inspired me to start checking out parts of the trail this summer.  So much fun to even just think about and start planning.


        • renee

          renee on May 28, 2013, 12:13 p.m.

          Yes, why wait? Waiting is sometimes just an excuse to put things off (smile). But of course there is the planning and saving stage, which is important but waiting for the perfect time is a myth.


  • Hilaree

    Hilaree on May 28, 2013, 1:22 a.m.

    Hi there!

    I'm one of your regular, homeschooling mama readers, and love following what your family is doing!  Just wanted to offer our home in case you need anything while passing through New Hampshire!  May the Almighty make your paths straight!  So excited for you!  Send me an email if you'd like my contact info.  


    Hilaree (wife to a writer and mama to three wild children)


  • Brian Green

    Brian Green on May 28, 2013, 1:25 p.m.

    Ditto to what Chris said. When you have the dates set please let me know. I'd love to come and hike for a few days with you along the AT and can definitely help out while you're all in my neck of the woods :) Exciting times ahead for all of you - I'm very jealous and will be reading your updates with great interest.


  • Springfever

    Springfever on May 28, 2013, 1:59 p.m.

    Exciting. I would love to get out there one more time, but those days have come and gone for me.


  • Aimee

    Aimee on May 28, 2013, 1:59 p.m.

    I am thrilled for you all!  I love reading hiking memoirs...am about to read Up. I would love to hike the AT...at least portions of it...praying for wisdom and grace as you attempt this as a family.  Do you know of other families who have done the AT with children?


  • Springfever

    Springfever on May 28, 2013, 2:05 p.m.

    There are many families that have completed the AT with children. In 2000, I hiked with a family with six children, one an infant, who called themselves the Family from the North.


    • renee

      renee on May 28, 2013, 2:12 p.m.

      Springfever, I think "many" is relative (smile). I'm wondering if the number is in the dozens? We've encountered so few families hiking, period. It's hard for me to imagine the AT littered with thru-hiking families.


  • Rachel

    Rachel on May 28, 2013, 5:03 p.m.

    Do you use any bug repellant when you're hiking? We live in an area that is FULL of tics and very high risk for lymes disease.


    • renee

      renee on June 2, 2013, 8:35 p.m.

      We use natural or natural-ish products (I don't recognize the names of all the ingredients in some of repellents we've tried over the years) regularly when we hike around here in the worst of bug season, June & July, but our first line of defense is long clothing. Ticks are not a big problem where we live and neither is heat.

      The reality will be different on the trail! We will use our usual strategy and adapt to our environment, using other strategies (occasional DEET?) as necessary on the trail. The benefit of having 4 hiking partners and tent-mates is that someone can help you do a tick check at the end of the day.


  • Danielle Lyndon

    Danielle Lyndon on May 28, 2013, 7:04 p.m.

    I have been waiting for this announcement! I read your blogs everyday - think you guys are amazing, creative and courageous to follow your own path and so I want to say congratulations on having this as a family goal and now making it a reality.

    Danielle Lyndon



  • Misti

    Misti on May 29, 2013, 12:28 a.m.

    I'm definitely excited for your journey! I highly recommend the Barefoot Sisters set for reading. I read it post AT and savored it so much, especially when shelters were still in my head. I read AWOL's book pre-hike and it was helpful too. 

    The AT is a trip of a lifetime (unless you are Baltimore Jack and then it is many trips)...savor it but don't let the mental game beat you up, because it will try. 

    I know some people plan the heck out of their hike but it seemed most folks I knew ditched their strict plans within a few hundred miles and learned to be flexible. We 'planned' our maildrops and resupplies for six months and finished in five. 

    The Pox and Puss podcast is great to listen to---not for children---but I find myself nodding all the time with all of the reminiscing. Definitely stay at Woods Hole hostel, definitely stay at the hostel in Manchester Center, and definitely stay at Blueberry Patch. I was very meh at Standing Bear---overpriced and there was some drug culture there. 


    • renee

      renee on May 29, 2013, 10:47 a.m.

      Thanks Misti! I will add Barefoot Sisters to my to-read list. 

      We are not hyper-planning our hike. We will not be pre-planning where we're staying (which shelters, which days) or how many miles we're doing each day. That might work for a single person, though like you say, not very well. But for 5 people I just can't imagine putting us under that kind of pressure.

      I just read about Woods Hole yesterday and then found it online, looks lovely. 

      I've started reading some trail journals. Damien has been reading and thinking about the logistics of a thru-hike for years. I haven't. I need to bring myself up to speed. But of course it's easy for me to reach overwhelm pretty quickly (which is why I don't think about things I don't need to) so I don't think too much - just one step at a time. 


    • Springfever

      Springfever on May 29, 2013, 11:56 a.m.

      "unless you are Baltimore Jack.." Or, unless you are Warren Doyle with his 16 end-to-ends.


  • Springfever

    Springfever on May 29, 2013, 12:25 p.m.

    Are you planning to start in Georgia and go north, or in Maine and go south? Very different experiences.


    • renee

      renee on May 29, 2013, 12:29 p.m.

      Georgia to Maine. Going this way because of weather conditions and timing and to work up the fitness required for the northern parts of the trail. 


  • Rana

    Rana on May 30, 2013, 1:03 p.m.

    I'm so excited for your family.  I have been waiting for a while to hear when you were going to spll more info on your family hike. What an AWESOME adventure.    You are going to have some great stories to tell. I can't wait to read your upcoming posts on it.


  • Michelle

    Michelle on May 30, 2013, 6:08 p.m.

    I don't think anyone has asked this yet...do you carry a gun or any other weapon for safety (for protection from bear or cougars, etc...or strange people??). Just wondering.


    • Springfever

      Springfever on May 30, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

      Absolutely not. First, it isn't necessary. Second, it is generally unlawful, since must of the trail is on public land. Third, it's a lot of extra weight to carry. It's safer walking on the AT than it is walking down the street in a metropolitan area.


    • renee

      renee on May 30, 2013, 8:45 p.m.

      No gun (smile).


  • Kim

    Kim on May 31, 2013, 1:11 a.m.

    (jumping up and down) YAY!! So excited for you all!!  I know you're super busy, however I would like to throw my gear question into the ring with some of the other Mamas.  I have three small humans (7.5, 5.5 and 4.5)  We are planning to start backpacking with them this summer and are having the darndest time finding small, lightweight packs that would hold a 2lb down sleeping bag.  I've hiked long distances on the AT over the years and am planning to take my boys on a Thru Hike in 3 years.  Needless to say, we'll be following your adventure avidly.


  • Sara @ GaijinMom

    Sara @ GaijinMom on May 31, 2013, 6:55 a.m.

    This is awesome!  I grew up hiking and camping in the White Mountains, and hiking the AT has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl myself!  I'm really interested to hear what the kids think about it.  Keep it up!


  • Denny

    Denny on June 1, 2013, 5:25 p.m.

    I love this idea!  I would like to do a thru-hike, but my husband is not as convinced as I am. However, in the fall we are planning to backpack some sections of the Arizona Trail. Even that small part of the trail will require plenty of planning. We already have shuttle reservations, permits and campground reservations for the start of our trail, maps for the entire trail, and started accumulating trail food. We'll see how that goes and perhaps we'll reach an understanding for whether we do a full thru-hike or just do sections. I'll be reading your preparations with interest. I find that the preparation is just as fun as the adventure. The preparation also helps you deal with glitches that arise, too. There will be glitches. To prepare yourself mentally, start reading some of the trail journals/blogs. I enjoy Karen Berger's writings, so you might look for her books/articles. All the best!


  • tammy edwards

    tammy edwards on June 1, 2013, 10:19 p.m.

    i am going to confess, i am just a rookie. we live in northeast louisiana and are definitely wildife people.  for 20 years i have wanted to hike the appalachian trail.  my husband does not have this dream in any tiny way.  : )  i have been working on my grandchildren, hoping they might be interested in a few years.  it will be awesome to follow your family - wish i was doing it physically too.  thank you for relaying the adventure to us!!

    btw - i have just about 5 million questions for  you if you have nothing to do one day  : ).

    enjoy yourselves!!



    • renee

      renee on June 2, 2013, 8:27 p.m.

      I wish I had time to answer your questions or chat about this but a lot of what I'd say at this point is "we're figuring it out" (smile). We will go into this adventure with certain elements figured out or at least planned for - our gear and general food ideas - but a lot of it will be figured out while we're doing it. And coming to terms with this very fact is difficult for me. That there will be a lot of unknowns until I actually experience it and figure out how to make it work. 

      You're welcome to join us for a day hike or a few days on the trail. We'll have time then to answer your 5 million questions - lots of time!

      And honestly, I feel like a rookie also. I've done short multi-day backpacking trips, and lots of hiking, but never lived on the trail, like I will for this adventure, none of us have. Most people come to the AT as relative rookies (smile).


  • Kristen Cochran

    Kristen Cochran on June 3, 2013, 1:40 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    My big question is, as is always with anyone who goes ahead and pursues their dreams is, what about work?  What kind of work does your husband do that he can take 6 months off to do this?  My dream is to travel cross country in an airstream trailer with my family but my husband works as an executive in a bank and he can't take that kind of time off.  Also, I don't homeschool my kids, so how do I take them out of school for that length of time?  My oldest will be in college in the fall, so he certainly wouldn't be able to join us.  My second oldest will be a junior in high school, the pivotal year when they take their SATs and start their college searching, and my pre-adolescent daughter would just cringe at the thought of leaving her friends and going where the Starbucks shops are far and few between.  I feel like it's too late.  Maybe have to wait til my husband retires and kids are grown but then I worry about health issues.  What would you suggest?  I always feel like anyone who takes on this kind of endeavour must be independently weathy.  I just don't know how people pursue their dreams without having to work for the money they need to supply their dreams.  Any advice?



    • renee

      renee on June 3, 2013, 2:14 p.m.

      Kristen, I hope to answer this question in more detail at some point (it's such a good question!) but here's my brief response.  

      There are families living their dreams on shoestring budgets. In fact, the families I have encountered, online mostly, who are living their dreams of travel and adventure are not wealthy, at all (they are rich in experiences). They are creative and resourceful and choose to live below their means in many areas to save and to spend their earnings in support of their goals vs. in support of the "american dream". 

      One family you might look to are the Millers. Their FAQ page answer the work & finances question from their experience. And I totally echo what they say:

      How does anyone afford anything? By making it a priority.


      The obvious answers: spend less than you make and save like crazy… or… reinvent yourself and your career so that you can live and work anywhere.


      Anyone can travel if they are willing to do with less (now and while traveling) and if they are willing to take the time to really plan it out, set goals and make it happen.

      The other piece of the puzzle is this: find a way to make money WHILE you are traveling. You know, like making your trip into a really cool Virtual Field Trip that families everywhere will want to share with their kids!

      In our case, we work for ourselves and have location independent work. We made a huge change in our lives 2 years ago - basically starting over again after building a life in Maine, USA so we could be free to do what we want. We gave up a well paying and secure job so we could have freedom to follow our dreams of adventure and travel. You can find more about that here.

      I do plan to answer more in-depth the "how we're making it work" for us to do this adventure but the short answer is setting goals (for employment even that supports the goals), prioritizing your life around those goals, and then making the choices and sacrifices in working towards those goals.

      We all need money to live but everyone, at least in the first world (and I feel so weird even talking like this) gets a lot of choice in how they will earn that money and how it will be spent. And this is where the making dreams reality happens. How are you using the flow of money in your life (it's just a tool), right now, to support your goals and desires?

      As for the school question I really have no idea, except that I do believe where there's a will, there's a way.

      You know, you might really appreciate Discover, Share, Inspire blog. Specifically the first six chapters of their new book (you can get them for free. I just did and they are very motivational and tell-it-like-it-is in terms of making family dreams a reality. You will lose the independently wealthy myth reading these.)

      There is a whole movement of families out there who are doing the seemingly impossible with their lives - experience travel and adventure with their kids, not waiting till retirement to live their dreams. 

      Also, I really recommend Mr. Money Mustache for inspiration and advice on making financial dreams a reality through the age old practice of living below your means and the modern one of critically evaluating our cultural expectations and excess. Very thought provoking stuff.


  • Kristen Cochran

    Kristen Cochran on June 3, 2013, 4:51 p.m.

    WOW!  Thank you so much for your speedy, thoughtful and insightful response.  I will look into all the links you provided.  You are an inspiration and I look forward to hearing all about the adventure for even further inspiration.



  • Laura

    Laura on June 4, 2013, 1:30 a.m.

    Please remember back to my prior offer of a place to stay here in beautiful Rangeley, ME.  Since it's a frequent AT stop-over, please, please let us host you for a night (or two or 10!)  We have the apartment still but if it happens to be rented next year, you can crash with us (if you don't mind 3 girls, 1 cat and 11 chickens).  Please, keep us in mind.  I'd love to meet your family and would be thrilled to at least feed you a hot meal that you don't have to cook!!! xx


    • renee

      renee on June 4, 2013, 11:08 a.m.

      Yes! I remember and we would love to stay with and meet your family. Obviously I can't make plans till closer to the time but we definitely would love to take you up on your offer.


  • stephinie

    stephinie on June 18, 2013, 6:39 p.m.

    SThis is amazing Renee! I can't wait to see it all unfold. I just hope you are able to blog the process next summer in your stops on the trail. My husband has wanted to hike the AT since before we were "us". I've always thought after kids..... but this totally inspires me to consider doing it in a few years when our youngest is older. How old is your youngest? Last summer over six weeks of casually hitting the trails in Alaska where my folks live, my youngest two (9+5 then) logged over 35 miles. And we had so much fun! My yearn to homestead and backpack certainly tear at one another..... perhaps it's time to start looking for a really good house-sitter :)


    • renee

      renee on June 18, 2013, 6:51 p.m.

      Our kids are 10, 12 & 14. They will be 11, 13 & 15 when we thru-hike. People have thru-hiked with younger children, much younger. I think a house-sitter is a great idea. We're not fixed to a permanent address so we'll be "homeless" while on the trail (smile).


  • Amy

    Amy on June 23, 2013, 12:55 a.m.

    My family and I are so encouraged by your posting.  We are also planning a thru hike for 2014.  Our girls will be 10 and 14

    and I'm alittle worried they will get lonely for their friends.  Maybe we will see you out there.  I would like to discuss meals and gear with you sometime.   If you guys are coming south anytime this year, we are in Louisville, Ky.  



    • renee

      renee on June 24, 2013, 12:42 a.m.

      That's awesome Amy. Please feel free to contact me if you want to make arrangements to meet. I will get your e-mail from your comment and be in touch we you. We would love to meet up on the trail at some point. Our kids will be 15, 13 & 11 and hiking with other kids is always inspiring (& rare) for them. 


  • Sarah G

    Sarah G on June 23, 2013, 9:49 a.m.

    Hi renee, 

    bit late to the party here, but very excited about your plans, can't wait to see it all happen! 

    On another note, as a regular reader, and home schooling mama from Scotland - if you guys ever do make it over here to hike/backpack you would be more than welcome to stay with us as a base for your adventures. Would love to meet you (irl) :-D

    good luck xx



    • renee

      renee on June 24, 2013, 12:47 a.m.

      Scotland is in our sights but not sure if we'll make it there before the kids are all grown. Crazy to think about that (the kids growing that is) but Damien and I really want to make it there someday.


  • Teri

    Teri on July 1, 2013, 9:49 p.m.

    It is somewhat challenging to backpack with young children (ours are 2 and 5),but so rewarding. Our solution has been goatpacking. Goats help carry gear so we can carry kids and still get out into the wilderness.

    Sounds like an adventure of a lifetime for you all!


  • Nissa Van Riper

    Nissa Van Riper on Aug. 21, 2013, 3:25 a.m.

    I found your blog a couple days ago and somehow or other got onto this post about the AT plan.  My family just moved to PA and we will be here through June of 2014.  We live in Carlisle PA, which is 5 or so miles from the Boiling Springs point on the AT.  (Not sure where that is in relation to the other PA posters and it's too late and I'm too lazy to look them up.)

    My family is always up for a fun, new experience.  Please let me know if we are positioned well to help, and if so, what we can do.

    What an amazing commitment!  Good luck!


  • Amylynn

    Amylynn on Oct. 30, 2013, 11:45 a.m.


     What an exciting adventure! I am not a hiker, and a bit asthmatic but have dreamed of hiking the AT. I have walked along many spindles of it, dreaming and wishing. Then when BIll Bryson wrote his adventures of it, my mouth watered in excitment. My favorite section is along the Smokies near the MT Le Conte region. When I was young my brother and Uncle hiked this area for three days. I remember wanting to go, but staying home with the women and having to meet them at their destined pick up. 

      I would love to meet with your family at this region. We are currently waiting for word of our next move since my husband is in the US Coast Guard but would love to meet your family and help out in some way. Whether food, taking you to wash clothes, bringing you a new book to read, anything.

       We were up on Skyline Drive this past weekend and went to the Skyline Drive Ranger/Welcome Station and loved seeing the new exhibit. The exhibit was on how the Smoky Mountains National Park and how it was created. All the people that gave up their homes so we now can enjoy the beauty of the area.  The hard work of the CCC men creating stone walls, tunnels, roads so we can see the beauty.My husband and I looked around and commented that this much loved park would be filled with houses, mined for coal and ores. We just gratefully said our thanks to the past generations and what they gave up for us!

     So please add us to the list of helpers for this amazing journey of yours!



    Amylynn McDevitt littlefarmstudio@yahoo.com


  • Wendy

    Wendy on Nov. 4, 2013, 12:42 p.m.

    I found your site looking for a holiday spice soap recipe and became entrenched in AT talk:). My husband and I met thru hiking (me in 2000 and him in 2001.). Our littles are too little now (though they have been backpacking since they were in the belly) but we have IAT, Colorado trail and CDT plans in the future.  I'll be following your story closely.  Enjoy-and go slowly.  Really-the world can wait.  


  • Elizabeth

    Elizabeth on Dec. 29, 2013, 8:12 p.m.

    We live in Boonsboro, MD we would live to help you along the way. The AT is real close to our home. We have two boys ages 11 and 13 which we are homeschooling. My husband and I hiked the AT from by our home to West Virginia Harpers ferry where my husband works at the National park service. The mid point for the AT is there with a museum. 

    We loved it. What a experience and dream come true for you and your family. We are expecting #3 in May. If you are coming our way after May we would love to help you out in anyway. 


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