Our Family vacation this summer consisted of 80 km of glorious hiking along the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Virginia. A great payoff of running is an adventurous lifestyle and exciting new experiences with our children. Many people thought we were crazy – but it was the best vacation ever! Six very diverse individuals worked together and hiked along the highest mountains in Virginia: A marathon runner (myself), a web-designer who runs for fitness (James, my husband), my 15 year old daughter Zara and her friend Paige, Caleb, 13 years old, and my youngest son, Elijah, who is 9 years old. We even brought along the 10 lb dog who always joins us on our hikes.
Our hiking days ranged from 8km to 18km and we climbed to over 5,500ft above sea level to the peaks of mountains (Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain). We carried all of our gear on our backs. James had the cooking gear, I carried one tent, and Caleb carried the second tent. The food was dispersed between all of us, and each person was responsible for their own gear (sleeping bag, therma-rest, clothing, toiletries). Four nights we slept in shelters along the AT and one night we used our tents.
One of the principles we embraced on this trip was to BE ADVENTUROUS: we petted wild ponies, we ate wild blueberries and blackberries and we climbed up rock cliffs (that we deemed safe!) to see spectacular views. We bathed in cold mountain streams and enjoyed our dehydrated food, cliff bars, dried berries and high protein butters (sunflower butter, almond butter).
I have discovered that having a healthy running lifestyle has made me far more willing to try new adventures with my kids. Since I train regularly for running, I knew the importance of training with James and the kids (and the dog) for the hike. We trained together on the weekends, hiking most Sundays in the winter and spring to prepare. We often hiked with our packs to get used to the feeling of carrying them on our backs. In so doing, we ironed out the kinks with our gear and discovered what pieces of equipment were essential. For example, we discovered that carrying water bottles in our packs was too difficult to keep properly hydrated (having to reach back – often dropping the bottle or not being able to access it at all meant we did not hydrate frequently enough). We solved this problem by having a Camelbak in each pack, with the water spout right at our shoulders for super easy access. This made a huge difference in everyone’s stamina, as now nobody got dehydrated.
My 15 year old daughter was the most reluctant member of the crew – before the big hike that is! One day into the adventure, she told us how much she was enjoying herself and that she was glad that we had brought her along! She apologized for having dragged her feet a bit during our preparations. This from a teenager is truly impressive, and I am so thankful that we were able to do this journey together. It was an incredible family bonding time. We had no distractions from media and screens. It was us and the great outdoors: evenings we sat around the campfire and played “the questions game”. We did star gazing; we played cards; we sat and talked for hours. We breathed in the nature around us and were constantly amazed by the views and the wildlife.
Next summer we plan to discover a new section of the AT. Our goal is to hike in New Hampshire and Hike up Mount Washington, which is the highest peak along the AT. I am so thankful that my running has payed off in rewards for my whole family. Four of us are now running regularly and looking forward to using that fitness to summit new peaks and discover new adventures. If you have any suggestions for hikes or outdoor adventures, please share them below!