Backpacks on and ready to go, the three of us faced the camera and my mother snapped some pictures. No, it was not the first day of school. We, my dad, my sister and myself, were about to embark on a four-day hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Four days? The words kept echoing in my mind. I was excited for the trip, but reality was starting to hit. I had been on camping overnights with the Cub Scouts, but never a trip like this. The Appalachian Trail runs from Maine to Georgia; we were going to hike the Maryland portion in its entirety – 36 miles!
Today I am an Adventure Guide at Terrapin Adventures. I am a big hiker, and have hiked the Appalachian Trail many times and in various states. But, each time I remember my very first experience, the hike that spurred my interest in outdoor recreation, ten years old on a four-day 36 mile hiking trip…
Before I could protest and back out, we were on the trail. Carrying 50 pounds on my back was tough, but my dad encouraged me by explaining that we would just be traveling five miles at a time. I could handle that! My sister and I complained about the blisters our boots were giving us, but we made it to the shelter our goal for the day. But, when we arrived there we still had energy flowing. The next shelter was just another five miles away, and so we decided to continue. We were having a fun time, and we were still psyched about the idea of a four-day hike. But, soon the sun was going down, and the shelter was nowhere in sight. So, we found a flat spot on the side of the trail and set up camp. For dinner we had freeze-dried meals (so much food packed in such a small bag!) Then we played cards by flashlight, and crawled into our sleeping bags.
The next morning we were ready to conquer the next ten miles of trail. As we hiked, we talked The conversation was light as we considered recent T.V. shows and what mom was doing at home without us. We would stop from time to time to hydrate and eat some GORP – good old raisins and peanuts. We finally reached the next campground, and we were exhausted from the long 10-mile hike We made freeze dried spaghetti, which was nasty and ended up in the garbage. And, like the night before, we played a round of hearts before going to bed.
“We are going to the Washington Monument,” my father explained as we ate our oatmeal the next morning. (Of course I thought this meant we were hiking to DC. But I soon learned that the Washington Monument is actually located in Boonsboro, Maryland, a wonderful place to behold.) As we journeyed onward, we would stop to view the beauty of Western Maryland, or to make sure the bug creeping up our leg wasn’t a tick. But, we kept trekking to our destination. We passed a thru-hiker that told us that we were not to far. Though, a thru-hiker who came all the way from Florida would think that anything was close considering where he came from.
A long time later we finally came across the Washington Monument. We found a nearby picnic table, and oh, did that first can of coke taste good! (Over the next 11 years I would return to this place and remember the majesty of the monument the very first time I saw it. I will always have an affinity for the Washington Monument State Park.)
After a while we put our packs back on and set out on the trail again. We fell into a good rhythm and before we knew it were at the next shelter. We set up camp, made dinner (better than the spaghetti the night before) and played cards. And then we heard a weird rustling sound. Bear! Bear! Bear! It was going to burst through the tent and eat us! I stayed quiet, as directed. But it seemed that the bear knew what I was thinking. The rustling noise now moved toward the back of our tent. I sat there holding my breath praying it would go away. And then… PURR… it was not a bear after all. It was a cat! And that is when my dad whipped out his handy trail guide, and read to us that this was a frequent phenomenon. Cats frequently visited the campsite hoping that hikers would share their food. Phew!
After my heart rate returned to normal, we had some fun with the cat, and then settled in our sleeping bags for we knew that the next day was to be our last. We woke the next morning well rested and ready to trek to our final destination, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
We continued our journey discussing all that had occurred in the past three days. Wow, this was going to make a good story to share with my friends! We soon came close to the road and got off the Appalachian Trail and headed toward the train tracks, and finally we reached the bridge stretching from Maryland to West Virginia.
We did it! Four days, many slices of moleskin, bad spaghetti, and a wild animal – almost. We hiked a total of 36 miles from northern Maryland to West Virginia.
Now, eleven years later I am 21 years old and a lover of the outdoors. Sometimes I wonder why so many people do not take advantage and enjoy the nature that surrounds them. Perhaps if they had hiked the Appalachian Trail as a kid, this would not be the case. I recognize that this trip was not just fun; it was a learning experience. I learned (with my parents encouragement) that I could accomplish great things. I learned the power of sheer will and motivation. And, I learned to appreciate nature.
If you are a parent, I hope you will consider taking your child on a hiking/camping trip. Spend time with them and create memories that will last a lifetime. Encourage your children to spend time outdoors, and teach them to appreciate their surroundings. Show them what they can accomplish. (Trust me, without my parents pushing me, I would have never thought of going on a 36 mile hike, and I certainly would not have succeeded in many of the grand endeavors I have had since then. Thanks Mom and Dad!)
Billy is an Adventure Guide at Terrapin Adventures, who is currently a senior at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, VA. He still enjoys learning about his outdoor environment as he studies Environmental Science. You can occasionally find him studying in a tree or running on the local trails.