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Re: [at-l] long distance hiking with young teenagers

Hello Jim -

You asked:

>I'm wondering if anyone on this list has done long distance hiking with a
>13-14 year old girl or boy.  Did it work out well?  Was it a disaster?  How
>much experience did he/she/you have?  Should I be thinking of younger or
>older ages for the hike?

Don't have much to say about 13-14 year old girls...my daughter hiked with
me for a couple weeks on my AT thru-hike and I have absolutely no doubts
that she could have done the whole thing with no problems (very goal
oriented, triathalete in good shape, plenty of backpacking skills)....BUT,
she was in her early twenties at the time <g>.

I have had a fair amount of experience backpacking with boys in that age
group.  I would guess that I have shared over a thousand miles of trail
with various Boy Scout groups.  In 15 years of Scoutmastering I have
discovered that 13-14 is the bottom end of the backpacking self-sufficiency
window for the average boy in Scouting.  Almost all 12's, many 13's, and
some 14's don't belong on the trail yet - unless they have somebody willing
to help carry their gear.

There are some MAJOR physical changes that occur about that time that
greatly influence the average kid's "muscle to bone ratio" and his ability
to act instead of reacting.  Stamina is down...they conk out fast and then
come back fast (after a good rest), but each time they seem to come back a
little less.  Clumsy is up.  There are wide variances when you start
looking at individuals, but, on the average, I wouldn't care to go longer
than a week or so with anybody under 14.

I have seen kids over 14 get trail hard in less than a week (it took me
about 3 weeks on the AT and at least a couple weeks on the PCT).  I have
never seen a kid any younger get trail hard at all (two week trips are the
longest I have had to observe them).

So much for averages.  I talked to my daughter about this question and she
reminded me that she was having some very real problems with her period
about that age.  She was an active athlete (ice skating and spring board
diving) and her period came both late and hard (cramping).  She said that
she would probably have wanted to do a thru-hike, but would probably have
had to quit unless the thru-hike exertions delayed the onset of her period
even more.

Given all that, I still would have to give it a shot unless it was obvious
that I was setting my kid up for failure.  One of my sons hiked the first
700 miles of my AT hike with me and was able to share my entire PCT
thru-hike.  I wouldn't trade that time with my kid for anything in the
world.  I have no doubts that we came to know each other better in that
half year's worth of hiking than we had in the 20+ years before.  I
discovered that he was a damn fine trail partner and if he and his super
wife weren't busy producing my first grand kid, I would probably try to
spring him loose to do another long hike <g>.

I have a good Scouting friend who hiked the AT when he was 14 (solo!).  He
is the only person I know of who did a thru-hike before graduating from
high school.  I met a great old horsepacker in the Cascades who was one
week away from finishing the PCT with his granddaughter.  They had started
on the southern end when she was 6 and chipped away at it each
summer...when we met she was 24!

My suggestion is to get your daughter out on the trail now.  Keep the trip
durations down and offload some of her pack weight so that she learns how
to enjoy backpacking.  Take pains to let her help plan trips to some neat
places that she thinks she would enjoy.  Do enough trips of increasing
durations so she should have plenty of skills (and some good equipment) by
the time she turns 13-14...and knows enough to decide how much of a
thru-hike she wants to take on.  If she still wants to try to do a distance
hike with you, I would hire her in to join you for an unspecific distance
(to be decided as you hike).  Be prepared to make the hard call to have her
stop out for a spell or to even leave the hike completely if it looks like
it is the right thing to do.  Be prepared also to treasure every mile she
can hike with you!

If she decides not to join you on the long hike, you both will still be
well ahead of the game...you can't find a better way than backpacking trips
to help her get to know you as an adult (instead of just a Dad <g>) and to
gather the personal strength needed to survive the knothead years.  Fellow
folks in the kid-biz have always told me that 12-13 boys are a bigger pain
in the patootie (on the average) than same-age girls, but when a girl
crashes and burns they have a way of making the boys troubles look like
child's play.  Every direct contact minute you can have with your daughter
before she starts to negotiate those rocky shoals is worth a million

I agree completely that our kids could well benefit from a dose of reality
on or about that age...but I would suggest that it works for both boys and
girls.   Hmmmm...a thru-hike has that same good effect on adults too!
Good luck!

y'all come,
            Charlie II

charlie2@ro.com    Huntsville,Al

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