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

I'd like to thank everyone who responded to my note.  The responses have
been numerous, thoughtful, and very helpful.  They have really helped me
clarify my thinking about the issue.

One important realization that I came to is that it's critical to keep my
needs and desires separate from Jessie's.  In particular, I have my own,
mostly spiritual, reasons for wanting to attempt a thru-hike: a goodby to my
early years, a search for vision, a quest for renewal, an acceptance of the
world and of my own mortality, a supreme act of selfishness, a celebration
of life, a welcome to middle age.  I need to be very careful that I don't
let Jessie try to act out my fantasy.

I also have reasons for wanting to walk the trail sooner rather than later.
Some are logistical (job situation, creaking joints, etc.), and some relate
more to the trip itself (I'd love to turn 40 on the trail, and I'm ready to
go NOW (at age 37)).

I think, also, that there is an element of "all or nothing" thinking about
the notion of putting off the trip until Jessie can go with me.  There is
some validity to the idea (I doubt that I could swing two six month leaves
from work), but it smacks a bit of "if I can't do this, I'll never be able
to do anything".  That is, of course, nonsense - especially since I have
very little idea of what she'll want to do at that age.  Two, four, six, or
even a summer's worth of hiking might be the "right" hike for her.  At age
37, the longest I've hiked is about 85 miles... a 500 mile hike for a 14
year old sounds pretty impressive to me!

It was also good to validate my feeling that backpacking could be a good
source of strength during the craziness of adolescence in our society.  I
have been worried about this for years.  Junior high can be an awful place
for anyone, and an terribly hurtful place for young women.  Girls get
horribly contradictory messages: everything from "you can be anything you
want to be" and "it's what's inside that counts" to "you can't do that now
that you're a woman" and "your worth is measured by your bra size."

Anyway, my current thoughts are:

(1) Take my trip in 1999.  That is for me.
(2) Keep backpacking with my girls.
(3) If Jessie is game for a long trip at 13/14 then take her!  Do a section
of the AT or PCT, the Long Trail, the Finger Lakes Trail, the JMT... there
are lots of options!
(4) If Jessie turns out to love long distance hiking, and wants to hike the
AT some day, support her!

The rest of this note is about specific issues that came up.

Menstruation: Several people, including me and my wife, thought of the issue
of menarche and menstruation on the trail.  Our feeling was that we would
want Jessie to have about a years worth of experience with her period before
she tackled a "mega" hike.  Donna's (my wife's) feeling was that it takes at
least that long for things to settle down physically, emotionally, and
practically.  Neither of us thought that Jessie having her first period on a
thru-hike was a good idea.

Load: I wouldn't want to carry more weight than I would going solo.  I want
to finish the trip, and everything I know and have heard tells me that the
best way to get hurt is to carry too much stuff.  I wouldn't be doing her
any favor by wiping myself out with a 50 pound pack!  Still, she'd only have
to carry a couple of pounds of shared gear, so her pack could be pretty light.

"Attention span:" That has got to be really kid specific.  Most adults I
know (including Donna, alas) would consider an AT thru-hike the worst sort
of torture.  I put "attention span" in quotes because it really isn't the
right concept - I think/guess that Jessie will enjoy long distance hiking,
and that her younger sister might not.  That has nothing to do with their
attention spans... it is more of a personality sort of thing.  And I could
be dead wrong on both counts!

Leaving home for 5-6 months: that's hard.  I will, of course, be in some
sort of contact at least once a week or so - and I hope that Jessie will be
a key member of my support team!  I think the real answer is that I hope to
end up, after the trip and reintegration, with a better understanding of
myself.  I hope, and believe, that the gain will be worth the cost.  Part of
me wants to feel guilty about this, and part of me asks "how would you feel
if you were given a 6 month job assignment in europe?"

Thank's again for thoughtfulness of your replies.

-- Jim

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