The story below is an excerpt from our July/August 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
The honoring of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service is scheduled for August 25th, but perhaps the true celebration of the public lands we love is being out upon them, day after day, year after year.
My family, for instance, is now in its ninth decade of walking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, with some of those troddings having become family lore and family celebration.
There are, to start, the old family stories . . .
Of little me in a wicker laundry basket, strapped somehow to my father’s back for some distance along the A.T. in the Smokies, until my mother decided my neck wasn’t yet strong enough to handle all that bouncing around in there.
Or me at age 9 in southern Maine with my father and two other grown-up A.T. hikers, not long after Hurricane Carol devasted New England. The tiny skinny guy got assigned the task of crawling amid and under the blowdowns to try to find a blaze to assure we were still on the obliterated trail.
Or, years later, of my mother suddenly announcing to my father: “I’ve had enough of these white blazes.” (Though it should be noted that her absence from the trail was not long-term; she was a hiker until her death.)
Or, more years later, my (recollection of, anyway), going faster than anyone else that day on the single-day hike of the 39 miles of Appalachian Trail through Maryland.
All of those are more decades back than it is comfortable to think about, taking place, as they did, in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
Point is, my family has been pleased, not-so-pleased, honored, humbled, exaulted and exhausted as it has walked along the Appalachian Trail since not many years at all after it came to be (and my parents were on it in its first decade).
And the narratives become more distinct and reliable as the decades roll on. In the ‘70s, my father and his youngest son, Pogo, walked A.T. miles together in several states. Pogo, in his mid-teens, apparently eschewed teen rebellion in favor of being outdoors with his dad and others, to the extent that soon after he died in 1974 in the high waters of the Potomac River, a campsite was established in his name—along the A.T. in Maryland.
In 2000, sons Carl and Adam, stepson David and I drove to Maine, where three of us would walk the 100-Mile Wilderness, and Carl (and friend Ben), would continue their planned thru-hike. (They made it more than half way, before making the thru-hiker’s ultimate mistake of getting off the trail in their hometown—Roanoke.) With that northern section done, I got to complete the 282 miles of A.T. in Maine, 45 years after I began them.
In 2008, The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All and I completed the 544 miles of A.T. in Virginia—all done in day hikes over a four-year period.
And last year, our entire family gathered at the Pogo Campsite to commemorate the life of my father, who died at the beginning of 2015, at age 98. We scattered his ashes at his youngest son’s commemorative site.
All of which adds up to nine consecutive decades of that family being out on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. And all of which is no more remarkable than other families’ connections to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Or Shenandoah. Or the Blue Ridge Parkway. Or any of the other National Park Service units in these mountains.
Su Clauson-Wicker’s celebration of those parks begins on page 26. It’s our tiny candle on the giant cake of a glorious 100th birthday.