About the Author, Amy Washburn: Amy Washburn is a recent college graduate who has a wonderful husband of 24 years, four amazing children ranging in age from 15 to 21, and a rescued Heinz 57 dog who loves her better than the rest of the humans in the house. We live in a small town in Maine, and enjoy snowmobiling, camping, motorcycle riding and family time.
When Abby first announced to our family that she would like to hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety before she graduates from high school, I encouraged her – just like I did with her siblings. Having been down the high school road before, I knew that the summer between her junior and senior year was not the correct one. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my own college classes would get in the way of hiking during the summer of her freshman and sophomore years. So that left the summer between her sophomore and junior years. This Summer. 2019. Now.
In the spring of 2018, I approached the high school principal with a ‘problem’. I told him I would like to take Abby out of school at spring vacation, April 2019, so together we can hike the AT. “I like problems like this,” he responded with a grin. The high school teachers and staff have been very supportive of Abby’s dream, willingly flexible and forthcoming with assigning work ahead (the class work she will miss while hiking). Abby has learned to self advocate – and ask for extra work as long weekends and week long vacations came through the school year. I assured the principal that learning will continue on the trail, but not from mass produced textbooks.
Learning has been happening since Dad and I agreed to support Abby and her dream. Gear, initial supplies, shelters, resupplies, dehydrating our own food, budgeting money to outfit (feed, shelter, and transport) two of us, finding the right maps, reading every trail book written (or so it seems) has been Abby’s job. (Read between the lines here, please. Abby needed guidance for researching a lot of this information – meaning mom has done this homework as well. I would ask specific questions, then Abby needed to research the answer.) Together we have made gear choices and decisions based on our comfort levels. Abby has become a whiz at spreadsheets, and quite masterful with our Jetboil.
I have begun to lay awake and wonder…
Can I do it? Can I make it thru? Can I be supportive enough to help Abby achieve her goal, and not hold her back? (I’m 49 years old, a recent college graduate with a husband and three other children, comfortably out of shape, unexpectedly recently appointed executor to my parents estate, and mentally comfortable with disappearing for six months.)
Can Abby do this? Is she mentally prepared for the trail? (When she balks about walking the dog around the block I question her desire to hike, and hike and hike, for hours and hours and miles and miles a day, for days and days and weeks and months… When she gags at plunging the toilet, what will overflowing outhouses or cat hole fields do to her?)
Will home fall apart in my absence? (I know it won’t. My husband is one of the best. He was totally supportive of my choice to return to school for my Bachelors degree with four teenagers of our own, plus two exchange teens. He became Mister Mom, while working a full time job.)
Will the teenage son at home find enough guidance to remain focused, or will the difference in brain wiring that causes excessive impulsiveness become overwhelming? (I wrestle with this more than being being physically comfortable, dry, and blister free for the entire hike.)
Our other two children are in college. Will Dad remember to pay tuition in August? (I hope so!!)
Will I still be the favorite human in our dog’s world when we return, or will she feel like I abandoned her?
Will Abby and I need to use a code phrase for the start of her period – or will teenager PMS be raging enough that everyone will stay clear?
Can I remember that inch by inch it will be a cinch, but yard by yard makes it hard?
I hope I am ready for this journey of a lifetime, with my 15 year old daughter. I look forward to starting our NOBO hike in a few short weeks, and have reserved the right to open discussion about a short flip-flop if I fear that Baxter State Park will close before we can summit. Truely, though, I am holding onto the dream of standing on top of The Mountain (as we Maine-ahs call her) beside Abby, at the end of September, on her 16th birthday.