Sebastopol family passes halfway mark on epic Appalachian Trail hike
They've battled Lyme disease, tornadoes and weather so cold it froze their tent zippers shut. They've braved head wounds, lost teeth and more blisters than you can count - and yet the Malone family from Sebastopol is soldiering on, recently passing the halfway mark in their epic journey along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
“I'll tell you there have been many days when we thought we might not make it,” said mother Jamie Malone, during a recent pit stop (June 6) in rural New Jersey near Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, to pick up the family's next round of supplies. “But I think it's the strength behind the family, because when one of us has a bad day, there's always somebody else who says, ‘What? We're going to Maine!'?”
You may remember back in March we wrote a story about the Malone family from Sebastopol - Sabina was 5 years old, Josie 8, Harper 10, Maya 13 and parents Jamie and Chris - after they embarked on Feb. 28 in Georgia to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Well, less than four months later, they've hiked 1,296 miles, making it to their eighth state, with only 895 miles to go.
Along the way, Sabina turned 6 and recovered from a nasty shiner after falling and hitting her head. She lost a tooth atop a ridge called Knife's Edge. Josie lost three teeth. They've seen rattlesnakes, bears (only 15 feet away) and countless millipedes and centipedes. They were 10 miles north of a tornado that knocked down trees onto a shelter housing hikers. To escape another tornado, they sheltered in place at a Hershey's Chocolate factory. They were about 100 miles north of a tragic murder in Virginia, where a man was stabbed to death by a nonhiker. Zinc mining contaminated a spring along the trail - the only water source for two 20-mile stretches.
Only six days in, “it rained so hard that we were basically walking through a river,” Jamie said. “So our feet were basically under water. Then that night the temperature dropped to 12 degrees and everything froze. We couldn't get the girls' boots on them until noon. We couldn't even open the zippers of the tents because it rained so hard they were wet and then they froze.”
One of the daughters (who is embarrassed and did not want to be named) got Lyme disease from a tick and had to see a doctor in Waynesboro, Virginia for blood tests and antibiotics.
Chris lost feeling in his toes about two weeks in and his legs from the knees down have swelled up so much “my feet are now a full size larger than when we left.”
But if you think for a second that they're miserable, know this: Every day is a new adventure, filled with thrilling challenges, abundant wildlife and life lessons.
“I think we've all learned that if we think about the bad part, then we feel like every bone in our body is aching and we're just dragging,” Maya said. “But if we think about something good, it will actually make us feel stronger and it helps us.”
They've also learned that teamwork is often the best solution. “Sometimes on the trail we'll have one or two people who really aren't doing well and we'll rotate around packs where I'll carry my pack on my back and carry Harper's pack on my front,” Maya said. “Or Sabina will carry her pack and Josie's pack. So we all help each other.”
To pass the time, they love harmonizing, singing loud and proud along the trail. A fellow hiker recorded them belting out a beautiful a cappella version of Rachel Platten's “Better Place” for his Mighty Blue Along the Appalachian Trail podcast (see episode 137 at mightyblueontheat.com, go to 21-min mark). It was the same song they sang at the funeral for their uncle, Jamie's brother, Kyle, who inspired her to hike the Appalachian Trail back in 1999, to raise money to help treat a brain injury he suffered after a car accident left him in a coma.
Twenty years ago, Jamie earned the trail name “Sunshine” and now the rest of her family is catching up: Sabina was “Baby Bunny” in honor of her rabbit, Cinnamon Toast, and then became “Sister Bunny” once she turned 6. Maya is “Horsepower” because she loves horses and occasionally will hike about a mile ahead of the family, taking a break to write in her journal while they catch up. Josie is “Wild Jay,” a variation on her preschool nickname Blue Jay. Harper is “Sparkle Machine” because her singing and good nature often spreads joy and sparkle in others. And Chris is the proud “Papa Bear.”
All the dehydrated food Jamie prepared before they left Sebastopol has been the envy of other hikers along the trail, but “everyone out here has been really hungry,” Maya said. “I think we've all learned that we have to make the choice - do we want to eat our food now and be hungry later? Or do we want to be a little hungry now and full when we go to bed?”
They've made several diversions along the way, taking short breaks for several days. Their most memorable meal was at The Homeplace in Catawba, Virginia where they had “all-you-can-eat” fried chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuits. The owners even drove them back to the trail.
“They have this thing called trail magic and trail angels,” Chris said. “You'll be walking along the trail and see that somebody dropped off gallon jugs of water for thru-hikers. Or there will be a cooler with ice and cold drinks. Or they'll have an outdoor kitchen set up and they'll ask if you want scrambled eggs or bacon. Or someone will give you rides 10 miles into town. It's a wonderful thing. You see such great humanity in people out here.”
So what painstakingly fun adventures lie ahead in the next 890 miles to go before they get to Maine?
Harper is “really looking forward to this place called Mahoosic Notch where there are big boulders and you have to take off your pack and throw it over and help each other through it. So I think that's going to be really fun.”
And Maya is keeping it simple: “I can't wait to see more rattlesnakes!”