More Than A Vacation: Family Hikes The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is more than 2,000 miles long, stretching from Georgia to Maine. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with the four members of the Kallin family, who are walking the entire length of it.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Only 1 in 4 people who attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail actually make it. And we're talking adult hikers who know what they're in for. On this week's Wingin' It, we're going to speak with the Kallin family. They are currently hiking the more than 2,000 mile trail.

The Kallin family - Dave, Emily, Maddie, Nathan and Orion the dog think they can beat the 1 in 4 odds. Did I mention Nathan is 9, and Maddie is only 8? We caught up with the family in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where they were celebrating Maddie's birthday. Dave Kallin told us what inspired them to take this bold trip in the first place.

DAVE KALLIN: Emily and I have actually walked the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia before, back in 2002. And when we were on that trip, we met another family, a family of four from Idaho that did the whole thing that year. And they were traveling with a 6 and an 8 year old. We found them to be a very inspiring family and decided that if we ever had kids and had a family together, we wanted to do something like that with our kids. So here we are 12 years later, and we're walking north.

(LAUGHTER)

D. KALLIN: We live in Maine now, so we're homeward bound.

MARTIN: Is your wife Emily standing right there?

D. KALLIN: She is, yes. Let me pass you over.

MARTIN: Hi, Emily. It's so - this is quite a remarkable thing that your family is doing. What was the reaction from your kids when you told them that you were going to hike from Georgia to Maine?

EMILY KALLIN: There was definitely some apprehension at first. They weren't quite sure whether they would be able to do it or not. But there was never any unwillingness to try.

MARTIN: And how are you handling schooling the kids because they've obviously been pulled out of school? Are you home schooling on the trail? Did you just take them out for a year?

E. KALLIN: I basically met with each of the teachers to talk about what they would be missing. The principal just thought it was a great idea and she didn't foresee there being any issues. And Nathan's teacher had said that they were going to work on changing fractions to decimals and changing decimals to fractions. So as we go along, we talk about how many more miles we have to go to a certain spot, and Nathan will change the decimals to fractions. And we just keep plenty of learning going as we're walking.

MARTIN: Have you had any kind of meltdown moments?

E. KALLIN: One that I can think of. We were going through the Smokies, and it was a mixture of snow and hail, and we hiked about 12 miles in that. And since we're hiking in kind of tennis shoes, not boots, because for the most part we don't have any snow on the ground, everyone's feet were wet and very cold. I think it got down to seven degrees that night. And in the morning, everybody's shoes and socks were frozen solid. And there was a little meltdown when we tried to get the kids to put their feet into those socks and shoes.

(LAUGHTER)

E. KALLIN: So Dave saved the day by putting everyone's shoes and socks inside his shirt, inside his sleeping bag with him for about an hour until they warmed up a little bit.

MARTIN: Well, Emily, do you mind handing the phone to Nathan or Maddie?

E. KALLIN: OK. We'll pass it over to Maddie. Here we go.

MARTIN: Hi, Maddie. First of all, happy birthday.

MADDIE KALLIN: Thanks.

MARTIN: So Maddie, what is the trip like for you? Is it - has it been fun most of the time?

M. KALLIN: Yeah. It's been fun a lot of the time.

MARTIN: Have you seen any wild animals?

M. KALLIN: Yeah. We saw a porcupine. We've seen two bears. They were both in the Shenandoahs. And one of them just climbed up the tree and sat there. And then it basically fell to the ground. It was just taking its hands off and bringing them back on and just, sort of shot down the tree.

MARTIN: Oh, my gosh.

M. KALLIN: It was cool.

MARTIN: Yeah, it sounds really cool. Can I talk your dad again, Maddie?

M. KALLIN: Sure.

MARTIN: Thank you.

D. KALLIN: Hi Rachel.

MARTIN: Does Nathan want to talk?

D. KALLIN: I'm sure that you could get him to talk a little bit.

MARTIN: Sure, let's put him on the line.

D. KALLIN: OK.

NATHAN KALLIN: Hello.

MARTIN: Hi, Nathan, how's it going?

N. KALLIN: Good.

MARTIN: Nathan, how are your legs doing, and your feet? Do you get a lot of blisters on this trip?

N. KALLIN: No, I got one blister because my socks turned into pretty much sandpaper, but that's the only blister any of us have gotten all the - all trip.

MARTIN: Well, that's pretty good.

N. KALLIN: At the beginning, my feet were really sore and hurting. But we got some new insoles, and now they're feeling fine.

MARTIN: Yeah. Well, thanks for talking to me Nathan.

N. KALLIN: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Can you hand the phone back to your dad?

N. KALLIN: OK, here he is.

MARTIN: Thank you.

D. KALLIN: Hi Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you describe a typical day? Is there such a thing? Do you try to develop a sort of routine?

D. KALLIN: Our routine is that each day we wake up, we eat, and we walk north. But beyond that structure, every day is completely different. We meet new people, we see new things. Some days we're up on ridges looking out for miles. Other days, we're walking in a tunnel of green trees. Other days, we're following a stream or a brook or climbing through rocks or into caves. So it's really exceptionally varied.

MARTIN: You've definitely raised the bar for the family vacation though, right? I mean, can you just take your kids to Disneyland next year? Will they be satisfied with that (laughing)?

D. KALLIN: (Laughing) I don't know. I think certainly the parents wouldn't be satisfied with that. But we hope that, you know, this will be one of many journeys. And it's hard to predict now what those might look like. But in some ways, we've raised the bar and in other ways, it's not just a vacation, but more of, kind of, a shared growth as a family.

MARTIN: Well, good luck with everything. It is quite an adventure. The Kallin family - Dave, Emily, Nathan and Maddie. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

KALLIN FAMILY: (All at once) Bye, thank you.

SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: As you may have noticed, Rachel Martin is not hosting today. That's because at 3:20 this morning Rachel gave birth to a baby boy. We send her family our love. And so for the next few months, WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY will be capably hosted by a sequence of other NPR hosts and correspondents. And the best news of all, none of them will be me.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ MUSIC)

SIMON: But I'm so glad to be with you here today. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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