A young couple from South Carolina may have bitten off more than they can chew. Or — just maybe — they’re about to embark on the most wonderful adventure of their lives.
Bekah and Derrick Quirin, both 25, will soon be setting off on a six-month hike through the Appalachian Trail, and they’re including their one-year-old baby in the fun. If they succeed in trekking the entire 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine with a baby in tow, they’ll be the first ones to do it. Probably because no one else has tried.
The family plans to launch their expedition on March 20, and they say the timing is perfect.
Twelve-month-old Ellie isn’t walking yet, still loves to ride in the child backpack, and naps reliably for long periods of time while being carried. Plus, she’s still breastfeeding six times a day, which means less food to carry. When you break it down like that, the couple’s logic starts to make a weird sort of sense.
“We want to immerse Ellie in the outdoors and have it become normal for her from the beginning, and this is about as early as we can manage,” says Bekah, who, along with Derrick, studied outdoor leadership at North Greenville University and logged lots of trail time working as backcountry guides for at-risk teens. “Time flies so much faster after you have kids. People always say, ‘I wish time could slow down.’ This is the best way I can think of to do that.”
The Appalachian Trail is ten minutes from their backyard in Greenville, South Carolina. Bekah and Derrick grew up seeing thru-hikers and hiking sections of the trail themselves. Still, nobody’s done it with a baby—yet. “I called the Appalachian Trail Conference looking for resources, and they’d never heard of anyone doing it,” says Bekah. (The youngest person to thru-hike the AT on his own two feet is Christian Thomas, aka “Buddy Backpacker,” who walked the trail in 2013 with his dad at age five.) Now that Derrick has left his job as a local outdoor guide (Bekah is a stay-at-home mom), the two will begin their effort in March.
Bekah told OutsideOnline that hiking the Appalachian Trail has always been a dream of theirs, but after she had the baby, she figured it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. But then something happened that made what seemed unthinkable, thinkable.
“I joined the group Hike It Baby out of Greenville, and I started going on short hikes and then longer ones with Ellie,” she said. “Meeting other like-minded moms was a huge help when I left work to stay at home. That’s when I realized that maybe now is the time to do it.” Derrick added, “we’ve got to go now while we still only have one kid!”
The couple thinks that the hike will take them about six months — perhaps a little longer — but they don’t expect the baby to slow them down very much.
“We’re hoping to start out averaging 12 miles a day,” Derrick said. “With 12 hours of daylight, this seems relatively achievable.”
The Quirins say they’re planning an “ultralight hike,” with Bekah carrying Ellie and few other things and Derrick carrying the heaviest load.
“We weighed everything the other day, and it’s about 35 to 40 pounds per person,” Derrick said. “Ellie weighs 18 pounds…right now. Our sleep system is a double system, a Therm-a-Rest coupler that combines two sleeping pads with a Vela HD Double quilt. Ellie will sleep with us. We’ve got a Zpacks Triplex tarp that goes up using trekking poles. We’re bringing a Patagonia full-down baby bunting for Ellie, a Patagonia Torrentshell suit, and wool base layers from Ella’s Wool. Our stove is an MSR PocketRocket with a Snow Peak titanium 1.5-liter pot.”
Asked what they plan to do about diapers, Derrick said, “we use a brand called gDiapers with an outer cloth cover and compostable insert. They’re eco-friendly, but we’re not going to bury them. They will be disposed in trash cans every two days or so when we go through towns or pass a trailhead.”
(I imagine they might at some point rethink their decision not to bury the dirty diapers. Toting loads of soiled diapers on top of everything else they have to carry seems like the ultimate in drudgery to me.)
As for victuals, they’ll be eating “a combination of rice, beans, freeze-dried veggies, and noodles in a quart-size freezer bag.” according to Bekah. “All we have to do is add water. Also organic, non-GMO, low-grain bars. Ellie will breastfeed as long as my supply stays good, and to supplement, I’ll pack freeze-dried organic baby food from Amara in resealable, reusable pouches. Other than that, she eats what we eat.”
Bekah said their biggest challenge will be avoiding being a nuisance to other hikers on the trail.
“We want to be considerate of others,” Bekah said. “The stereotypical thru-hiker is a single person. If there are nights when Ellie’s fussy, we’ll put our tent farther from others. In camp, we’ll have to take turns watching over her.”
To mentally prepare for the hike, Bekah said she is trying to look at things the same as if she were at home.
“The baby mood swings, the temper tantrums, the teething. We’re just in a different environment,” she said. “Honestly, I think it might be easier than at home. There’s so much to look at on the trail. Ellie’s always happier when we’re outside.”