Monica Strawbridge had always dreamed of going hiking with her husband Vince after their children – Georgie 13, Henry 15, June 16, and Aiden 18 – left the house. However, after a 67-mile family backpacking trip near the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee and North Carolina in 2017, the opportunity to hike the area with the kids took shape.
The kids didn’t know exactly what they were getting into when their parents first suggested the Pacific Crest Trail. “You can’t understand something as long as the PCT is,” says June. “We just agreed to do it.”
They hiked 2,650 miles in 2018 and the seed was sown to try what is known as the triple crown of hiking: the PCT, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail.
In the world of wandering, the Triple Crown Trails each have different personalities: The AT is known for a crowded start, frequent access to the city and a social atmosphere. The PCT is a little longer, but the landscape is more majestic. The CDT is the most intimidating, and rumors of its troubles abound. The CDT is also the most distant of the three, and faces some of the toughest conditions, from snow-capped 13,000-foot peaks to extensive stretches of desert.
If you travel south like the Strawbridges, the hikers will make you start late enough to clear the passes in Montana. However, you will need to move fast enough to get through the southern San Juan Mountains before the winter weather returns. This means more than 2,000 miles to be traveled between late June and early September. CDT hikers wake up, hike, eat, sleep, and repeat. Most hikers attempting the triple crown keep the CDT for the last time. The Strawbridges made it for the second hike.
(Photo: The Strawbridges)
Aiden cut her senior year down to four months to take up the CDT. The younger three kids are home schooled and have designed projects they could do on the go: Henry would be collecting data for Trout Unlimited, June would be working on a weather tracking project, and Georgie, who studied photography, planned to take thousands of shots on the way to make. The family set out on June 24, 2020.
Every day at 6 a.m., Vince would go around waking the children and paying special attention to the tent June and Georgie were housed in – the hardest couple to wake up. You’d break up camp quickly, eat an energy bar, or put one in your pocket for later. The first hour of their morning was spent together. they would Play a history lesson on a portable speaker, discuss a Bible verse, or talk about the children’s projects as they started walking.
Then the family set out and walked at their own pace. Around noon they gathered for lunch and talked about their mornings. From there they would run until dark.
When Monica and Vince talk about their family, they’re quick to laugh and quicker to clear away romanticized notions of a beautiful group of hikers. There were frequent tears and arguments along the way, but there was also a close connection.
“We have no choice, we have to reconcile,” says Aiden. “It’s just us out there. You can’t go to your friends and complain about your siblings when your siblings are all you have. “
Each of the children’s hiking personalities developed over the course of an almost collective year of hiking. Aiden is absolutely solid, spins miles, and consistently has a good time. Henry’s natural athletic ability developed on the CDT, along with his appreciation for the trek and positive attitude towards the rigors of the route. As the strongest hiker in the family, his love for hiking on the CDT grew immensely. Georgie is empathetic and artistic, a natural peacemaker who can be upset by unresolved tensions. She works to alleviate disagreements between everyone. June is the most hesitant. Sometimes she loves the trail, sometimes she doesn’t want to be there. She struggles on long climbs, something Vince struggles with With how he calculates their mileage.
(Photo: The Strawbridges)
Although the family stayed in a safe window of weather, the mountains don’t follow the rules. In early September, a storm system rolled through the Colorado Rockies. The Strawbridges stayed in Denver an extra day to wait and then returned to the trail on Lake Granby near the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. As they began climbing the 11,906 foot Arapaho Pass, the weather began to turn. The storm they thought was over had a second wave.
They tried to stay together as the storm worsened, but the slow pace made it difficult for Henry and Aiden, who had to keep moving to stay warm. They went into whiteout terms.
Vince was in the background with June struggling immensely. Suddenly she sank into the snow and lay down. Vince panicked and tried to get her to move.
Georgie ducked near the top of the pass. The wind was so strong that she could no longer stand upright. The view was so poor that they didn’t know if they were going in the right direction.
“It was a breaking point,” says Aiden. She didn’t know how far the climb was going and she saw Henry go cold. “Our family couldn’t see us, but we were too cold to stop.”
Vince stayed low with June as the storm continued unabated. Finally, with continual supplication and appeasement, he made them walk step by step to the top of the pass, where they found the rest of the family and descended safely to the other side.
The Arapaho Pass was a defining moment on their trek, the only time they questioned the wisdom of the company. When the Strawbridges returned to Lakeland, Florida a few months later after completing the trail, they took June to the doctor and found that she was suffering from anemia – a major factor in her decreased stamina.
On November 2, 2020, the family arrived at the Crazy Cook Monument in New Mexico, just steps from the Mexican border in the remote Chihuahuan Desert – the southern endpoint of the 3,100-mile CDT. When they touched the obelisk they became the largest family to have ever wandered the trail.
(Photo: The Strawbridges)
The Strawbridges started the AT in early March this year and plan to complete their triple crown this summer. After a CDT hike through, the family’s runaways in the AT crowd are heading north. Many of them attempt their first hike on what is considered by most to be the easiest of the Triple Crown Routes.
But after a total of 5,000 miles, the family now has the opportunity to turn to a science: You are fluent and efficient in camp, cover large miles almost every day and are used to the exams of trail life. In short, they are ready for their final triple crown segment.
“So much of our experience in the world is comfort-oriented,” says Monica. “This creates a certain boredom. Our family has a desire to be spicy, not quite as comfortable. ”
Main photo: The Strawbridges