The Bennett Family is trail famous for thru-hiking both the Pacific Crest, Pacific Northwest, and Continental Divide Trails. On April 13, the family started their quest to complete the Triple Crown by thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (the Triple Crown = Pacific Crest + Continental Divide + Appalachian Trails) with all members of their family sporting a combination of Ultraventure Pro and Trailventure 2 (sans their trail pup, Muir). After the mid-way point, the Bennetts refreshed their feet in a new set of shoes and also integrated MTN Racer 2. Here, mother of the pack, Mindi Bennett, shares a recount of the final installment of their incredible journey.
Muse with me on the singularity of the event of renting out your house, selling your car, clearing your schedule of all obligations for 5 months, and flying your family all the way across the country to hike from Georgia to Maine. In gambling terms, we were all-in. To a “worst case scenario” thinker like myself, I had to work hard to stay in the moment and not let the infinite number of “what-ifs” slow me down. For example, the heat and humidity from Virginia to Vermont had me wondering if we would die by melting. Or every time one of us complained of an injury, I worried it would be a “trail-ender.” But we didn’t melt, and we miraculously pushed through to the finish line.
During our final weeks on the Continental Divide Trail last year, we met a thru-hiker who said, “I don’t like hiking anymore, but I still like gear.” We found ourselves using that quote a few times as the physical and mental toll of nearly half a year of thru-hiking wore us down.
Watching your family struggle, problem-solve, and suffer together brings insights that don’t happen during comfortable times. Do not get the wrong impression and think we know how to hunt or forage for food (aside from a limited number of berries that we know are edible and delicious), because we don’t. Surprisingly, it was extra challenging for us to be so close to towns every 3-4 days. Sure, shorter food carries is a wonderful advantage the AT has over many other long-distance trails but hitching into town often eats up a lot of time and money.
Our last four weeks on trail were especially difficult for us as we watched our mileage goals get devoured by obstacles like the White and Mahoosuc mountains (and stops for food in awesome trail towns like Gorham, NH and Rangeley, ME). The final test for North Bound (known as NoBo) AT hikers is Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin. We were fortunate enough to secure a cancelled lean-to (a rustic 3-sided structure built for campers and hikers) reservation at Katahdin Stream campground the day we arrived at Baxter State Park.
Everything seemed to be falling into place so perfectly as we started our summit attempt the next day, until we saw hikers turning around and warning us of “50 mph winds and 10-20° temps.” We had to feel it for ourselves and almost immediately above tree line we knew it wasn’t safe for our family to be on the mountain in those conditions. As heart-wrenching as it was to turn around, everyone kept their spirits high and, eventually, 3 days later on September 18, we successfully reached the iconic Katahdin sign – the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the official end of our thru-hike. By that point, the majority of our gear (including our Topo shoes with nearly 500 rough miles under their soles) and bodies were near worn out.
Not all AT hikers reach the finish line (we started as #2800-2805 and ended as #841-846) but with a lot of luck, a lot of prayers, and a lot of effort, we reached our goal. Hiking away from that summit, knowing we had 4 of the 11 National Scenic trails under our soles, so to speak, was a singular feeling of victory like no other. Thank you, Topo Athletic, for helping to get us there!