A 5-year-old Virginia boy has accomplished a feat that most adults won't even try. Harvey Sutton completed the 2,100-mile hike at the Appalachian Trail in about 209 days with his parents, Josh and Cassie Sutton.
The proud mom and dad told NPR that they started training Harvey for the hike when he was two years old by frequently taking him to camps and mini walks to build up his stamina. The parents soon saw that Harvey could move quickly and thrive in the outdoors a lot better than they could imagine.
They started their journey on the Appalachian Trail, which stretches across 14 states from Georgia to Maine, in January 2021, when Harvey was four years old. For 209 days, amid rain, snow, and sleet, the trio hiked, camped, and encountered wildlife until they finished the trail on August 11, a few weeks after Harvey celebrated his 5th birthday.
Keeping the Trail Exciting for Harvey
Cassie said that while the hike was challenging, Harvey didn't complain and actually found their outdoor escapade quite exciting because the family would make up games along the way. Harvey would look for signs of wildlife on the trail and be allowed to eat all the peanut butter tortillas and Skittles he wanted for his energy.
The boy said that he didn't have dull moments with his parents and would do the hike again if time allowed. His mother said that the experience gave their family the time to strengthen their bond, and they've grown closer than ever before as a unit. Josh said that having their son on the hike kept them entertained and engaged. It distracted them from their own physical pain of walking miles and miles.
Other hikers have christened their son as "Little Man," and gave him some toys so he could play in between the hikes. One hiker also joined the family on the final stretch and made treasure hunting games for Harvey.
Other Young Hikers
Harvey is not the only 5-year-old who has completed the Appalachian Trail. In 2014, Christian Thomas, then five years old, also joined his mom and stepfather for an eight-month adventure on the trail. The boy earned the nickname "Buddy Backpacker" among climbing circles and was the youngest Appalachian Trail finisher at that time.
In 2020, Juniper Netteberg, four years old, broke the Buddy Backpacker's record to become the youngest to finish the trail. She joined her parents, Doctors Olen and Danae Netteburg, and three older siblings on the hike.
Danae said that it wasn't quite a bed of roses for Juniper because she had moments where she would wail when she didn't get her way, as with any other toddler. The little girl was also fast in her tracks, earning her the nickname "Beast."
American Camp Association medical doctor Dr. Laura Blaisdell said that kids are actually strong enough to endure long hikes. The experience will also be good for their emotional and social development as they will meet other hikers along the path and develop a routine of waking up early to prepare to walk all day.
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