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The biggest challenge, as it turns out, has been for Bob, a 50-year-old registered nurse, to keep apace with his daughter. “Kylie is a phenomenal hiker, and she’s never quit anything in her life,” he told Yahoo! Shine by phone from Daleville, Virginia, where the two had stopped to rest and refuel for a couple of nights. “So the truth is, she’s wearing me out. She’s just so fit and strong! It’s the Sassafras Express and I’m clearly at the back.”
Sassafras is Kylie’s self-dubbed trail nickname, while her father’s is the apparently apropos Kaboose. They’ve been using the monikers to document their journey on a blog, “Sassafras and Kaboose 2013 Appalachian Trail Adventure” (and a Facebook page), which is chock full of photos, YouTube videos, details of terrain and weather, and even a complete list of their hiking gear, from a tent and sleeping bags to rain pants, fleece hats, headlamps and a denatured-alcohol fueled camp stove, all carried on their backs. They stop to buy more food every few days, and subsist on staples including mac and cheese, rice, fruit and Kylie favorites like candy bars and Pop-Tarts.
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The biggest challenge for Kylie, though, she told Shine, has been, “Just the mindset, hiking day after day.” To get through it, she explained, “I just take it day by day.”
It was Kylie’s Girl Scout troop in New Gloucester, Maine that inspired the teen to get involved with fighting hunger. When it came time to work toward a coveted silver badge, and she discovered that she’d have to work through too much red tape to set up a donation-based project with the Girl Scouts, she decided to launch a solo effort. So she teamed up with both the local New Gloucester Food Pantry and her dad, who had a long-held desire to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Kylie, an avid hiker since age 7, thought the journey would be a perfect way to raise both awareness and funds. She has asked supporters to donate either money to the New Gloucester pantry or food to their local food banks.
“Local hunger is prevalent in New Gloucester Maine, and has been increasing each year,” she writes on her blog. “Hunger prevents people from reaching their full potential. It is an epidemic that’s threatening our future. One out of every five families goes hungry.”
According to the Rev. Linda Gard, pastor at the New Gloucester First Congregational Church, which houses the food pantry, Kylie's efforts are already paying off. "I think it captures everybody's imagination, that a girl like her would take on such an important thing," Gard told Shine. "She's an amazing kid. Nothing discourages her."
Kylie—whose parents say is a great student, despite a learning disability, and who is an athlete who runs track and cross-country and plays softball and basketball—was lucky enough to get permission from the administration at her Gray-New Gloucester Middle School to exchange two months of class time for lessons in the wilderness.
“The school supported her 150 percent with this hike,” Kylie’s mom, Joyce, told Shine via phone. “It’s hard, having them gone, but it’s very exciting.” Though she was unable to join the pair on their journey because of health issues, Joyce, a lab analyst who also has her own clothing line, said they’ve been keeping her busy packing up and mailing them treats and new camping equipment to various P.O. boxes and hostels along the trail.
Though she speaks to her husband and daughter by cell phone at least every couple of days, Joyce, also a hiker, admits she does spend a bit of time worrying. “I know what the dangers are, so I am concerned about that,” she said, explaining that she’d tripped and dislocated her elbow at 4,000 feet on a five-day hike not long ago. “But I also know that their passion for hiking outweighs it.”
The Appalachian Trail, which passes through 14 eastern states from Georgia to Maine, encompasses peaks and valleys from New Hampshire’s Presidential Mountain Range to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, and is one of the most challenging hiking trails in the U.S. “Through hikers,” those who go the entire length in one long shot, are an esteemed and supportive bunch, and part of a thriving wilderness subculture. Of the thousands of hikers who attempt to complete the entire trail each year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, only about one in four makes it without giving up.
But it’s those fellow hikers—as well as each other—that have been giving Kylie and her dad the extra push to stay positive, they said, and they expect to reach Maine sometime in September.
“The through-hiker culture is open and accepting and just wonderful with Kylie,” Bob said. “And watching her do this has been my biggest joy.”
When asked about the best part of the journey, Kylie told Shine it was not the mountain-top views or the sightings of wild ponies or white-tailed deer, but “the people,” and being with her dad. “We get along very well, and we’re very close,” she said. “Papa and I have been hiking together a long time.”
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