When Jamie Malone was in her early 20s, doing her first full-length hike of the Appalachian Trail, she met a father hiking with his sons and was so impressed with the boys that she vowed that if she ever had children, she’d take them on the trail as well.
Twenty years later, now the mother of four daughters, she fulfilled that vow.
The family — Jamie and Chris Malone and their four young daughters — left Sebastopol in late February and drove across the country in their van. They began their trek in Georgia at Amicalola Falls State Park on Feb. 28, walked through 14 states and, on Aug. 15, reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, the terminus of the 2,192-mile trail.
Jamie kept a record of their adventures on her blog, awaking-dreams.com. Awaking Dreams was the trail name Jamie used when she first walked the trail 20 years ago. Taking a trail name is an Appalachian Trail tradition.
Asked about the best and worst part of their five-and-half month hike, the Malone girls were full of opinions:
“My favorite part was hiking Mt. Katahdin,” said Harper, who turned 11 on the trail. “It was super fun. And being above treeline in the Whites (the White Mountains of New Hampshire). The hardest part was probably the mental part and really long uphills.”
For 8-year-old Josie, the hardest part was “all the bugs in Vermont. They were swarming us so much! The funnest part was climbing in the snow, climbing up Mt. Katahdin and rock scrambles — and seeing wild ponies” in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia.
The youngest, Sabina, who turned 6 on the trail, said her favorite part was climbing to the top of a U.S. Forest Service fire tower and looking down at a meadow filled with rabbits.
“There were bunnies, bunnies, bunnies everywhere,” she said.
Sabina said the hardest part was not being able to summit Mt. Katahdin on their first try. They could see the summit ahead of them, but because of a thunderstorm, a ranger ordered them off the mountain. They had to camp out at a hotel for four days until the storm passed, and they could finish their journey.
Maya, the oldest, turned 13 on the trail. She said her favorite part was “just being out there and being able to learn from the experience. I also really loved just being me out there with nothing else.”
“The hardest part was missing my dog, the horses, my friends and definitely the mental part because there were times when you just wanted to lay down and not get back up,” Maya said. “I had to learn that if you think better about something, then you’re going to be happier and it’s going to be easier. As soon as you start to feel negative about everything, you’re just going to feel every single part of your body start hurting, and you’re going to want to quit.”
A lot of the people they started hiking the trail with in Georgia did quit along the way, but the Malone family just kept putting one foot ahead of the other.
“We hiked from dawn to dusk almost every day, doing 15 to 20 miles a day every day,” Jamie said.
Then as now, Jamie walked the trail with a broader purpose than just laying down the miles. During her first walk of the trail, she raised money for the National Brain Injury Association in honor of her brother, who was in a comatose state. This year, the Malones asked friends and family to sponsor their walk by donating to one of several organizations.
Jamie and Chris raised money for B-RAD, a local organization offering environmental stewardship, health and adventure programs. Maya, chose Carma, which rehomes racehorses. Harper split the money she raised between the Sonoma County Wildlife Refuge and the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. Josie collected 2,000 pairs of shoes for Soles for Souls. Sabina raised money for the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
“The whole community has come together and supported us in all different ways to donate to these organizations,” Jamie said. “The whole goal behind it was to show the girls that even with a small step you can make a difference. You are powerful and meaningful in this world, and we wanted our girls to know that.”
The Malone family will be speaking about their Appalachian adventure on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Community Church of Sebastopol, 1000 Gravenstein Hwy. North, Sebastopol.