Studying barred owls, salamanders, hawks and snails while hiking 10 to 15 miles a day across mountains is not what most small children are doing this time of year.
But a typical day for the Kallin family includes a healthy dose of adventure.
David and Emily Kallin of Dresden decided to embark on a “thru-hike” of the Appalachian Trail with their two young children on March 31 in Springer Mountain, Ga. With Nathan, 9, and Madeline, 7, as well as their dog, Orion, they are attempting to trek across 14 states toward Mount Katahdin at the northern terminus of the 2,185-mile trail.
Last week they surpassed the 200-mile mark on their journey. Should they complete the entire trek sometime in September, they would be among a small group of families to do so – and the two children would achieve an unusual feat all their own.
There have been just 10 families and only 22 individuals under the age of 15 who have completed the trail since it was completed in 1937, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which manages the trail and keeps records on it.
“It’s quite unusual for a family. It’s not unprecedented. But it’s a very small number when you consider that there have been 11,400 recorded thru-hikers,” said Laurie Potteiger, the conservancy’s information services manager in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
“Up until 1970 there was a very small number of thru-hikers, probably less than 100. The numbers are generally increasing.”
To attempt the unique odyssey David Kallin took a six-month leave of absence from his job as a lawyer at Drummond Woodsum; and Nathan and Madeline received permission and guidance from Dresden Elementary School to be home schooled along the trail.
“This is sort of an unusual thing for one of our attorneys to do. I supported it in the sense that I let him take a leave,” said Ben Marcus, Drummond Woodsum managing director. “He’s a remarkable young attorney, who’s already been successful. I felt that in order to keep him here long-term, a leave of absence was appropriate. My only condition was that he blog. I think he thought I was kidding. But I wasn’t. I wanted people here at the firm and our clients to see what he was doing, and to see how important that was to him.”
ONLINE AND ON TRAIL
The family’s progress is being watched closely from laptops at Dresden Elementary School and computer screens at the law offices of Drummond Woodsum in Portland.
By sharing their daily adventures from the trail on the family’s blog across today’s high-tech, real-time computer platforms, Marcus said Kallin will teach his clients, colleagues and his children’s friends about what six months of hiking looks like, and how that can bring a family closer together.
After 200 miles, the lesson already had played out, Marcus said.
“I think that’s happening,” Marcus said. “I was just reading his blog now, and I think it’s great. It’s really fun. The pictures are wonderful. We have a lot of hikers in this firm, and we represent a lot of conservation organizations. They all can follow him. We’re all sort of living vicariously through David.”
Meanwhile, at Dresden Elementary School, Nathan’s fourth-grade class checks the family’s blog daily, posting questions about what they’re eating, what wildlife they’ve encountered and how Orion is doing. The class is learning about U.S. geography in the South, the geology of the region and so much more.
The family’s odyssey offers important life lessons, said Jennifer Vachowski, Nathan’s teacher.
“So many children are sedentary today,” Vachowski said. “People don’t have the means or time to take on an adventure like this. Kids will say, ‘Nathan is lucky he gets to do this.’ But I say, ‘Talk to your parents. Ask them to take you on a hike. Go to a state park. Just be outdoors. Enjoy nature.’ ”
Some Dresden students commented on how 200 miles was not very far along, Vachowski said. But she pointed out just how far it is, and how far the Kallin children may go. By the time the Kallins get to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, if they make it that far, Nathan’s classmates will be starting the fifth grade.
Meanwhile the Kallin children are reading literature on tablets, writing in journals and studying natural history.
“It’s something we’ve talked about for a while,” David Kallin said during a cell-phone call from a mountain in Georgia. “And as the kids got older, we did a lot of backpacking in Maine and New Hampshire. The kids really enjoyed it. We decided to give it a try.”
By Day 6, the two children had hiked longer than they ever had, surpassing the five-day, 40-mile hike they had completed in Grafton Notch.
“We have a list of things we’re working on with them,” Emily Kallin said. “They’re doing a lot of reading and writing. And we calculate our distances. We navigate by the sun.”
Among the health dangers along the trail are poisonous spider bites, Lyme disease derived from tick bites, hypothermia from stream crossings and infection from blisters.
But David Kallin said it will be a team effort, a kind of all-for-one-and-one-for-all approach. Whether they finish is not the focus.
“If anyone can’t finish, we’ll all likely come off together. But we’re doing really well so far. Everyone seems to be having a good time,” David Kallin said.
Regardless how far they get, Vachowski said the journey is what matters to those watching, not the end goal.
“We can’t all hike the AT, nor should we. But there are other things to do,” Vachowski said. “It’s a beautiful world. My hope is that this will open the students’ eyes to other possibilities.”
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: