For several months now, I’ve been following the journey of an eight year old boy hiking the Appalachian Trail with his dad. The boy’s trail name is “Venado” a Spanish term for deer, and his dad has been hiking under the trail name of Tecolote, Spanish for Owl. Very nice names that perhaps helped bond these two to the wilderness they loved, while learning the ways of the trail and its people, experiencing an adventure of a lifetime.
In a newspaper article by a reporter for the Bangor Daily News, Tecolote said his son, after hearing about people who walked the entire length of the trail in one continuous trek, asked if he could experience such a thing, known to those in hiking circles as a thru-hike. Obviously a dad who enjoys being with his children and wanting to give them opportunities that encourage a love of learning and experiencing life to its fullest, Tecolote told the reporter that when Venado asked the question initially, all he could think of was how cool it might have been to be at such a young, tender age and have someone give him the thumbs up to such an adventure.
As an avid hiker/adventurer, I can only imagine how Venado must’ve felt when his parents gave the nod and plans for the hike began to become a reality! I too, hope to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail one day. For now, my days are often spent living vicariously through those who have the chance to make that dream happen. I seize any opportunity to hike a section of the trail, large or small, merely because of how deeply I feel while walking there and the growth and peace I sense within.
I have come to love the Appalachian Trail and all it represents. The freedom, the adventure, the need to dig deeply inside oneself to find that mental strength to endure hardships while pursuing the forever memories that will undoubtedly become the result of such a long, extreme journey.
It has been reported that Venado did not reach the summit of Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. This is the mountain that hikers who leave the southern terminus of the trail, Springer Mountain in Georgia, dream about for a series of months, what motivates them to finish on the most grueling of days. Those who enjoy mountain folklore might point a finger toward Pamola, the spirit whom Indians of long ago believed resides on the mountain, as having something to do with the intensity of the weather that day. Whatever the source, Gail force winds required that the boy make a very adult decision. Less than a mile from the peak, with unyielding winds tearing at his clothing and pushing him about, Venado chose to turn back and head for home. After walking nearly 3,000 miles, he would not complete the very last mile of the journey.
Now some people might be disappointed in not reaching the summit sign and getting that long sought for ’summit photo’ at the peak. But not Venado. This boy seems wise beyond his years. His parents say he felt fine about turning back toward safety, wanting everyone in his hiking party, many who had come to join in the final piece of the trek, to be safe. Venado knows something that some folks never learn.
The hike is in the journey, not in that final summit. It’s about all that has been experienced between the sign on Springer and the challenges of Katahdin. It’s the people he has met, the wonders that have been beheld during months of climbing mountains, slogging through mud, and surviving on one’s wits while eating from a somewhat limited, repetitious menu.
Although he is still a child with much to learn and plenty of growing to do, I am only one of many whom Venado has made a huge, lasting impression upon.
I have yet to meet this little boy face to face but plan to do so as soon as possible. His father insists his son is just a “regular” little boy, that most any child could accomplish the same feat.
Yet, there is something about eight year old Venado that sticks with me, that touches my heart. His love for the trail, his awe for all that surrounds him, the uniqueness of an understanding of what it took to hike his own hike, and his determination to complete the journey he started, in his own way and to his own satisfaction. In my opinion, Venado is above and beyond what I see as “regular” and I have an admiration for all he has achieved. I commend his parents and his sister for their extraordinary input and love in the life of someone whom I think will become an exceptional asset in the midst of all the lives he touches.
The chapters of the trail have written themselves on his heart and in his soul, to forever be a part of the man Venado will someday become.
© copyright Tammy LR Meserve 2010