By Rebecca Maglischo
Photography by Georgiana Strawbridge
The Triple Crown of hiking is a thru-hike trifecta that includes the three prominent long trails of the United States. As of November 2019, only 440 hikers had received the designation of Triple Crowner from the American Long Distance Hiking Association since its formation in 1994. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the United States from Mexico to Canada. It traverses the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range paralleling the Pacific Ocean through California, Oregon, and Washington. It is 2654 miles long. The Continental Divide Trail spans 3100 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Big Hatchet Mountains in New Mexico; the trail winds through the Rocky Mountains and crosses the Triple Divide Peak. On the East Coast, the Appalachian Trail covers 2,193.1 miles. It passes through 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. To achieve the Triple Crown, a hiker walks almost 8000 miles through 22 states climbing a cumulative one million feet of elevation.
Vince and Monica Strawbridge are very aware of the ups and downs in life. After 21 years of marriage and 4 children, they’ve had their fair share of hard times. “Life is hard,” Monica says as we hike the trail at Marshall Hampton Preserve in Polk County. Marriage is hard, parenting is hard, work is hard. And that is to say nothing of the really tough struggles people face through the course of a lifetime. “We want our kids to know they can do hard things because the hard stuff never stops coming. We want them to know they can overcome if they just put their heads down and keep putting one foot in front of the other.” Vince and Monica don’t have overinflated hopes for their kids, but they do hope to give their kids the tools to chase their dreams. It was from this philosophy that a crazy idea was born- the whole family would thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. They would carry their lives on their backs, simplify their existence, learn along the way, and work together to conquer a big challenge.
The whole family began to prepare, mentally and physically for a start date in 2018. Georgiana (aka Georgie), the youngest, would be 11 yrs. old when the hike began. Henry, June, and Aiden would be 13 yrs., 14 yrs., and 16 yrs., respectively. To thru-hike one of the United States’ long trails requires a lot of forethought and planning. But a thru-hike with children increases the pressure to plan exponentially. The Strawbridge family tested trail foods, gathered equipment, and began putting miles on their feet. They had planted the seed of adventure and the anticipation was taking root!
“When you have young children, the days feel so long,” Vince says. “But the moments had begun to slip away faster and faster.” Monica adds, “My babies were growing up and Aiden was ready to launch. She was ready… We were not.”
the moment they set their hiking boots on the trail. Sometimes, painfully so. Everything takes longer. You have to set up and take down your house daily. Food requires heating water (and sometimes finding water, for that matter) over a tiny fuel source. Then, there are the unique challenges of basic home-school, boredom, and the aches that come from day after day of constant movement. The initial days on the trail made all of them question what they were doing for various reasons. “It was a lot to work through,” Monica laughs. “But the thing is, you have no choice other than to work through it.” And that was the magic.
On one of the longest days, Vince wrote the following on the family’s Instagram page:
“Jesus said, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst- not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.’One of the things I had hoped for this trip is that we, my kids in particular, would read and see better and more fully. In knowing the lack, they would know the value of things. We joke about “if only.” If only it were sunny. If only my feet weren’t wet all the time. If only there was water. My children have felt thirst, hunger, and hardship in ways they never could have. They will read differently. They will see differently… All day there has been low level suffering and longing. This is the stuff we meant when we dreamed this.”
The Pacific Crest Trail was 141 days of complete and utter togetherness, reliance on one another and lots of “for better or worse.” But in the end, the family returned home with a victory under their belts and a whole new outlook. It didn’t take long for the trail to call again. And with the agreement to tackle the Continental Divide Trail as a family came the idea to do it all before Aiden flew the nest. The CDT was another 132 days of mental toughness and working together. Each member of the Strawbridge family brought a different gift to every situation. The trail was illuminating their strengths and weaknesses, and providing ample opportunity for each person to step up and shine in one way or another. Trail Magic at its finest.
Today, Vince, Monica, Aiden, June, Henry and Georgie are somewhere on the Appalachian Trail. They began the trek in early March of this year. This is it, the last foreseeable time the entire family will be together as a unit for any extended period. They all know it. They all feel the brevity of this last adventure. Maybe Vince, most of all. He quotes, “It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; It’s a question of what you will do and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.”
The Strawbridge family, despite their unique way of life, are not exceptional or particularly unique at first glance. But should you lace up your boots and take a hike with them, you’ll see something special. You’ll see four kids with four personalities and four sets of struggles. You’ll see them bicker and laugh and maneuver all the normal interactions of people in all the normal ways people do. You’ll see a Mom who has weathered many a day of Motherhood in all the normal Mom ways. You’ll see a Dad that lost everything only to find something better. Mostly though, you’ll see a family that slowed down time so they could capture the moments and wrap them in the protective folds of their memories for safekeeping. In the hard moments that are inevitable, they will rub these memories like a precious talisman. Then, with the monumental effort of a thru-hiker on day 100, they will put one foot in front of the other and keep on going.