PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – Harvey Sutton, or “Little Man,” as it’s known on the Appalachian Trail, won’t have long to bask in the glory of hiking its entire length. After all, he’s starting kindergarten on Friday.
At 5, Harvey is one of the youngest – and the last of many in recent years – to complete the course, having followed his parents over 2,100 miles in 209 days.
It was hard work, but it was fun seeing frogs, lizards, and other wildlife. Likewise, sprinkle Skittles over peanut butter tortillas as fuel for the ride, he said.
“The rock climbs were really fun and difficult. We weren’t bored, ”he said happily in a phone interview from Virginia, where he lives with his parents, Josh and Cassie Sutton.
His parents were so busy keeping him engaged and entertained that it distracted them from the physical pain of trudging so many miles.
“It gave us a bond and a strength that we hadn’t realized before,” said Cassie Sutton.
Other young people hiked the 3,530 kilometer (2,193 mile) trail that begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ends at the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Some babies have even been carried in backpacks by their determined parents.
Harvey was 4 when he and his parents started their walk in January and he turned 5 before the family completed the trip last week in Maine.
He is several months younger than “Buddy Backpacker,” a boy who held the record for the youngest to complete the course in 2013, Harvey’s parents say.
But perhaps the youngest of all is Juniper Netteberg, who finished the course at the age of 4, wearing a Wonder Woman costume, with her parents and three siblings on October 13, 2020, have declared his parents, missionary doctors.
His family hiked sections over a period of several months, but it still matters as long as they haven’t skipped any part of the trail, said Ken Bunning, president of the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association.
It may seem extreme to a child, but a pediatrician sees no harm.
Children are resilient enough to handle the experience as long as parents keep their social and emotional development in mind and adapt the hike to the children’s abilities, said Dr. Laura Blaisdell, pediatrician and medical advisor for the American Camp Association. .
For Harvey’s hike, his parents decided to take a “mini-retirement” from their real estate jobs in Lynchburg, Virginia. They had been hiking with Harvey since he was 2 so the Appalachian Trail made sense to them.
The navigation was mostly smooth after a snowstorm in the Smoky Mountains forced them to backtrack more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) to safety in 2.5 days.
The family got used to sleeping in a tent, waking up at 5:30 a.m. and hiking all day. There was a simplicity in the routine and a camaraderie with other “hikers” that kept her from getting boring, said Josh Sutton.
Karl Donus Sakas, a hiker known as the “Sugar Man” who accompanied the Pennsylvania Suttons all the way to Maine, said Harvey had boundless energy.
“He’s pretty strong and tough. So often we went to camp and I was beaten and tired. And Little Man was like, “Let’s play Freeze Tag!” ” “, did he declare.
The parents said the biggest challenge was to keep their son’s imagination engaged. Harvey has plans to build houses, build spaceships and throw a lava party in talks about miles and hours of hiking, Sakas said.
Sakas helped by organizing a scavenger hunt with fake maps, hidden toys and glow sticks on the trail for several days in New Jersey.
Other hikers gave Little Man toys including a pet stone, Hot Wheels and a pocket watch. At a Dollar General store, the boy bought a calculator to track miles.
The hike showed the strength of teamwork and further solidified the Suttons’ relationship, said Cassie Sutton. “We are closer than ever,” she said.
They completed the hike on August 9 at the top of Mt Katahdin. Now it’s off to kindergarten for Little Man and back to work for his parents.
Harvey’s trip earned praise from fellow hiking legend Dale “Greybeard” Sanders, the oldest person to hike the trail, at the age of 82 in 2017.
“It will change her life forever, and her parents’ too.” The child went through hardships, but isn’t it all of us? Difficulties make us stronger, ”said Sanders, now 86, of Bartlett, Tennessee. “This child will smile for life.”