There’s a 12-year-old girl hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer with her dad — all 2,180 miles of it, from Georgia to Maine. Reed Gjonnes (pronounced John-ess) stepped onto the trail’s southernmost point in April. Since then, the Oregon girl has walked about 25 miles a day, one foot in front of the other. (Reed isn’t the youngest kid to hike the trail; two 6-year-old boys hold that title.)
By day, Reed and her dad, Eric, hike and hike and hike, making friends and encountering bears, snakes, deer and owls. They stop at post offices in towns along the way to pick up packages of supplies sent by Reed’s mom. At night, they camp in three-sided shelters along the trail or in tents that double as rain ponchos.
(Kitson Jazynka) - Reed wears “gators” over her hiking shoes to keep out tics, rocks and dirt.
“Sleeping outside seems normal to me now,” says Reed, who hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail last year through California, Oregon and Washington state with her dad. “You hear bugs and sometimes see deer walking around.” Sometimes they stay with friends who live near the trail.
A stop near Washington
In late May, with more than 1,000 miles behind them, Reed and her dad hiked through Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (about 60 miles northwest of Washington). They had planned to take a few days off from hiking (“zero-mile days”) to visit the nation’s capital. After a friend gave them a ride to town, they explored memorials, museums and Theodore Roosevelt Island. They also ate lots of ice cream.
After their Washington visit, Reed and her dad returned to Harpers Ferry and got back on the trail. They walked across a footbridge that carried them from West Virginia over the Potomac River into Maryland. But earlier this month, Reed tripped on a rocky section of the trail in Pennsylvania and broke her arm. Her dad made her a sling from his shirt, and once again they detoured off the trail — to find a doctor. With a cast on, a bit of rest and permission from the doctor, Reed and her dad returned to the trail.
“I don’t want a broken arm to ruin my hike,” Reed says. “It changes our pace a little, but along the way I’m having hikers sign my cast which is pretty cool.” Reed and her dad are now in New England.
Reed’s mom and her 9-year-old sister plan to drive from Oregon to meet up with Reed and her dad in Vermont and New Hampshire early next month. After they hike the last 281 miles of the trail in Maine, Reed (an A student) will head home in August to start seventh grade. But she’ll still have hiking on her mind. Next year, she and her dad plan to tackle the 3,100-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which travels from Mexico into Canada.
“I love hiking,” Reed says. “It has made me so much braver. I am no longer THAT scared of snakes.”
— Kitson Jazynka