049 | Becoming the Youngest AT Thru-Hiker with Josh & Cassie Sutton

How one family defined success by spending 7 months in the woods. Harvey Sutton is the youngest person to complete the nearly 2200 miles Appalachian Trail going north. During their adventure, the Sutton family gained a large appreciation for the wild, but most of all an appreciation for time itself.

Hello to Iceland and Denmark.  Ordinary Sherpa ranked in the top 200 in both countries.  Which is fun, because I have not been to Iceland, but glad to know that my podcast has. Maybe we can do a virtual meet-up and share a cup of coffee. I want to thank those who bought me coffee, who left written reviews, and took action to do something adventurous this week.  

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The challenge last week in the everyday adventure challenge was Impossible.  What adventure is something that inspires you but feels impossible and we took various approaches to break that down into possibility.  Ironically Thru-Hiking the Appalachian trail is one of the things that seemed impossible to me.  I have researched the idea of hiking it.  Just to give some context for today’s episode here are some facts about the AT with a link to the source cited below.  The Appalachian trail is 2,200 miles, crosses 14 states and is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest 16 times.  The trail was created in 1937 but has been rebuilt over 90 times thanks to a crew of 241,936 volunteers in a given year.  On average hikers need to consume 5500 calories per day and most consume a ½ gallon of ice cream at the halfway point and typically go through 4-5 pairs of shoes.  

Sometimes there are stories of families doing amazing things that virtually stop you in your tracks.  As I scrolled Instagram one day this summer I came across a family thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I’ve had several friends who have hiked the AT, PCT, and Continental Divide.  I knew the amount of planning, grit and persistence required to make an adventure such as this come to life.  However I had never seen a 4 YO complete such a task.  Harvey Sutton is the youngest person to walk the 2,193.1 mile trail North from Georgia to Maine.  As many of my listeners have heard, I love to challenge the status quo and didn’t want to accept that my adventures needed to end when I became a mom.  The Sutton family immediately became a story of inspiration for me, regardless of the outcome.  I wanted to cheer them on and support them however I could. So today I am here with Harvey’s parents, Josh & Cassie Sutton to share their story of one amazing and inspiring adventure.  Giving them a new definition of success spending 7 months in the wilderness, appreciating their time together reaching an incredible summit.  Josh & Cassie I am so honored to have you, Welcome to Ordinary Sherpa.  

Key Takeaways:  

  1. Josh Sutton swore he’d never hike the Appalachian trail after a long backpacking trip as a kid.  Adventure is not a “born with it trait.” While some people might be naturally more drawn to adventure it is usually because of an event or experience that nurtures that desire.  Both Cassie & Josh had parents with health issues who were not able to live the life they imagined. 
  2. When living the rat race of adult life, they read 4-hour work week by Tim Ferris which inspired the concept of mini-retirements.
  3. While the Everest Base Camp was a spontaneous trip, the Appalachian Trail was a 5 year planning process they worked toward.  The strategy they cited was “you make your mind up that you are going to do something is step 1.”  
  4. It’s interesting how people told them to cherish this time with their son, and yet when they shared how they were going to do that people balked at the idea.  You do not need to ask permission to adventure with your family.  This is your time, these are your memories, choose the path that you want to look back on without regret.  
  5. Physically they started training with Harvey around age 2 simply taking walks in the park and not carrying him. Slowly they built the habit of hiking 8-10 milers.  If there is a big adventure on your list, with training and the right mindset, it is achievable.  
  6. Fears and dangers can be overcome with some practice.  The Sutton family met with Harvey’s pediatrician to discuss a nutrition plan, they practiced a 50 mile hike the summer before and practiced overnights in cold weather.  They also planned their route early in the year so they would be past the poisonous snakes by spring.  
  7. There will be challenges.  Both Josh & Cassie shared summit experiences after hard days that made them feel strong.  While halfway might seem like halfway done, there is still an equal amount yet to complete.  Keeping the focus on Harvey by playing games, telling stories and making sure he was enjoying the hike helped alleviate the struggles that other hikers faced. 
  8. There is no need to compare yourself to others.  As Josh indicated he thought they were going slow as many hikers passed them early on the trail. However when climbing the whites, he and Harvey were a full 30 minutes ahead of Cassie’s fit brother.  Doing the pace that feels right for you and your family then look back and appreciate all that you have accomplished.  
  9. Coming off the trail has been an adjustment.  They are working hard to incorporate the aspects of the trail into their life that they like about being on trail.  SHared experiences create deeper connections.  The camaraderie on the trail is definitely hard to replicate.  If I’m being honest, the camaraderie and generosity of other adventurers is usually what pulls me back time and time again.  How might Ordinary Sherpa help support the adventure community building and sustainable camaraderie?  
  10. Leaving work is scary.  It’s still scary as they think about future adventures.  They put the necessary things into place to save money and generate additional income where they could, including some real estate rentals, Airbnb their house but also some DIY work.  Being proactive helped them put the necessary resources in place. 

To Connect with or follow Josh & Cassie Sutton

Instagram: @LiveSutton  https://www.instagram.com/livesutton/

YouTube: @LiveSutton https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUAfUef5Cy3n4ujPE5JDQ1w

Resources Cited in this episode:  https://www.rei.com/blog/hike/21-appalachian-trail-statistics-that-will-surprise-entertain-and-inform-you

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