There’s been some talk in the outdoor media about an alleged decline in interest in hiking and backpacking, particularly among young people. So when I discovered a young man named Nate Harner had hiked the length of Pennsylvania’s 140 mile Horseshoe Trail, I thought he might have some thoughts to share. Turns out he has more than thoughts, he has an Appalachian Trail through hike in the planning stages too. I hope you enjoy this interview, and Nate’s photos, as much as I did.
Q: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. How old are you, Nate?
A: I am 16 years old.
Q: When did you start backpacking?
A: I Went on my first backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts in 2010, and I hated it. I decided in 2012 that it may be something I would enjoy, so I went with some friends and I ended up loving it. I then decided right away I wanted to do big things with my new talent.
Q: You’ve completed the Horse Shoe Trail. Was that a through hike? Or in segments?
A: I completed the Horseshoe Trail in 2013. I took about 9 day hikes and that was all I needed to finish it. I averaged about 15 miles a day and I did it in single days because it is tough to find places to camp on the trail.
Q: Which end did you start at? How many days did it take you?
A: I jumped around the trail quite a bit. I started near Lawn, PA and went 15 miles south. I then did many other segments before finishing at the Northern terminus on Stony Mountain.
Q: What sort of gear did you carry?
A:I used most of the gear I will be taking on the AT next year, which can be found on my blog. www.hikeofalifetime.blogspot.com
Q: What was your favorite part of the trail? Least favorite?
Q. How did your parents take the news you were going on this ambitious solo hike?
A: My parents are always worried about me, as they should be. I trust them, and they trust me. They know my ambitions, so they will do anything to help me achieve them, even if that includes letting me hike alone all the time.
Q: Since you are still legally a minor, how did your parents keep tabs on you? Did you have any safety concerns? Did your parents?
A: I texted my location frequently. I mostly feel safe all the time when I am out alone. I have had close calls with wildlife, but I am in their territory. Respect goes both ways.
Q. Some people say we are raising a generation of overprotected kids. Parents have been arrested for letting their children play in a local park unattended. Your thoughts? Just where is the line between concerned parent and helicopter mom?
A: Parents should always keep their kids in eyesight. If the kids have dreams, let them do it. Let them do it safely, but help them achieve it. Give your kids freedom. There is a fine line between being over protective and not being there. It is hard finding the balance.
Q. Outdoor websites and magazines recently are writing about the decline of hiking, particularly among young people. On average, how old were the people you saw using the HorseShoe? Did you see any young people?
A: I saw nobody on the HST while I was out. I saw not one hiker. When I hike on the AT, I see all older people-middle age people. I saw a few older teens on the AT, but I have never met another young teen like I am on the same trail as me.
A: Honestly, Neil, I am not sure what it is. Kids just enjoy doing exciting things. I guess hiking is not as exciting as some other things that are gaining attention.
Q. I see you have an AT hike scheduled. Please tell us a little about it. Is it solo? A through hike? Supported or unsupported? With a group?
A: I will be thru hiking in 2016, Northbound, solo. I am planning to do a thru hike, Georgia to Maine. I am still figuring out food, but I will most likely buy along the way, with minimal mail drops(3-4). More information about my thru hike can be found here on my blog: www.hikeofalifetime.blogspot.com
Q: Thank you Nate, and I look forward to following your Appalachian Trail hike in two years.