By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on August 11, 2020
After months of logging more than 20 miles a week on the beach and local bike trails with weighted backpacks, two rising First Flight Middle School eighth graders covered hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail this summer – hiking an average of 20 miles a day as they crossed three states on foot.
Thirteen-year-olds Hunter Crum and Billy Berryman – along with Crum’s father TJ – began their journey on July 10 at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains. Both seasoned Boy Scouts, Berryman completed 270 miles in 14 days before getting off the trail in Damascus, VA. for a scheduled family vacation, while Crum and his father went on to cover 400 miles before finishing near Bland, VA after 21 days.
For the Crum father and son team, the July trip was their second on the Appalachian Trail. Last summer, the two began the 2,190-mile long trail at its start on Springer Mountain in Georgia. They walked a total of 200 miles that time to Clingmans Dome, the spot where they and Berryman picked up the trail again in July.
Berryman and Crum admit that COVID-19 is one reason they were motivated to begin training for the Appalachian Trail this March. Waking up every other morning around 6 a.m., the two would meet each other and walk for several hours with between 20 and 25 pounds of weight in their backpacks.
“I had to go outside once a day” when the pandemic started, Berryman said. “And I had already said I’d do it, so I thought, I might as well train.” For his part, Crum noted that after last year’s Appalachian Trail trip, he knew he had to train a bit more and, he added, “It was just a really good thing to do, it got us to kill some time.”
For Crum and Berryman, their journey included difficult uphill climbs and lots of trail food like peanut butter, spam, tuna and oatmeal. But the rewards, they say, were the breathtaking views along the way.
“There was hardly any time to kill,” recalled Berryman, who said that Max Patch near Hot Springs, N.C. was his favorite place along the trail because its open landscape and rolling hills reminds him of the Shire, the hobbits’ home in The Lord of the Rings. Hiking the Appalachian Trail “is very time consuming because you hike, set up camp, cook food and then get up early” and do it all again.
But rigors of the trail were worth it, both boys acknowledged. “Almost the entire time I am out there, I am happy,” Crum asserts. “It’s very, very enjoyable because even though you are usually tired at the end of the day, you felt fulfilled most of the time. You get to see some of the most amazing views.”
He said his favorite spot along the way was the Grayson Highlands between Bristol and Roanoke, Va. “For miles, you can see everything,” he explained. “It’s very beautiful and there are wild ponies and horses walking around. And cattle, too.”
It didn’t take long for these two middle schoolers to get the hang of life on the trail, with each adopting his assigned trail name — “Blondie” for Berryman and “Yonder” for Crum. Berryman said his favorite food on the trail was peanut butter and Crum explained that they had invented a concoction of Carnation instant breakfast mix, oatmeal packets, instant coffee and water to sustain them as they logged the many miles.
Along the way, the three backpackers saw four Black bear, deer, a rattlesnake and a group of skunks.
Crum said he and his dad hope to take the trail in sections each summer so that by his senior year in high school, he will have completed the entire stretch, reaching the end at Mount Katahdin in Maine before graduation.
Being boy scouts, Crum and Berryman explain, helped them to handle some of the hardships along trail. Their troop had traveled to the mountains in the past and had gone on shorter backpacking trips.
“One thing [about being a boy scout] is you understand what to expect,” Crum noted. “Like with rain, a lot of people think of it as a thing to run from, but we just figure out how to deal with it. And knowing a random knot can be quite helpful in its own situation.”
In the end, it was the mountain views that they remember the most. Hiking, Crum said, is “a physical task but it is really all in your head. If you figure out how to overcome being tired, you’ll be fine.”
As for what they missed the most when out on the trail, Berryman, who is also a guitar player, said that listening to music was one thing he really missed on the trail – along with pancakes and Nutella.
What Crum found himself missing, he admits, surprised him a little bit. “My little brother,” he laughs. “I kept waking up looking for him.”