With 205 miles to go, 5-year-old hiker Christian Thomas may become the youngest person ever to complete the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail (AT).
Christian and his parents Andrea Rego, 26, and Dion Pagonis, 29, arrived Friday night at the southern terminus of the AT, located inside Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawson County.
We still have to go back and do 160 miles in the Shenandoah and 45 more miles in the Smokies, Pagonis said. The parks were closed because of the government shutdown when we got there, so we skipped those parts and headed south.
The group, originally from Long Island, N.Y., started out April 27, but their main goal wasnt finishing the trail that was just an added benefit.
My passion for why we started it wasnt to complete the trail, Pagonis said. It was to change the way people look at how and where children learn and how we adults work.
Pagonis explained that Christian, whose trail name is Buddy Backpacker, doesnt need to follow the traditional steps of getting on a school bus and then sitting in a classroom to learn. The reason? Technology.
People dont really realize yet what a revolutionary thing an Ipad is, Pagonis said. We have all his childrens book in there, and I downloaded songs to teach him how to spell and do math. He listens while hes hiking, and his retention level is amazing. He gets to splash in puddles and climb rocks while hes learning. So, hes got all these endorphins going, and weve already had to move way past first-grade stuff to keep him interested.
Christians mom, Andrea, said she had never heard of the Appalachian Trail until she was an adult.
I grew up in Long Island and hiking wasnt something we did, she said. We decided we wanted Christian to be exposed to things we never were, so we decided to move to Colorado.
And thats where they unknowingly began training Christian for his upcoming adventure.
We all learned to ski in Crested Butte (Colorado), Rego said. So, Christians lungs were trained at an altitude of 9,500 feet, and his legs got strong from skiing.
Christian said he never gets tired on the trail.
I have tons of energy, the 5-year-old said. And I saw three bears and about 800 snakes.
One of the bears was along a trail in New Jersey.
Yeah, thats the only time I was afraid, Pagonis said. I thought it was going to attack, but it didnt. We were fine.
While Pagonis and Christian hiked, Rego restocked supplies.
I never realized how expensive it was to just hike in the woods, she said. It seemed like every day something got broken or lost.
To date, the couple has spent approximately $3,000 in gas and $6,000 in food and supplies. Their greatest challenge was funding the trip.
Pagonis, a graphic artist, picks up jobs from a free lance website and works in the evenings after hiking.
The laid-back threesome typically hikedfrom 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.and rarely in the rain.
I dont like hiking in the rain, so I just decided we werent going to do it, Rego said. And when it got cold, they slept in their jeep with the heat on.
The tent didnt have much, so I like sleeping in the jeep, Christian said.
And when not sleeping in their jeep, they used hostels, trail shelters, their tent and sometimes stayed with friends.
Depending on the terrain, the family could put in up to 20 miles per day.
We did 17 a day in Georgia, but only around 10 or 12 miles a day in Virginia, Pagonis said.
When asked which state was his favorite, Christian said: Georgia cause Springer mountain was easy.
According to his dad, Christian never complained or said he wanted to stop.
Hes just an incredible kid, Pagonis said. His ability to recover after a long day was amazing. Im sore, but hes ready to up and go.
The family left Amicalola Falls State Park Saturday headed for the Smoky Mountains with plans to hike from Newfound Gap to Fontana Dam. They hope to be finished before Christmas.
Christian said theres only one thing he wants for Christmas: A new Ipad. Oh, and maybe a couple toys.
Michael Middleton, park resource manager with Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, said they were delighted to have the family stay.
We gave them a free room and meals, he said. It isnt every day we have a visitor whos about to land in the hiking history books.
To follow the familys progress, checkbuddybackpacker.comor follow him on Facebook.