Family hikes 800 miles of Appalachian Trail with two young children

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- A Green Bay family spends nearly six months hiking 850 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The kicker: Their two young children were along every step of the way.

“A lot of people I met, especially men along the trail, would say, ‘I wish I could do this with my family,’” says Tom Volkmann, whose family hiked 800-some miles of the trail. “And it’s like, ‘Why not?’”

Last summer the Volkmann family decided to take on the Appalachian Trail, leaving everything behind – including their given names.

“We use these nicknames on the trail, they call them ‘trail names,’” says 13-year-old Timothy Volkmann, known on the trail as “Lightning Bug.”

The group quickly became known as “The Fam,” a novelty being the only family seen along an 800-mile stretch between Maine and New Jersey.

Tom Volkmann took on the role of “Papa Bear,” with wife Heather called “Mama Pajama,” and 7-year-old Isabella known as “Star Shine.”

“The Fam” says working together is really what brought them closer together.

“[My pack] was heavy,” says Isabella, or “Star Shine.” “And also that the weight on my back was a little irritating, so my mommy and daddy actually took some of that weight and put it in their backpack.”

“Star Shine” and “Lightning Bug” took home schooling on the road for the journey, trading traditional text books for some hands-on experience.

“I think I learned a lot more than when I would be sitting in a desk,” says Timothy, or “Lightning Bug.” “I am stronger mentally and physically. That's like the big one.”

“The Fam” says there were trials and tribulations along the way, often facing literal hurdles on the trial.

“Sometimes going uphill is steep. Sometimes going downhill is steep -- especially with those acorns when you slip on them,” says wide-eyed Isabella “Star Shine.” “That rolled me down the mountain.”

“It's not all joyous times. There's a lot of times that we had to ... It was hard, because we were going through some hard things,” Tom says. “But it made us stronger, and we're so much better for it.”

On top of that, priorities switched from what the Volkmanns call the “outside world” and life on the trail.

“[It’s] living as a minimalist really, just out of your backpack with one pair of clothes and not having to worry about ... Just surviving really,” Heather says. “Food, water, shelter.”

Through it all, “The Fam” says hiking hundreds of miles together made the finish line all the more worthwhile.

“To know that we're stronger than we think. And if we can make it through these mountains, we can make it through anything,” Heather says.

The family didn’t complete the entire Appalachian Trail but says they’re open to finishing up the rest of the trail sometime in the future.

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