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Toddler Strikes, Derailing Family's Plans To Thru-Hike Pacific Crest Trail

Three small children walk up a hill, one behind another behind another. The hill has white and yellow flowers here and there, and there are trees and more hills in the distance.
Sequoia, Joshua and Standa Daley on the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California
(Courtesy of Marketa Daley)
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It was the 2-year-old who ruined everything — which is not surprising to any of us who have kids.

OK, I'm exaggerating. Little Standa didn't ruin everything. But he's gotten older and more active since the Daleys set off from the California-Mexico border in March to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to Canada.

The family has hiked more than 1,200 miles with their three kids ages 2, 3 and 5. Standa was the only kid hitching a ride on a parent's back, but lately he's been wanting to hike on his own, trotting behind his brother and sister for several miles at a time.

"His personality changed and it became harder to carry him in the carrier," Marketa Daley said when I reached her in Portland, Ore.

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But now Marketa said they may not go much further.

"Knowing when to stop with kids is important," she wrote in a recent post on her Instagram account chronicling their journey, "just as important as knowing how to keep them going, and for us, honoring the age that Standa is at is critical."

For all their progress, a number of factors had started to work against them.

Marketa had recently gotten a new carrier so she could hike with Standa on her front and he could get in and out easier. It didn't work out like she hoped.

"I mean, as much as I love him,” she said, “I can't have him, like, looking at me the whole day because he's like, viciously clawing at me and playing with my eyes and putting his fingers in my nose."

Even before the carrier fiasco, the family had gotten off the trail in Northern California because of the heat and potential water contamination in the Dixie Fire burn zone. They then headed by car to northern Washington, intending to hike north to tag the Canadian border, where the PCT ends, and then hike south as far as they could before autumn snow in the Cascade Mountains made the hike impossible. (Marketa calculated that, at the rate they had previously been going north, some 13 miles a day, they would've been in Washington, with lots of snow, around Christmas. They had long ago realized this wasn't practical — Marketa earlier than David.)

Once they had regrouped in Washington, they also realized that the distances between possible food re-supplies were too far apart to reasonably keep fed a family of five hungry hikers.

Marketa delivered the news to the kids: They were probably done.

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But now, the family is in Portland, scheming a way to hike as much as they can of the Pacific Crest Trail south through Oregon before the end of October, when Marketa's husband David has to be back at work.

What do the older kids think about this?

"Yesterday, I was like, 'Well, you guys, you know how a couple days ago I told you that we're done hiking? Well, we're gonna try to hike more. And both of them were like, 'Yay!'"

(It's almost like a trip to Disneyland.)

No matter how far they get, Marketa said she feels good about it. "This is what we came out here to do, to just give it our best, and I feel like we're doing that," she said.

She thought back to the first leg of the PCT, in San Diego County, when she was ready to give up.

"I felt so done after those 20 miles,” she said. “And I just can't believe we hiked most of California.”

What questions do you have about Southern California?