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A Family of Five on the PCT

Marketa Daley  /  Nov 08, 2023  /  5 Min Read  /  JP Hike Stories

How one young family took on 1,300 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. (Hint: There’s candy.)

On March 16, 2022, the Daley family started walking the Pacific Crest Trail. Five months later, they had covered 1,300 miles, hiking around 8 miles a day (their longest day was 17 miles) with their three children under age 5—Sequoia, Joshua and Standa.

Words by Marketa Daley as told to Molly Baker

All photos by Marketa Daley

Is it more important to have your own family home or the flexibility to define one? A pandemic-era work furlough allowed Marketa and David Daley to explore this question in their lives—and at length.

With their three kids all under age 5, the Daleys took a 1,300-mile bite out of California’s Pacific Crest Trail starting in March 2022. Did they find fun? They did, among other discoveries, like kiddos are loud enough to scare all the bears away (that’s their theory at least), and there’s no limit to children’s energy. After the first week of five months on the trail, the Daley family finally had their own space (beyond the house they share with Marketa’s parents), even given the hundreds or so people they estimated to have seen while hiking the PCT. While David dreams of finding a piece of land to garden and settle their family, Marketa wants to keep doing these hikes. So while trail parenting isn’t the family’s only focus, it could go either way for the Daleys. Have kids, will hike? The following words dip into insights of theirs. If you decide to give it a go, happy trails to you. Your little ones will thank you someday.

A Family of Five on the PCT

Where it started. Imagine standing here with three kiddos and ahead it’s 2,650 miles to the Canadian border. This is where Marketa Daley and her family said goodbye to her parents. But before being dropped off, her father asked if they should stick around for a day, just in case. Marketa confidently told him no, because she believed her family at least deserved to give it a go. Campo, California.

Don’t Quit on Your Worst Day

Day hikes with this family are described as annoying—often with all kids crying, and Mom wanting to cry, too. So how could they possibly make it 1,300 miles with Sequoia (4), Joshua (3) and Standa (1 year and 8 months)? The first week on the PCT, Marketa was sure they wouldn’t, but then day-seven magic occurred. The whole family became accustomed to their new rhythm, and parenting became easier than being at home. “A lot falls away on thru-hikes,” she says. “And you don’t have all of the transitions of a day hike for the kids to adjust to.” On the PCT, none of the wrong distractions existed. The little ones found multiple purposes for everything around them. Rocks transformed into plates and jumping platforms, trees became resting places and climbing toys, and sticks turned into all the things. Their imaginations went wild, but so did the need for practicality and focus. They became partners in looking for good shade or where they all might sleep for the night—empowering tasks that helped the family function. And the parents transformed, too. David describes trail time as therapy for adults where nagging thoughts move through you and make space for others—a place to find confidence in his own parenting. Marketa discovered how to take more of the crazy risks that live in her head, and that if anything, they all deserved to try walking as far as they could go—which they did, for five months, hiking no more than 17(!) miles in a day.

A Family of Five on the PCT

Left: Everyone say cheese? Wait, we brought cheese? I thought we couldn’t fit the Gouda?

Rright: Sibling-care, not self-care, is where it’s at on the PCT. Standa brushes food crumbs and pine needles out of Joshua’s surprisingly tame mane.

A Family of Five on the PCT

When you’re under age 5, all water crossings seem vast. But those who want dry socks must land the jump. Sequoia and Joshua get a helping hand from David somewhere in the High Sierra.

Don’t Sweat the Sweets

Food logistics and choices were mostly complicated and mostly processed. Every four to five days they resupplied, with David taking trips off the trail to grab more packaged calories. (David is described as the food guy, while Marketa is the warrior of helping the whole family through mental barriers.) The middle child, Joshua, loved Kit Kat bars and lollipops. They all had to stay in love with tortillas because they couldn’t pack regular bread for the sake of space. At one point, the family could have ordered from Domino’s where a southern portion of the trail crossed a paved road, but they refrained. (Phone service is actually pretty decent on the PCT, which wasn’t the case when Marketa first hiked it 11 years ago.) Overall, there was lots of candy and preservatives consumed, and rarely any fruit or veggies: a dream for many kids. As for hydration, they averaged 20-mile water carries, which means they would often go a couple of days between refills.

A Family of Five on the PCT

Who needs play structures when you’ve got trees? Or as Marketa described in her journal: “This is simple living, nothing fancy needed, just a place to sleep and all else seems to fall into place somehow. There’s nothing to control or judge, and honestly, it feels that out here is the only place we can truly be ourselves: unhinged, real and simply human. If there’s something to show our children, it’s these places, even if we’re visiting for a short while, because nature is our home, the one we came from and will inevitably return to.”

A Family of Five on the PCT

Left: Three’s a crowd. Left to right, Joshua, Standa and Sequoia in good company, grimy smiles abound.

Right: Day 84 of the trip and Standa’s second birthday: The Daley family crossed paths with a hiker who pulled a little toy horse out of her backpack that Standa had lost somewhere in the desert. Here, Standa and some sunscreen enjoy the birthday views on top of Mather Pass, Sierra Nevada. Not shown: the type-two descent of the boulder field and snow-covered trail on the other side.

Sing, Fly like an Airplane, Sing Again

How did they keep the kids moving? How about themselves? By pretending to be airplanes, horses and race cars, zooming and galloping down the trail. When times were extra tough, Marketa and David became wild beasts who chased Sequoia and Joshua down the trail. Standa, their youngest, was usually on Marketa’s back in a pack, and she remembers singing an improvised version of Jingle Bells to him for an entire day, admittedly not knowing all the words. There was also special candy used as bribes to get to the next stopping point. Because of the need to feed five mouths, they had to keep their pace so they wouldn’t run out of food. No stops for napping or watching the clouds.

A Family of Five on the PCT

Day 101 on the trail started with relentless mosquitoes and ended with the only rain of the trip. Light but consistent, the moisture was enough to keep the bugs at bay and get the kids excited to play for two hours while the family set up an early camp.

A Family of Five on the PCT

Left: Sequoia ventures through sun cups, soon to become penitentes, during an evening descent of the nearly 13,200-foot Forester Pass. Most hikers make a push for a morning crossing to avoid slushy snow and post-holing, but the Daley family waited for the snow to soften so it wasn’t icy and dangerous for the kids.

Right: Marketa recalls holding Joshua’s hand every single day for over 500 miles, their sweaty palms slipping in the heat. She’d walk sideways through overgrown trails with him, hands and fingers going numb. One day, he finally let go. Over the 1,300 miles, his little sparks of bravery emerged and this perfected eye roll.

Leave Nothing but Imprints

Having gone farther than they ever imagined was possible, they called it quits in Oregon because of Joshua’s asthma. Frequently in contact with their PCT-supportive pediatrician, she eventually advised taking him off the trail due to a wildfire-related flare-up. How was coming off the trail and getting back into normal life? For the adults, life was weird for about a month. Marketa was depressed and instantly missed the trail. David remembers social awkwardness. There was difficulty articulating what they’d just experienced. The kids transitioned seamlessly; equal parts of their young reality have been on and off trail, after all. Sequoia, the oldest, remembers life before the PCT, but Marketa and David have noticed that the younger two’s living memory kind of started out there. The middle kiddo, Joshua, is now only 4 but often starts sentences with “On the PCT.”

A Family of Five on the PCT

The purple people-eater. The kiddos enjoy a magical camp spot somewhere high above the Kern River.

A Family of Five on the PCT

While on the PCT, the family’s challenge wasn’t hiking, but rest breaks, when the kids would sometimes lose their cool. Marketa and David eventually let the kids play wherever they wanted, as long as they were in sight. Sometimes they’d wander away, which flooded Mom and Dad with anxiety, naturally. The exercise, in the never-ending story of parenting, is always letting them go and then rushing in to pull them close again. Good job out there, parents. PCT or not, it’s a journey.

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