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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”