Moby Dick, Robert Frost, and Einstein on the Appalachian Trail

2 Jun

I’d like to introduce you to the Kallin family,

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.32.57 AM

my husband’s cousins who live in rural Maine. The father (trail name: All In) is an environmental lawyer and their mother (trail name: Mama Bear) is a biologist and farmer extraordinaire. They pulled their two kids, ages 7 (trail name: Cartwheel) and 9 (trail name: Robin Hood) out of school at the end of March to hike the Appalachian Trail from the southern tip in Georgia to the northernmost point in Maine, approximately 2,185 miles, the longest continuously marked footpath in the world. It should take them six months.

Along the way, they’ve been “trail schooling,” a more exciting version of home schooling. An example? One day they were observing cloud formations, noting the difference between cirrus, stratus, stratocumulous, cumulonimbus, and—

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.34.08 AM

Ominous. Yes, their education contains a certain amount of humor, including an observation from their father in a recent post:

Over these first two months of watching the kids draft behind other hikers, I’ve been working out my special theory of relativity. This is what I have so far:
E = m * (1 – 2c) ^ 2
Where ‘E’ is the kids’ energy level; ‘m’ is the miles per hour of the hiker in front of them; and ‘c’ is the degree of genetic relatedness they have with the hiker in front of them.

Thus, as c approaches zero, the kids have the energy to keep up with any hiker, but as c approaches 1/2 (the genetic relatedness between a parent and their child who always has half their genes), the kids’ energy level approaches zero. This special theory of relativity is still a work in progress, but in practice!while they might declare that they are too tired to hike when it is just the family, you will never hear such a complaint when they are drafting behind a non-parent.

One recent fine morning, the kids got up at the crack of dawn to hike with a fellow traveler (trail name: Wired, note that c=0) on a big mileage day. Along the way, she recorded Cartwheel reciting the opening page to Moby Dick and Robin Hood reciting Frost’s “A Road Less Traveled”—while walking uphill at a brisk pace. The sound of these young voices makes my heart sing! 





33 Responses to “Moby Dick, Robert Frost, and Einstein on the Appalachian Trail”

  1. FictionFan June 2, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Gosh, what a fabulous adventure! But hard work…over 10 miles a day! I’m with the kids, parents should do more carrying. But what I find more impressive even than the walking is the idea that a child of 7 has memorised chunks of Moby Dick – a book I’ve still failed to read even at the age of umpty-four!

    Great story, Jilanne – inspiring!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 2, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

      Makes me want to take to the hills right now! Exercise is good for the brain, so they say. Do you think it’s possible to read and walk without falling on my face?

  2. Vanessa-Jane Chapman June 2, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    This is absolutely wonderful, what a great experience for the kids and they will learn so much more, or so much more about things that count, doing this for those six months rather than being in regular school. I love this! I only heard the first child on the recording though?

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      Oops! When I listened to it the first time, Robin Hood’s poem started after Cartwheel finished. I’ll have to investigate the problem.

      Yes, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about their experience. It’s inspiring and makes me want to take my son out of school and go for a traipse around the world!

      • Jilanne Hoffmann June 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

        I found the separate recording of “Robin Hood” reciting Frost’s poem and added it to the blog post. It’s pretty amazing how fast these kids are walking, especially going uphill, and still able to talk. They are in much better shape than I.

        And yes, they’ve been learning quite a bit about botany, ecology, and biology, in addition to astronomy, meteorology, and how to walk on their hands. 😀

      • Vanessa-Jane Chapman June 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

        Well if you come to England, look me up!

        • Jilanne Hoffmann June 3, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

          I promise to call first, before I land on your doorstep. 😀

  3. susanissima June 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    The idea of trail school is fantastic brilliant. I just love the Kallins! The recitals remind me of when my son, Moshe, recited “All the World’s a Stage” while slaughtering me at chess one rainy afternoon. It was a miracle of multi-tasking, utterly defying trendy, yet clearly incorrect research. 🙂

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

      Your son sounds fabulous! Who wouldn’t want to be beaten in chess by a young man quoting the great Shakes?

  4. Mrs. P June 2, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    What a fabulous opportunity! Is your husband’s cousin’s blog a public one.? It seems like an interesting trip. I had to laugh at the kids readings, imagining the uphill climb and worrying that they might walk into something as they were looking down at the books. Bravo for parents thinking differently!

    • Mrs. P June 2, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

      I just read the comments and realized they were reciting these, not reading them…even more impressive!

      • Jilanne Hoffmann June 2, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

        Yes, it is, isn’t it?! Those kids (thanks to their parents) are making memories and friends that will last a lifetime. And they are learning much along the way.

        It is a public blog. If you click on Kallin family above, it will take you to their “About” page.

        • Mrs. P June 3, 2014 at 4:54 am #

          Wonderful, Thanks!

  5. Lady Fancifull June 3, 2014 at 1:43 am #

    What a wonderful adventurous, spirited family. The pioneering spirit is vibrant, alive and well! Life as the excitement for challenge and what happens next. Its spirited and soulful and fun. Please send high fives, cheers, thumbs-up and lots of whoops to your super hiking rellies, from a city-based blogger, if email or text communication happens. I love this idea of great stories and poems shared out at a fast pace!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

      I will give them your fives-cheers-thumbs up-whoops. Thanks. I hope we get to hear more sometime down the road.

  6. cricketmuse June 3, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    Wow! Moby Dick–impressive!

  7. heylookawriterfellow June 3, 2014 at 6:27 am #

    That’s cool in theory, but pulling the kids outta school to hike?

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      Ah, but you see these two kids are not “just hiking.” They are learning more about resilience, determination, and resourcefulness that will make them tremendously more successful in their later years than could ever be provided by “school learning.” Don’t underestimate the wisdom of these two parents. They are both off the charts in brains and their kids are, too. The kids’ classrooms are all following the blog where the kids in the classroom get to ask questions while the kids doing the hiking respond. They are learning about history, geography, and everything else you can imagine during their daily travels. They will not be “behind” at all when they return to school in the middle of the fall.

      I’m thinking you might be having a visceral response to the untidiness of it all. 😀

      • heylookawriterfellow June 4, 2014 at 8:06 am #

        OK, you sold me. (I do like how their journey is being used in the classroom.)

        And, yes, nature is very, very dirty, isn’t it?

  8. Call of the Siren June 3, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    You had me smiling and completely immersed by this post’s second sentence. As always, Jil, what a dang pleasure!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 3, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      Thanks, Nick! I’m wishing I were on a trail somewhere right now. I’m getting the itch for an adventure.

  9. thiskidreviewsbooks June 4, 2014 at 4:19 am #

    HA! I love the “mathematical” equation! 😉

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 4, 2014 at 7:50 am #

      It’s funny and brilliant, isn’t it? Thanks for stopping by, Erik.

  10. Letizia June 6, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    What a fantastic adventure! I loved hearing the kids recite the texts – recitation is so wonderful, I still remember much of what I had to recite as a child. Trail school…. I would have loved this as a child (at least for a few days, haha!).

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 6, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      Yes, I’m not sure I would be able to make it through the part where my socks kept their shape without my feet being in them. That, and I prefer to shower every morning to wake myself up. 😀 I’m such a wimp.

  11. 4amWriter June 6, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    I think this is a great idea. My kids (and I) aren’t huge fans of classroom learning, mainly because they are in a public school with mixed classes, and there is a lot of stopping and starting, and lots of waiting, and lots of repetition. A lot of wasted time.

    But, there is that all-important social factor in schools where kids learn how to engage with others, especially others who are different in some way. Also, where they learn to take instruction from someone other than a parent.

    I think if families could do something like what the Kallins are doing at least once, it would be wonderful. Not necessarily taking kids out of school or gone for several months, but something to this effect.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 6, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      Yes, that’s the main problem I have with group education in general. But if people (adults or kids) get the opportunity to help those who might not “get it” the first time around, I think there is great benefit to “teaching” those who have more difficulty with a concept as la way to reinforce what has been learned.In other words, you learn by teaching.

      I’m also a fan of social education. These two kids are super social and bright, and as you can tell by the father’s comment, they have no trouble taking instruction from other adults. : D

      I’m ready to pack my backpack right now.

  12. kim hayash June 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    I am so excited for you and your family. I met my husband on the AT in 1996 and got married on the Trail 8 years later. We have been hoping and planning for years to hike the John Muir Trail with our 9 year old son when he turns 10, but he often expresses the desire to do other things instead; usually things that involve a ball. I am hoping you will be an inspiration for him to, ‘take a hike’. Good Luck!!!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 18, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      HI Kim, Thanks for stopping by! Make sure you follow the Kallin family blog so you can watch their progress. They’re having a fabulous time. And it sounds like this is in your future. Our son is the same way with baseball. I suggest you take a ball with you and throw it up the trail. That way, he can play ball and hike at the same time. 😀 I think you’ll be glad you did!


  1. Appalachian Trail Hikers on NPR | Jilanne Hoffmann - June 15, 2014

    […] who are hiking the Appalachian Trail with their two children. The children were reciting from Moby Dick and Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled.” NPR caught wind of the family’s adventure and interviewed them on the […]

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