Mother and teenage son take on the Appalachian Trail

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Somers - posted Tue., Dec. 31, 2013
Dwight King and his mother, Diane, at the top of Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire, resting after finishing what’s considered one of the toughest ascents on the Appalachian Trail. Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

When 14-year-old Dwight King and his mother, Diane, announced to friends and family they planned to hike the Appalachian Trail for five months, there was a certain amount of alarm. Some advised them to carry a gun, Diane said.

Their experiences actually turned out to be quite pleasant. "We were just astounded at the kindness of strangers," Diane said.

The 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail stretches between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. Dwight and his mother discovered the trail is "very social" and full of hikers from all parts of the world. Hikers also gathered at shelters set up at intervals along the trail, and in each town where they stopped, they were met with hospitality, they said.

They also sometimes found gifts left by what are known as "trail angels," such as an iced-filled cooler containing drinks and snacks.

One especially memorable experience Diane recalled occurred in Tennessee. It was time for a shower and to sleep in a bed. They called a bed and breakfast recommended in their trail guide, and the owner insisted on coming to get them.

"We were cold and wet and we had our dog with us," Diane said. "She shows up in a Lexus with nice leather seats and she says, ‘Don’t worry about the mud, it washes off.’ Then she drives us to the last restaurant still open in town – it was getting late – and asks if while we are eating, she can do our laundry."

While they have several positive memories of people they met along the way, the real reward of this experience, they said, came from mother and son helping each other persevere.

This was the first major hike for Dwight, a Somers High School freshman, and he didn’t believe he’d make it to the end.

His decision to face the challenge, he said, came after his grandfather, Calvin J. Arnold, passed away. "He was one of the hardest workers ever… He was a fighter pilot in World War II and he was a POW… I decided to do this in his honor," Dwight said.

His grandfather spent his life working on the family farm where they raise shade tobacco. Diane still works there.

Dwight said he was also inspired by his mother who, before he was born, had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail that cuts through California, Oregon and Washington and is about 500 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail.

Still, the prospect of spending months hiking in all kinds of terrain, much of it during the oppressive heat of summer, was daunting to both mother and son. They agreed that after a couple of weeks, if either one wanted to quit, they would do so.

Instead, Dwight said, when one of them got discouraged, the other would keep them going.

And when they reached the northern terminus of the trail – and snapped a photo of Dwight triumphantly holding his favorite guitar aloft Mt. Katahdin – it was a turning point in his life, he said.

Before the hike, said his father Dan King, Dwight had very little interest in school. (Dwight’s father drove to checkpoints along the trail every other week, and joined them for the last 50 miles to the top of Mt. Katahdin.)

Completing the trail meant missing the first month of school, but Dwight amazed his parents and his teachers by making up his work – and maintaining an A average – within weeks.

Dwight now credits his experience on the trail with giving him a new level of confidence and an ability to apply his perseverance to other tasks – including tackling a new technique of guitar playing.

"Completing the trail – in the beginning, I never thought I would – made me believe I am more capable than I thought I was," Dwight said.

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