HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. -- At 6 and 8, Sage and Autumn Pratt of Twin Falls, Idaho, are like lots of kids their age.
They like playing, eating Snickers bars and experiencing the great +outdoors+.
But unlike other young children, they are spending the spring, summer and fall hiking the 2,167-mile footpath known as the Appalachian Trail, along with their parents, Dennis and Esther.
If Sage -- already a highly skilled hiker -- completes the hike, he will end up tying the record for the youngest person to ever cover the entire trail, according to the Appalachian Trail Conference.
The Pratts began their 2,000-mile odyssey in Georgia April 21.
''I think it's important for every family to have an adventure together, whatever it is,'' Dennis said.
The family is determined to hike the total length of the trail. When they reached Harpers Ferry on July 23, the official halfway point between Georgia and Maine, they stopped to buy a new pair of shoes.
Instead of hiking on from Harpers Ferry to Maine, the four planned to hitch a train to head up the coast and then hike back down to West Virginia. This particular method of traveling the trail is called ''flip-flopping.'' Dennis said the idea is to avoid any early snowfall this autumn in the mountains of Maine.
''We hope to be back here by the end of October,'' Dennis said.
The family's journey, he said, helps to teach his children patience, courage, both moral and physical, as well as instilling a sense of focus to their lives. At the same time, he and Esther are sensitive to their children's concerns while undertaking such a project, which includes learning how to cope with the intense afternoon heat.
Among the four of them, they probably consume nearly three gallons of water a day, Dennis said.
Esther said the children had no concept of what they were up against when they agreed to set out on the journey, but in the 2 1/2 months since they began, Sage and Autumn have learned to be adaptable.
The family hikes for about seven hours each day. Days are divided in two parts. A four- or five-hour break in midday -- when it's hottest -- is not only physically required but gives the children time to play, which boosts their energy.
Although their target distance is tackling 15 miles of trail every day, Dennis said, they've been doing 16 or 17 miles recently.
In addition to trail mix, Snickers bars, maps and a compass, the Pratts carry school books in their backpacks so the children can keep up with their lessons while out on the trail. The two have been home-schooled. The experience of hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail probably will be like no other, Dennis said, and will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
While the worst part of the Appalachian Trail is the hills, the best part is all the interesting animals they've see along the way, like bears and rattlesnakes, Sage said.
Autumn said she also likes the animals they've encountered, but is partial to the large-sized millipedes.
Overcoming boredom is also a challenge for the children, Dennis added.
Sage and Autumn are rewarded periodically with special prizes handed out for conduct and for getting to a specific mile marker.
Autumn said she is having fun and is glad her parents settled on hiking the trail when trying to come up with a unique way to spend time together.
Dennis, who worked 20 years with the U.S. Forest Service, knew well how to make his way over rocks and through the trees. His children also have hiked in the wilds of Idaho, so the Appalachian Trail seemed like their best bet for a grand journey.
Harpers Ferry is home to the Appalachian Trail Conference, which protects and maintains the multistate footpath through the use of volunteers, benefactors and government agencies.
Ed Muhalick, a volunteer at the Washington Street headquarters, said officials there don't see too many families like the Pratts coming through with such young children.
First hiked by Pennsylvania resident and World War II veteran Earl Shaffer, the Appalachian Trail usually takes hikers six months to complete.
It stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin, Maine, crosses eight national forests, six segments of the national park system, state parks and scores of small mountain communities, according to the state Division of Tourism.
Although Shaffer died at the age of 83 in May, the trail he made famous currently attracts around 3,000 hikers a year. Roughly 500 end up completing the trip, according to Laurie Potteigher of the Appalachian Trail Conference.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.