Father and daughter tackle their next great adventure: Appalachian Trail

Shreyas Laddha
York Daily Record

In 2016, then 15-year-old Mackenzie Long wanted to be anywhere but on the John Muir Trail. 

The idea of spending three weeks hiking with her dad, Brian, smelling rancid and unable to talk her friends wasn't exactly the most appealing to the teenager. 

Though in those 10 days on the trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, Mackenzie was bitten by what hikers called the "hiking bug." 

Mackenzie fell in love with the picturesque clear blue water in the ponds, the refreshing smell of pine trees that wafted in the air, and the freedom of exploring the great outdoors. 

Now five years later, Mackenzie, 19 and Brian, 53, look to commence their next great adventure — the Appalachian Trail.

Brian Long and his daughter, Mackenzie, each have their own gear, so if one of them wants to go ahead of the other they can do so while hiking the Applachian Trail.

Both dreamed of completing the 2,200-mile thru-hike in 2020, but the global pandemic squashed that dream. 

For the duo from Dillsburg, this hike will mean more for a multitude of reasons. they are hoping to raise $10,000 to support clubfoot treatment for kids in need in Latin America and Africa through Hope Walks, an international charity with local central Pennsylvania roots. They choose this organization because 

More: Hikers share their photos of the Appalachian Trail

For Brian, this is an opportunity to fulfill dreams from 35 years in the past and like many, put a rough 2020 year in the rearview mirror. For Mackenzie, it's about discovering who she really is before she heads off to college and enters the adult world. 

Conquering the Trail together, for Brian, represents how he tries to live his life, where life experiences are king.

Brian is the owner of Cabinet Joint, a custom cabinet business located in Dillsburg. 

When he mentioned the idea of taking five months off to hike the Appalachian Trail, he got a lot of wary looks from friends and family.

"Everybody I talked to said I was irresponsible," Brian said. "'You are not going to leave your company, and you're stepping away from your life for five months,' they said.

"I said, 'Wait till your 85 and tell me what you wish you did."

More:A guide to hiking the Appalachian Trail in central Pennsylvania

For Brian, hiking the Appalachian Trail has been a dream that goes back to high school. 

When he was 16-years-old, he hiked a bit of the northeast portion of the Appalachian Trail with an older gentleman from his church. Long fell in love with the trail even as it rained all weekend.

"We made coffee under his poncho, while we were soaked to the bone," Brian said. "And I had the time of my life." 

For Mackenzie, this hike is a way of finding herself. She graduated high school a few years back and had been searching for purpose within her own life. 

"The trail is something I have had my eyes set on for years," Mackenzie said. ..."I think there is a very big part of me that is hoping to find myself on the trail." 

The father and daughter duo are already close, but the Trail will allow them to create lasting memories together. 

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Brian doesn't want to hold his daughter back from going ahead of him if she meets some younger hikers, although the objective is to finish the trail together. 

"We kinda agreed if we don't let each other go on their own pace, we will get burned out of each other," Brian said. 

Mackenzie, on the other hand, doesn't see burnout occurring. 

"I don't think I will get sick of him," Mackenzie said, laughing. "I've been living in the house for 19 years, and I am not sick of him. In fact, I think it will make us closer." 

They will start with a couple of days of food, but they plan to resupply as they go. The pair have their own gear, so if somebody ends up ahead of the other they aren't reliant on each other.

More:Central Pa. man finds himself, hikes for another on the Appalachian Trail

They plan to camp out on the trail for the most part. Occasionally, they will stay at hostels along the trail to get a warm bed and refreshing shower. 

The pair plan be vigilant about COVID-19 by wearing a mask any time they head into the town for a resupply.

As they walk every mile, they will try to get closer to their $10,000 goal for Hope Walks. Currently, they have raised $3,000. The duo officially started their trek on Apr. 8. 

"I think it was divine intervention that we weren't able to go," Brian said. "In 2021, I need a spiritual rebirth. ... Whereas in 2020, it was a bucket-list item. I am going for healing ... My daughter's using it as a jumping point into adulthood... I think for her it's a rebirth of a different kind where she's entering a new stage of life."