A Jay native has completed a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, with her family, and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Danae Bland Netteburg, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Rollin Bland, completed the trail with her husband, Olen, and their four children – Lyol, 11; Zane, 9; Addison, 7; and Juniper, 4.

A Jay native has completed a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, with her family, and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Danae Bland Netteburg, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Rollin Bland, completed the trail with her husband, Olen, and their four children – Lyol, 11; Zane, 9; Addison, 7; and Juniper, 4.

Juniper is the youngest hiker ever to complete a thru-hike of the almost 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. She was given a trail nickname by other hikers–“The Beast.”

“She wasn’t carried at all. She walked every step,” Danae said.  

Olen added, “She often was the leader of our family, setting the pace for the rest of us to keep up.” 

Olen also added that the other three children also kept up the pace. “It’s amazing to watch the kids hike – 30 miles one day, and more than 25 miles on several days – with rarely a complaint.  We stopped for nature lessons, and to watch the wild animals. And occasionally for ice cream and other special treats.”

Zane remembers his first encounter with a wild animal. He almost sat on a rattlesnake. The family coached him on how to slide away slowly and leave the snake undisturbed.   

They also saw bears, deer, birds, bugs, and ponies in the Grayson Highlands of Virginia. They also found a host of small critters. They took a couple days off in Pennsylvania to mount some of the bugs.  “It was their classwork; we’re trying to make sure they’re learning while we hike,” Danae said.

“This is pretty fun school,” Lyol said.  

None of the children got tired of hiking. Day after day, the routine was similar.  Get up.  Start a fire. Make breakfast. Break camp. Start hiking.  Eat some snacks midway through the day. Stop for the night.  Pitch camp.  Cook supper. Tell stories around a campfire. Turn in.  

The family hiked in snow, sleet, rain, biting winds, thick fog, clouds, and summer heat.  Addison figured out the best way to dry wet clothes: “I just sleep in them, and they get dry.”  

They began hiking in February in Pennsylvania and had to hopscotch back and forth on the trail, because of the coronavirus. They hiked where it was safe, and where it was okay to hike.  That meant hiking Virginia, then more in Pennsylvania, then down to North Carolina, before jumping north to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine while the weather was nice.  

“We always wanted to stay safe,” Danae said. “We went where the trail was safest to hike and observed the rules of the state.”  

One of the biggest challenges was Olen’s severely sprained ankle, suffered in New Hampshire at about the halfway point of the hike. They family went to urgent care and learned it was just a severe sprain. They went right back to hiking, with Olen wearing an air cast for a few days, then an ankle brace for another week.

The hike has been a 9-month sabbatical from their regular work as missionary physicians at Bere Adventist Hospital in Chad, Africa. They’ve served the 100-bed hospital for 10 years, Dr. Olen as the Chief Medical Officer and Administrator and Dr. Danae as OB/GYN.  But they also have filled in many other physician specialties at the hospital as well.   

They’ve been planning the hike for more than 3 years. They went through two or three pairs of shoes – each! They ate hundreds of packets of ramen. They wore five and six layers of clothes on some of the coldest days – and shorts with t-shirts in the heat.  

Lyol and Zane became the official fire builders each morning. Addison hiked the last 1,000 miles in her favorite “princess dress” – complete with hiking boots, of course. Olen and Danae slept in a double hammock, while the four children shared a 2-person tent.  

“We did that to save weight,” Olen said. “We started out carrying about 160 pounds of gear. By the end we had stripped that down under 100 pounds. Every ounce mattered on some of the big climbs.”

The biggest climb was Mt. Katahdin in Maine. They left long before sunrise, walking with headlamps to light the trail They didn’t get back down to camp until well after dark, again with headlamps.  

“We used headlamps fairly often.  But they’re pretty standard lights at home in our village in Chad,” Olen said.  “So the kids were just fine hiking the trail at night.”

Danae explained that the children found stuff along the trail – and turned it into playthings. It could be a cool rock, or twigs with a grass strung to make a bow and arrow.  Or just a branch that became a walking stick.

The children also loved foraging for food along the trail.  Blueberries and raspberries in New England. Morel mushrooms and mustard greens in Virginia. Even pine needles, for vitamin C.