Classification Officer Bob Houck has always enjoyed hiking and being outdoors. When his daughter, Reagan, then a freshman in high school, asked to come along for the first time in 2017 he had high hopes. With any luck they’d have father-daughter bonding time and maybe even find a common interest they could enjoy together.
“Then it poured rain,” said Houck, who works at NNSA’s Savannah River Field Office in Aiken, South Carolina. “The remnants of Hurricane Harvey were passing through Georgia and it was a total washout for two of the four days. I thought that was the end of that. I did not think she would ever go on another backpacking trip.”
To Bob’s surprise, the next time he planned a hike, Reagan asked to come again. Since that day four years ago, Bob and Reagan have found their common interest – hiking hundreds of miles together throughout the Southeastern United States on the world-famous 2,190-mile-long Appalachian Trail.
When COVID-19 hit the world in early 2020, the socially distanced nature of hiking made it one of the few activities Bob and Reagan could continue to do together. Hiking the trail in sections, several days to a week at a time, Bob and Reagan reached the Virginia state line in September 2020 after hiking nearly 350 miles of the Appalachian Trail together from their start in Georgia.
“We averaged at least 40 miles each trip. Every Spring Break for a week, extended weekends, and holidays. One of her college application essays now is about the difficulty of hiking and overcoming challenges to accomplish your goals,” said Houck.
With all the challenges everyone has faced over the past year, Bob and Reagan haven’t missed a single planned hiking weekend due to COVID-19.
“We did postpone one hike in April, but that was due to an injury,” said Houck. “As far as COVID-19 goes, it doesn’t get more socially distanced than the middle of the woods. Since she’s now a senior, and she’ll be headed off to college in the fall, it’s nice that we’ve been able to spend this time together.”
Bob plans to continue hiking the Trail with Reagan and complete as much as they can together this spring and summer after taking a break over the winter months. With more than 1,500 miles still to go, he says his daughter’s college will come, and hopefully COVID-19 will go, before they have the chance to finish. But the experience of spending time together and not letting the pandemic spoil their final year before she leaves for school is one he feels fortunate to enjoy.
“Every once in a while, you get lucky and your kids’ interests align with your own,” said Houck. “I never thought we’d be where the world is right now, but I appreciate with everything that’s happened over the past year, our hiking together is something that’s stayed normal. I’m very fortunate. More than most.”