Wild Child

Remember the 2014 movie “Wild”? About a woman, self-named “Cheryl Strayed” (as in strayed from the path), who decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon, a journey of 1,100 miles. Recently divorced, her life in emotional tatters, the trip is supposed to help her figure out who she is and where she is going in life. With no hiking experience at all, the journey is filled with danger and discovery. The movie received positive critical reviews.

Free Will: William Addison

I was reminded of the movie this weekend after driving to Connecticut, to a trailhead on the Appalachian Trail (AT), to catch up with a young man with hemophilia who is now undergoing his own “Wild.” Will Addison is hiking 2,200 miles, southbound (“SOBO”) from Maine to Georgia, to raise money for the nonprofit I founded, Save One Life. That in itself is astounding. But consider this: he is not even 20, and is traveling solo.

Doug and I arrived at the trailhead around 5:30 pm, and immediately saw members of our local community, there to cheer Will on. Then Will’s parents arrived, David Addison and Victoria Kuhn, and their daughter Grace, Will’s twin sister, all from Maine. These are true outdoors people, who love camping and adventure. They came fully prepared to restock Will with food and supplies.

For Will, this was day 44, and mile 718. We parked by the side of the road, waiting for Will to appear.  There were freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from Victoria, beer, and lots of laughs. Some of us came equipped to camp overnight with the Addison family, and to see Will off in the morning. We learned from Victoria that Will would not arrive till about 9 pm, or later, so we decided to hike the 1.5 miles on the AT ourselves to find the camp site, and to set up camp. It was a lovely hike in the 90° heat, shady and moist. My biggest fear was the plethora of Virginia Creeper everywhere lining the trail. I am highly allergic to this plant: even a brush of it against my skin will leave a rash like a second degree burn for two straight weeks. And I was wearing shorts!

Bleeding disorder community waits for Will

Once at camp, we quickly set up tents, spread out our sleeping gear, and then hiked back again to wait for Will.

Around 9:30 pm, as we milled about, watching the magical and mesmerizing green flashing lights from the multitude of fireflies deep in the woods, out of the forest, out of nowhere, came Will! He literally burst into our little latern-lit gathering at the edge of the woods as if it was just a little stroll; in fact, he had just completed his longest day, at 28.5 miles. Just imagine… while carrying a pack weighing about 30 lbs.

He looked great. He is tall—6 feet 1 inch—with blond hair growing longer by the day, serene brown eyes, and lanky legs. He immediately sat down and began eating! We had a lovely visit with him and the community members, who peppered him with questions about his trip so far. Victoria, ever resourceful, brought a Save One Life sign, and we took a group photo. And we all signed his banner, which he is bringing with him to Georgia, the way Chris Bombardier did when he accomplished each of the Seven Summits. This sounds like a trite thing, but when you are limited it what you can carry, and you are traveling for 105 days solo, every ounce matters. It’s a huge display of respect and commitment for Will to carry the banner.

Hiking to camp

We had cheesecake in honor of a milestone birthday for the twins, just two days before!

By 10 pm we had to call it a day. The visitors drove off, and the final team hiked to camp: Victoria and David, daughter Grace and son Will, Doug and I, and Paul, father of a son with VWD. Now it was dark, with fireflies twinkling like little green stars above, so we used our headlamps to light the way on the trail.

Once at camp, we stuffed our food into a bear box, then quickly got to sleep in our sleeping bags on the ground in the woods, serenaded by the hooting of a barred owl that eventually flew off in search of prey.

Morning came fast, as birds lit up the woods in chorus at 5:30 am. By 7 am we had packed everything and readied for breakfast. Will showed me how to use my “Pocket Rocket,” a gas-powered cooking device. As I am a danger in a normal kitchen with a gas stove, this 5-inch device that looked like a little bomb scared me to death. But Will was a good teacher: I boiled water for tea successfully.

Laurie Kelley and Will Addison: sharing a love of hiking and contribution

This was a great time to ask Will about his journey so far. He is young, only a teen, but mature beyond his years. Still, where and how did he get this idea and ability? He is an athlete, participating in track at school, and soon to start cross-country track. He is a Boy Scout, “Third generation!” Victoria proudly added, a program which no doubt has provided him with the training and skills needed to camp out for 105 nights straight, and get him all the way to Georgia. He infuses often, every other day, to ward off bleeds. He has zero body fat (and lost about 10 pounds on the trail so far) but has muscle tone, so he is in excellent shape. He has an outdoor-oriented family, so the woods are not new to him. He seems to thrive in them like a true wild child!

He’s raising money and awareness for Save One Life, our international child-sponsorship organization. Why Save One Life? He wanted to make a difference in the world, beyond the borders of Maine, his home state. I sense he wants adventure in the great, wide world too. Perhaps one day Will and I will climb Kilimanjaro together, and he can also see our families in Kenya and Tanzania, how they struggle and how much they need our help. His eyes lit up at this idea.

Breakfast in the wild

Will spends most days alone on the trail, quiet, thinking, listening to music through his iPod. It can be lonely. He is only a kid, really. How does he keep it together? My most important question was this: what have you learned about yourself these past 45 days?

He thought for a moment, while munching on a baguette. “I think I’ve learned that I am more independent than I thought I was.”

Powerful statement. As parents of children with hemophilia, we want our children to be independent. This might be an extreme example, but a teen who can hike an average of a marathon each day for 105 days solo, while needing to infuse every other day, is beyond impressive. It’s stunning. He needs abilities like discipline, goal setting, planning (“He planned everything himself,” Victoria adds), preparation, focus. Independent? More than most adults I know. This young man, William Addison: watch for him. Donate to his hike’s cause, Save One Life (he wants to reach $10,000!). Follow him on Facebook. Learn some things from his amazing journey. He’ll be hiking till September.

William Addison is the type of young person we want to see more of in the world–with or without hemophilia. He is the future… I hope, with all my heart.

Wild child, full of grace, savior of the human race…. “Wild Child,” The Doors, 1969

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