“My family has always camped,” said Dan Venable. “Whenever our extended family gathers, stories come up from our many camping expeditions usually followed by a lot of laughter. This intrigued my wife, whose family did not camp. On numerous occasions we discussed the importance of doing something like this with our kids to create great memories.”
As the Venable boys moved into their formative years, the dads - Bob, Dan and Sam Venable - began planning an adventure for their sons. One thing led to another and the decision was made to try and conquer the Appalachian Trail.
“The first year it was three dads and our four boys ranging in age from 8 to 13,” said Sam Venable. “We went for four days and nights. It was a great way to spend time with our boys away from all the distractions in life. Before we knew it, we had been doing this for eight years with our kids.”
Both Sam and Dan laughed recalling the time they all met at Unicoi State Park to head out for four days.
“We weren’t very far down the trail when we ran into a Boy Scout troop and we asked where they were coming from,” said Dan. “They said, ‘We started here and turned around because there is a tropical storm headed this direction with 8-12 inches of rain.’ The Scout Master emphatically told us we needed to turn around as well, but we said we were set to go and we weren’t turning back. After several minutes of trying to convince us not to go out, the Scout Master gave up, but insisted on taking our picture. We figured it was so they could identify us after the fact.”
The Venable men and boys did get the rain, all eight inches. One son said he thought there was more water in his boots than on the ground. They all lived to tell about the experience and have some pretty funny shared memories.
“I recently asked my youngest son if these trips formed him into the young man he is today,” Dan said. “When you are away from technology and all of life’s distractions, you have a lot of time for deep conversations about things like relationships, struggles and God, and you have time to ponder who you are as a person. My son said that he didn’t think the trips necessarily formed him, but they helped him figure out who he is as a person."
“It was physically challenging for all of us,” Sam said. “We worked together to come up with a plan. Everybody had to participate. All of us had 30-40 pound packs and we had to figure out how to make the water and food supply last.”
The Venable "boys" are men now. As the dads reminisced about their adventures, they said they wouldn’t trade the bonding and memory-making opportunity with their boys.
These men have given their sons something priceless: the gift of their time and deeper relationships with the men in their family. Plus, they'll be telling future generations about their treks on the Appalachian Trail.