Following is a poem that Neva “chipmunk” Warren wrote to her parents.
Sore, abused, bruised.
Tired, swollen, ankles roll-en.
Up and Down,
South and North
I cannot fly,
I must go forth.
Out of your depth
And unable to breathe,
Thousands of feet above the Sea
In the world you can be alone
Surrounded by people
Here, you are so fargone
by that idea,
So far from home,
you wish you were alone.
Where every rock you step on leaves a scar,
and every branch you touch leaves a mark on your soul.
Here, you are always out of time,
because unlike you, this path can never grow old.
The journey begins
At age nine Neva was rated number one in the country for BMX for her age group. She also had a knack for rock climbing, so much so her dad built a rock wall on the side of their house. She also enjoyed roller derby. In 2011 she and her parents rode their bikes 3,800 miles to promote the sport of BMX.
Recently, while hiking with her parents on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, she realized she was a natural born hiker. So at age 14 she announced to her parents that she wanted to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. Initially her parents thought she meant with them. It wasn’t long before her parents understood she wanted to do this by herself.
And not only did she want to do this by herself. She wanted to become the youngest person ever to solo hike the AT. Now there have been younger people who have hiked the AT. Kyra Lowther comes to mind. She and her parents thru hiked in 1973 when she was 10 years old. But she hiked with her parents.
There have been others who have done it with one or more of their parents. Neva was going to do it by herself. After some discussion and much planning, her parents decided to let her do it. As I write this, Neva “chipmunk ” Warren is living her dream. Not only is she living it – she is more than half way done.
Recently I had the pleasure of spending some time with chipmunk. And to tell you the truth, it was magical. The following is my story of the time I spent with chipmunk.
How I met chipmunk
Let’s go back a few months to a post put up on Facebook from mountain crossings, about a 14 year old girl who was thru hiking the AT by herself. I re-posted it, and the fireworks started. There were well over a hundred comments; most people were not in support. I bring this up because that is how I first heard of chipmunk. Now that I knew about her and what she was attempting, I went down to Appalachian Trail Days in Damascus hoping to run into her. The three days I was there I looked all over for chipmunk and kept missing her. Trail Days came and went and I went home without meeting her.
About six weeks ago I received a friend request from Tammy Warren. And I accepted the friend request, not really knowing who she was. But within a short time, I realized she was chipmunk’s mom, and I started following her blog. We would chat back and forth occasionally.
Then I received an e-mail from Tammy.
I think I have a good idea and I’d like your feedback. Chipmunk and I checked out your website and we really like what we see. Our family has a history of depression and Neva (Chipmunk) is not immune to it, unfortunately. Our family has used exercise and big adventures to keep it manageable without meds.
Neva and I believe there’s a good opportunity to bring publicity to your organization when she gets to the PA/NJ border, which we think will be this Friday or Saturday. If you and/or your crew are willing to do some media contacting, Neva said she’d love to speak out about the benefits of hiking and dealing with the emotional rollercoaster the teen years can be especially.
She got a lot of experience speaking with the media during our 3800 mile bike ride in 2011 and she has handled tough questions well in her last 2 TV interviews and her 3 newspaper and online magazine interviews during this hike.
I dont know if you have many young people (teens) involved in your organization but if you do, she’d probably enjoy seeing some folks born in the 90s.
I’ve been selectively letting her do media and it’s worked well when we seek them out; the only impromptu tv interview she gave (when a tv crew interviewed her because they were tired of waiting for the Warrior hikers to arrive) is the only one that resulted in some hate mail directed at me.
So, let me know your thoughts,
I contacted Leo, my partner in HIKE for Mental Health, and the wheels started rolling. On a Friday in July we had a press conference at the Village Bakery and Market in the Delaware Water Gap.
When I arrived at the bakery, I walked right up and we shook hands and we gave each other a hug. There are some people in the world that, when you meet them, they make you feel like you have known them for years. Chipmunk is one of those people. And so is her mom Tammy. When the interview with the reporter was over, I got a chance to chat with Tammy and chipmunk for quite a while. I asked chipmunk if she would mind hiking with me and two friends, Mona and Wendy, on Sunday. She said she would love to.
Hiking with Chipmunk
Chipmunk was planning on doing 14 miles that day. We said we would meet up with her after she was about two miles in.
Sunday morning Tammy dropped chipmunk off at the trail head. And Mona, Wendy and I got to the trail and started hiking sobo (southbound) to meet up with chipmunk who was hiking nobo. We were not hiking but maybe six minutes when we ran into chipmunk. We gave each other a hug, and I introduced Mona and Wendy. Mona and Wendy both seemed a bit star-struck at first, but after a minute or so we were off hiking.
Chipmunk is short and as cute as a button with a wicked good since of humor. Now when you look at chipmunk you may see a fifteen year old child. But when you start to hike with her and talk with her, you get the the feeling you are in the presence of a great woman. And you are.
After a couple of miles we reached what I call the Devil’s Wall – a forty foot vertical wall that the AT lovingly has you climb. I went up first so I could shoot video of the girls coming up.
As the day went on every time we would stop, chipmunk would take her pack of and lay down like she was going to sleep. And say just give me a good kick when I have to start walking again.
I’m not going to talk about her safety net except to say that her mom knows where she is at all times. If anything were to happen, help would be on the way. Neva also checks in by texting her mom often and calling a few times a day.
Remember when I said she had a wicked since of humor? Well, it was funny when she told her mom she killed me and I was no longer with them. Note her mom’s immediate response and you will know where chipmunk gets it from.
When we stopped for lunch, chipmunk answered any questions Mona and Wendy had. Even though she was asked these question by many people she took her time. It was like hiking with an old friend. At fifteen she has so many wonderful stories to tell and you just know you are hiking with a very special person.
After a few hours chipmunk said, “I hope you guys don’t take this the wrong way, but since I left Georgia I have hiked with many people, and you are my second favorite people to hike with.” All our mouths dropped open, and we all said, “Wow, we will take that. That’s awesome.” She went on to explain the person who was number one was a guy a lot closer to her age and she really liked hiking with him. I did say that if we had known we were going to be number two, we would have brought more candy. Chipmunk has a weakness for Twizzlers.
As we were making our way down the decent to trail head where Moma chip (her mom) was waiting for us in the chip mobile with chipmunk’s dog chocolate chip, I slipped and my legs went right out from under me. Down I went on my back with a huge popping sound. I jumped up and turned my back so chipmunk could see the back of my pack and I said, “Did I rip my pack?” Chipmunk looks at me and says, “That’s what your worried about, did you rip your pack?! I thought you broke your leg!” I said, the leg would heal if I did, but I love this pack.
When we got back to the car, we all piled into the chip mobile and headed off to my boat to have dinner on the lake. Before we all said our good nights I arranged for my friend Doug and I to hike with her again in the morning.
Reflections on hiking with chipmunk
Chipmunk is very fun to hike with; she keeps you laughing the whole time. And when she’s not talking and your hiking near her, you can here her, not really singing, but more than humming. And it it this pretty sound you get to listen to while hiking.
She also will not let you forget, she will joke about being a celebrity, I told her, don’t let it go to your head because five miles from this trail no one knows who you are. I truly love hiking with her. And her mom is a “pissa.” ” In case you don’t know, that’s a Jersey compliment.
Day two hiking with chipmunk
The next day I woke early and stopped to buy more Twizzlers for chipmunk on the way to the trail. Doug and I decided to hike sobo for 3.5 miles and wait at a shelter for chipmunk. We made good time and waited about forty five minutes for chipmunk to show up. She rested a short time and I gave her some candy, then off we went.
After about an hour we ran into “joe cool,” a thru hiker that chipmunk knows. We chatted a bit then I led the way. Knowing I had a few thru hikers with me I made sure I hiked strong. But I knew I could not keep the pace for more than about an hour. We stopped at a shelter for the thru hikers to get water, then we all headed over to my car for some cold soda. At this point Doug and I had hiked about 7 miles. When we all started up I told the thru hikers to lead, and I also told chipmunk if you want to hike with them go ahead. She said that would not be fair cause you drove all this way to hike with me. So she led the way and we were cranking. The three other thru hikers pulled out of sight. Now chipmunk is a thru hiking purist; she is going to pass every white blaze. She also carries a full pack, with tent, sleeping bag, stove, and food – for two reasons. First, in case of an emergency, and second, so no one can say she was slack packing. After all she is going for a record and wants it to be clean.
We came to a junction where there was a red dot trail off to the right which loops away from the AT then joins back up where we were going to end our hike for the day. The red dot trail is a longer route. But I wanted to try it. So I left chipmunk and Doug and headed down the red dot trail. Because it was longer I really cranked; I did not want them waiting for me.
When I got to our meeting point, only Moma chip was there. For about twenty minutes we chatted, and I drank soda and had cup cakes. Then the thru hikers came out of the woods. And about twenty mins later, Doug and chipmunk came out. Their last section was extremely rocky and difficult. Even though I had to do more miles, mine were quite a bit less rocky. We hung out for about a half an hour, then Doug, chipmunk, Moma chip and I headed out to dinner.
As we were all sitting at the table the waitress came over to take our order. I told her put Moma chip and chipmunk on my tab, which started a bit of an argument between Moma chip and I. As we were bickering chipmunk looked up at the waitress and said. “I really don’t care who pays; I’ll take the baked ziti.”
After a nice dinner and more fun stories, we said good bye in the parking lot and left. I drove about four miles and remembered I had all the candy I bought for chipmunk in my pack. So I turned around and drove back and gave chipmunk her candy. One more hug good bye to them and I headed home.
“Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
That is one of my favorite quotes. And comes to mind after spending two days hiking with chipmunk. Chipmunk is now fifteen, not quite a woman yet and not quite a child anymore. And she gets to see the light in all the strange places.
When hiking with her for the past two days, I saw parts of her that were just a little girl being silly and having fun. And parts of her that were more adult than I will ever be. Sometimes in your life you meet people who really leave a mark. And chipmunk left a mark on me. I got to hike with someone who is destined to do great things. In her own words, “I want to do twelve Herculean adventures in my life.” She has already biked 3,800 miles with her mom and dad. And now she is half way through the AT. I’d say she’s off to a great start.
Seldom in your life do you actually get to meet someone who is such an inspiration. There were so many funny moments with chipmunk I could never remember them all. It was also nice to see her interacting with other thru hikers and seeing how they just treat her as an equal. The magic is hard to put into words, I know I am a better person for meeting her. And I know for a fact if I grabbed my pack and just got on the trail with her I would be able to complete her second half of her hike with her. No doubt in my mind. Inspiration will carry you. And she is inspiration.
There are people in life who look at a situation and look at all the reasons why they can’t do something. And then there are people who look at the same situation and look at all the ways you can do it. Chipmunk and her parents are the latter. And they are the ones who make a difference in this world. And chipmunk will be one of those people.
When you talk about thinking outside the box, chipmunk doesn’t even see the box.
I spent two great days. Two great days a mere drop in the bucket of chipmunk’s life. But about a five gallon splash in mine.
Thank you, Moma chip, for giving me this great opportunity to meet you and chipmunk. And thank you, chipmunk, for taking the time to let us hike with you. And when you summit please let me know. If at all possible I would love to be there.
I am a better person today and for that I thank you, chipmunk. Now take the Twizzler out of your mouth and get walking.
On one final note, here is a poem Neva wrote before her 3,800 mile bike ride.
It’s the Ride
It’s the burning in my legs,
it’s the fire in my heart,
it’s about to start,
it’s what sets me apart.
it’s the pedals going up and down,
it’s the wheels going ’round and ’round,
it’s the hills, dragging up and flying down,
it’s the rain pushing me back,
it’s the headwind’s smack,
it’s the pushing, the driving, in the pouring rain,
it’s the pressure to push, to finish, to reach the end,
it’s the greatness, the glory, the swollen pride,
it’s the way ahead, just a mile ahead, when your legs are dead
it’s the rhythm, the pounding, the fire inside
it’s the ride.
IT’S THE FIRE IN HER HEART.