A Family Fulfills Its Goal of Hiking Every Footpath in Acadia

Two years into a family hiking challenge, David Blanchard received a life-changing diagnosis. Instead of letting it sideline him, he picked up the pace.

The Blanchard family in Acadia National Park
By Michele Christle
Photos courtesy of David Blanchard
From our November 2023 issue

On an overcast day last summer, the Blanchard family, from Massachusetts, picked their way up Giant Slide Trail in Acadia National Park. The rocky path was slick from recent rain, and, parallel to the trail, Sargent Brook was gushing. It was the first hike of the Blanchards’ annual Acadia vacation, and it would shave a little more than four miles off the challenge they’d set for themselves in 2016: to hike every one of the park’s roughly 150 miles of footpaths. They were just 12 miles from reaching their goal.

The two girls, nine-year-old Nataly and 12-year-old Avery, are enthusiastic hikers, but they did occasionally ask their parents, David and Jocelyn, how much farther to their immediate objective, the top of Parkman Mountain. The answer was always the same: half a mile. “You can only see what’s on the trail in front of you, right?” said David, who has been coming to Acadia every summer since he was a kid. “You don’t know what’s around the corner. So we just keep going up the mountain.”

A collection of family photos from the Blanchards’ many Acadia hikes.

For the Blanchards, that’s more than just a philosophy of hiking. In 2018, at age 36, David was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, the degenerative neurological disorder. Ever since, he and his family have made a point of prioritizing their health and their quality time together. They chose to continue their Acadia quest on a more aggressive schedule, to stay ahead of the disease’s progression.

The Blanchard family recorded their completed Acadia hikes on this well-traveled trail map.
The Blanchard family recorded their completed Acadia hikes on this well-traveled trail map.

When the Blanchards reached Parkman’s bald summit, they found it enveloped in fog, the view an impenetrable gray. “I feel like we’re trapped up here,” Avery said. Jocelyn poured water into a travel bowl for Reese, their 30-pound rescue dog. Everyone’s hair was damp from the mist, and, to stay warm, Nataly and Avery huddled with Jocelyn’s parents, who had joined for the hike. “It could be worse,” David said, smiling.

Later, the family recorded their progress on a worn trail map (their second since they started their challenge) by tracing the completed route with a red Sharpie (their sixth). David felt strong. He exercises regularly, and a new doctor has prescribed medications that alleviate his symptoms. He’s been doing so well that Nataly recently asked to be reminded of the name of his disease. “If you met me on the street, you probably wouldn’t know I have Parkinson’s, right?” he said. That gives him hope, as do recent breakthroughs in the understanding of the disease. To that end, the Blanchards have raised more than $100,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, through the annual New England Parkinson’s Ride, a cycling event in southern Maine. They call their team Silver Linings.

Toward the end of the week in Acadia, the family completed their longtime mission by following the 1.6-mile Seaside Path to Jordan Pond House, where they celebrated with popovers and prosecco. Jocelyn walked Reese, and the girls held hands and skipped. David followed, watching them. “I got emotional on the last stretch,” he said. When they began this pursuit, Nataly was a toddler riding in a backpack, their old dog, Salinger, was trotting alongside, and David’s diagnosis was in the future. “So much has transpired, but Acadia has stayed consistent,” he said. “It’s a rock we return to in a life that’s constantly changing.”

Donations to their fundraiser for Parkinson’s research can be made online here.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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