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Family finds bond in hiking Rachel Carson Trail Challenge

| Sunday, May 31, 2009

When the Horvat family walks, they don't stroll around the block.

Every step members of the Hampton quartet take has a purpose.

Father Rob walks with the experience of having once done more than 34 miles in a day. He is the consistent presence that keeps the family moving ahead.

Son Ben gets a little stronger and confident -- at 7 years old, miles seem a lot longer.

Daughter, Lilli, two years Ben's senior, has done long hikes before and is a credible source of encouragement to her little brother.

Mother Michelle is just as new to this as Ben, but her legs are longer.

The Horvats are training for the annual Rachel Carson Trail Challenge's Family Challenge, an eight-mile hike from Bull Creek Road in Tarentum on the Rachel Carson Trail to Harrison Hills Park.

"It's a great bonding experience," Ron Horvat said. "The training is just as important as the actual hike. We will all know we can cover the distance, but it's been great to spend time with the family while getting exercise."

The Family Challenge accompanies the 34-mile trail hike starting in North Park, which has already sold out its 600 spots. The 16-mile Homestead Challenge, beginning at the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, and the Family Challenge remain open for registration. The hike attracts outdoor enthusiasts regionally and raises money to maintain the trail.

The trail, marked with blazes on trees and posts, traverses the Allegheny Valley, crossing through several municipalities.

Rob did the full Challenge a few years ago after seeing a flyer advertising the hike. His training inspired Lilli, then too young to participate, to accompany him on some training hikes on different parts of the wandering trail.

"She read the trail guide, walked with me when I trained," he said. "She wanted to do anything she could to get involved."

During the year after Rob completed the hike, he and Lilli hiked the entire trail in five-mile segments. The pair did the Family Challenge last year, accompanied by Rob's mother, Luann, and sister, Sarah Brewer. Luann will again join the family, though Sarah's late-term pregnancy will prevent her from hiking this year.

Lilli's favorite part of the hike is the varied terrain -- rocks, roots, streams and undulating hills.

"I think my brother is going to like the water crossings," she said. "When we do training hikes, he runs right across the stones."

She also hopes her enthusiasm for hiking has caught on with her peers.

"I will probably see some of my friends on the trail because I talked them into it," she said, "They heard all of my experiences, finally they said 'OK, I'll do that.' Sometimes I wear my (trail hike) shirt to school."

Additional Information:

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge

What: 34-, 16- and eight-mile hikes.

Where: The Rachel Carson Trail, stretching through several municipalities and ending at Harrison Hills Park.

When: June 20, at sunrise.

More information: The 34-mile Trail Challenge has sold out. If you intend to register on-site on June 20, you will be required to wait on stand-by until 6:30 a.m. for any no-show slots to become available. The on-site registration fee is $85.

Spaces are still available for the Homestead (16-mile) and Family (eight-mile) challenges.

To register: Click here

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