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Muir Project Video Inspires 8-Year-Old Fan to Hike the John Muir Trail and Become a Reader

A little motivation can be a powerful thing.

Consider the story of Zachary Robinson. The home-schooled 8-year-old boy from a cattle ranch outside of Merced, Calif., was a bright kid but one who was just not interested in reading—not at all. His parents were getting worried.

Along came an unexpected spark: the video trailer (below) for the upcoming Mile... Mile & a Half feature film from the group of multimedia artists known as The Muir Project. The 3-minute video beautifully sums up the joys of the 211-mile John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada, from the stunning scenery to the group camaraderie.

Zachary became hooked, big time. As he watched the video over and over, the images got him fired up to hike the John Muir Trail. (The video had the same effect on me, by the way.) The video’s catchy soundtrack from the band Opus Orange became his personal soundtrack at home.

Zachary Robinson, 8, on the JMT

“He got really excited about it,” said Allison Robinson, Zachary’s mom. “But we told him that unless you help plan this trip, it’s not going to happen.”

That was the key. An inspired Zachary soon literally taught himself to read (!) by pouring through backpacking guides, gear guides, wilderness guides and even a few REI catalogs. His parents were thrilled.

“My husband, Chris, then found himself in the position of saying ‘we’re really going to have to do this’ and hike the John Muir Trail,” noted Allison. “Zachary did his part. It was now up to us (his parents) to do our part.”

So father and son did the planning and, according to Allison, “spent many happy hours at the REI Fresno store” choosing their gear for the trip.

The payoff came in August, around a year after Zachary first saw the video. The now-proficient reader joined his father and an uncle at Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows trailhead to begin 5 days hiking a section of the John Muir Trail down to Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Zach and Dad at Tuolumne Meadows trailhead

They hit rainstorms and lightning storms—it was an unusually stormy week in the Sierra—but all their gear performed as expected. Notes Allison, “The planning, their gear—which they basically all got from REI—worked well. It kind of saved the day.”

“The most memorable moment of the trip,” said Chris, “was when we were coming out of Lyell Canyon and were caught in a cold, 3-inch rainstorm. The trail became a slippery little river. Zach kept on hiking, unperturbed. It was a perfect lesson on the speed with which the High Sierra can change and how the right gear and mindset can make a real survival difference.”

Zachary’s highlights include the rainy climb of 11,056-foot Donahue Pass on the southern border of Yosemite National Park, going over nearby Island Pass and, finally, enjoying the hot tub in a Mammoth Lakes motel at the end of their trip. What hiker would fault him for that?

“I remember when we came back to civilization after being gone for 5 days,” said Zachary. “It was like holding my breath and having the air rush back into my lungs… it was nice to be back. I worked really hard. I felt really proud of myself.”


There’s a cool footnote to this story. The Robinsons, whose ancestors have lived on the same Central Valley ranch since 1855, have a unique family connection to the John Muir Trail. Zack’s great-great uncle, Wilbur Fiske McClure, was the head engineer for the State of California back in the 1910s and 1920s when the trail was being planned and built.

“He read John Muir’s journals and consulted with the other engineers about where John Muir would have walked and stayed, noted Allison. “He decided how to lay it out.”

Zachary’s middle name, McClure, was named in his great-great uncle’s honor.

The Robinsons are already looking ahead to next summer to do another segment of the John Muir Trail, with older brother Spencer planning to join in. But it will be hard to top Zachary’s first trip.

“It was the most amazing experience for my husband and son,” Allison said. “Everybody sort of just watched this kid bloom on the trail. He just kind of came alive.”

Check The Muir Project website for more videos and news of the upcoming Mile... Mile & a Half full-length feature film.

Posted on at 12:11 PM

Tagged: John Muir Trail, The Muir Project and backpacking

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Zack is my nephew, and I could not be prouder of him. If everybody had his level of enthusiasm and joy for life, the world would be a much better place.

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Zack, you are my hero!! You have done what so many people only dream about..
I must mention how LUCKY LUCKY LUCKY you are to have such an amazing supportive family, something else many people only dream see kiddo? have scored BIG in life..Thank you for sharing your story!
Caroline Parker

Ray Rippel

Great job, Zack! I'll bet there were times when you weren't sure you were going to make it, and yet you did. That's a very good thing to remember the next time you think you can't do something. Perseverance, a willingness to work hard, and the support of the people who love you will take you a very long way, much longer than 211 miles!

Congrats & good hiking, Ray

Ray Rippel
Author, Planning Your Thru-Hike of the John Muir Trail
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Zack always seized the day and says "yes" when an adventure is offered. I know he will walk the entire trail eventually. Being in Yosemite and hiking the high country is a life changing experience. It is great fun being his grandmother and #1 fan.

Joe P. Staff Member

Great job, Zack! Keep on hiking!

Todd Wiggins

As a former 5th grade teacher and current backpacking guide, I LOVE this story. Great job, Zack!


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