Ray Duckler: Reaching for the stars, Luna is out of this world
Her first name is Phoebe, but she prefers Luna, her middle name.
She likes the way it sounds, Luna Hicks says. But I’m going to attach meaning here, simply because it works.
Luna, as in the moon, high in the sky.
Luna, as in the nutrition bar for women, always tucked away in her backpack while she reaches new heights.
And Luna, as in the 10-year-old Concord girl who’s already climbed all 48 4,000-foot mountains in the state, and who now wants to conquer the remaining two dozen or so such peaks left in New England.
She doesn’t say much, this 4-foot-6-inch fifth-grader. But sit with her and her father, Matt, at the Shaker Road School, where he’s the head assistant and she’s a student, and layers of depth spill out, belying her shy manner.
For one thing, Luna is a jock, a soccer player and a lacrosse player and a snowboarder. She loves strumming chords on her guitar, and she enjoys listening to Vampire Weekend.
Vampire Weekend? The
indie rock band out of Columbia University in New York City, loved by professionals four times Luna’s age?
“Part of it can be attributed to the fact that we try to expose our kids to a wide variety of things,” said Matt, whose parents founded the Shaker school in 1979. “They gravitate to some of them, and they reject others.”
The surprises from Luna continue in other ways, too. Luna, you see, climbed all those tall mountains so fast while so young because her friend, Ashley, had done it by age 11.
So, Luna thought, why not accomplish the same goal, just a little bit sooner?
“Her dad and her dad’s father were really good hikers, and she started doing it when she was small,” said Luna. “She finished all of them on her birthday.”
Luna finished all of them Aug. 12, six days after her 10th birthday, by scaling Bondcliff, in the Pemigewasset Wilderness Area.
“She has a competitive streak, quite competitive, and she’s young for her grade,” Matt said. “And her peers see that side of her, and they honor and reinforce each other’s interests, and that reinforces a lot of these activities. She’s a neat little kid.”
She began hiking and climbing hills shortly after rising to walk, joining her parents on an activity they had been doing together since meeting in the mid-1990s.
“He (Matt) would have to say hike 200 seconds, then take a 10- or 20-second break,” Luna said. “I didn’t like it as much as I do now.”
Matt and his wife, Allyson, relayed stories about Native Americans and U.S. history to Luna, helping to exercise her mind as she exercised her body.
“It was about distractions, goal-setting, looking for mile markers,” Matt said. “It’s a mental game. Children are more capable than they realize. You strive for small victories.”
Her first 4,000-footer was Mt. Willey in Grafton County. She was 5.
Still in kindergarten, Luna hiked mounts Jackson and Pierce, at which time her competitiveness began to show like a summit through the clouds.
One spring weekend five years ago, with graduation from kindergarten looming the next morning, Luna wanted to keep pace with her goal of climbing the 4,000-foot family by her 10th birthday.
She wanted to climb a mountain sometime during graduation day.
Matt, hoping to put the subject to bed for another time, told Luna that they’d have to get up in the middle of the night to do it.
Luna slept in her hiking clothes, got up at 3:15 a.m., woke her father and off they went, to Mount Hale.
“We got up at 3:15, but the plan was to get up at 3, so we slept in a little later,” Luna noted. “We got to the bottom at 9, then had breakfast.”
And easily made the lunchtime graduation ceremony.
By age 7, Luna had established herself as the First Lady, or Girl, of climbing, making her way through the Presidential Range, tackling Washington and Eisenhower and Madison and Monroe, her most challenging hike.
Their group grew through the years, with friends and relatives meeting in Tilton or the New Hampton Dunkin’ Donuts before setting out.
Once, at the top of Mount Willey, Luna watched as gray jays swooped down and tried to eat her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, only to be denied by her hiking-pole-waving father.
Another time cousin Ben left some trail mix in his knapsack, forgetting to place it along with the other food into the safety of a bear bag, hung from a tree.
“There were holes in the bag the next morning,” Luna said. “A mouse ate it.”
There are more adventures ahead, as Luna turns toward Maine and Vermont and the remaining members of the tall-mountain club.
She’ll start later this fall, after soccer season ends. Asked to reflect on what she’s already done, Luna said, “I was happy. I felt like I accomplished something that I wanted to do since I was really young.”