YORK, Maine — “He is the most majestic cat I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed a student in York Middle School teacher Tony Beaumier’s sixth-grade English Language Arts class last Wednesday.
Rico, a 1-year-old Siamese cat, spent a few hours last week exploring Beaumier’s classroom, interacting with his students and napping in Beaumier’s desk chair. Although an exciting escapade to the classroom for Rico and the students, this is not the biggest adventure Rico has had in his year of life.
Rico was with Michael Beaumier, son of Tony, and a recent champion of the Appalachian Trail. The 2,158-mile Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to northern Maine. Michael Beaumier, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on the trail, had finished his “through-hike” of the Appalachian Trail just four days before his and Rico’s visit to the classroom. Although Beaumier completed the last half of the trail alone, the first 1,000 miles he was accompanied by Rico.
Beaumier explained to his father’s students, through a photo slideshow and anecdotes, how he was able to accomplish this feat, and how Rico made it as far as he did by his owner’s side.
“If you get them out there early enough in their lives, they get used to it,” he said about cats, an uncommon species of hiking companion.
A “trail name” is something every through-hiker is given by other hikers on the trail, usually based on quirks or characteristics of the hiker. Beaumier was bestowed with the name “Pocket,” as he would carry Rico in a kind of “pocket pouch” when the cat was tired. Beaumier joked as he showed the students a picture of himself with Rico in his pouch on the trail that it made him look a bit like a pregnant woman.
Despite Rico’s love of the trail and Beaumier’s fondness of his companion, Beaumier was faced with the truth about 1,000 miles into the trail in Pennsylvania that he was not hiking fast enough. Due to Rico’s hiking limitations, the pair were not scheduled to finish the trail by mid-October. This would mean Beaumier might not be able to reach the ending point of the trail at Katahdin, a section of the Appalachian Trail that often closes due to weather in the latter half of October.
After Rico was sent home, Beaumier was able to hike more quickly. His father met him in the Berkshire region in Massachusetts and the two hiked together for a couple of weeks, giving Beaumier a hiking partner once again.
Beaumier talked to his father’s students about trail logistics like nutrition, “Leave No Trace” principles while in the wilderness, and even going to the bathroom in the woods. Tony Beaumier related many of his son’s items like his water purifier, which helps to prevent the contraction of illnesses such as giardia hikers can get from unfiltered water, to a book that his class had been reading together called “The Trail” by Meika Hashimoto. The main character in the book, Toby, was warned about illnesses like giardia in the book.
Michael Beaumier unpacked his backpack that he hiked with on the trail and showed students all of his gear, letting a few of them help set up the tent he slept in at the front of the classroom. When he exhibited the trowel he used to dig holes to go to the bathroom in, the students giggled and commented in fascination.
“Now that’s just wrong,” one stated.
Both Beaumiers commented on the culture of kindness from hikers and “Trail Angels,” who help feed, house and look out for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Tony Beaumier reminded his students of the importance of kindness by pointing out a sign in his classroom that reads “be kind to other people and kindness will find you back.”
This is not the only inspirational sign in Beaumier’s classroom. Outside of the room’s door, there is a large poster that exhibits pictures of Michael Beaumier and Rico on their hike, maps of the Appalachian Trail, and photos of Tony Beaumier’s students completing their own hikes, one student having summited Mount Washington this past summer.
Tony Beaumier’s main goal in displaying these photos, honoring photos of his students who hike, and bringing Michael Beaumier and Rico into the classroom, is to help inspire his students to get outside and take a hike.
“You guys are in school all day and you go home and go on your laptop and phones, I just hope you go outside and climb mountains and play with your friends,” he said to his class.
“It’s good for your soul,” Michael Beaumier added.
One of the primary lessons Beaumier conveyed to the sixth-graders was to persevere and follow dreams. Perseverance is a quality Tony Beaumier reminded his class of discussing prior to Michael Beaumier’s talk, and a quality he has taught his class to value.
“You can’t let fear stop you or bring you down,” Beaumier said. “It’s scary before you start anything really big … but it’s worth it.”
Before leaving the classroom and thanking Beaumier for his presentation, the students crowded around Rico, patting the unlikely hiker as he woke up from his nap in Tony Beaumier’s desk chair, perhaps still resting and recovering from his long journey.
“Rico is my favorite cat,” one student declared.