It is no secret that Cory and I love the outdoors, and love to hike whenever we can! What you may not know is that I have been reading the Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine lately. It is cooler than it sounds as I type this! They have bucket lists to do, brewery trails and winery trails, plus the best places to hike and sight see! The most recent issue I got was the winter issue and they had an article about Ice Climbers! I will leave that kind of climbing up to the professionals and stick with my hiking boots and dirt! However after that article another shortly followed by the title of, “Paul’s Boots”.
This article was about a man that aspired to be a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail who unfortunately passed a way before he could accomplish that endeavor. Long story short, with the help of his wife, friends and strangers took turns carrying a pair of Paul’s hiking boots across the Appalachian Trail in a stretch of miles that they could dedicate to it. They took pictures along the way of the boots and wrote about their experience hiking with a man’s boots, sometimes feeling like they were hiking with him, and sometimes it was a man these hikers had never met. The total of miles that Paul’s boots were able to cover was 2,189 miles!
I talk a lot about hiking and the memory of my brother. I talk about how hiking is healing to me, it is a way for Cory and I to spend quality time together, it is a way to be active and it also feels like a way to honor my brother or to take him along with me in memory when he can no longer hike. I understand the want and need for Paul’s wife to do this for him, and I understand that these pair of boots made impacts on the hikers that carried them much more than they originally thought that they would.
The article went on to interview some of the hikers and here are some of their answers that I enjoyed reading. An epileptic thru-hiking with Paul’s boots, Alex Newlon said, “The boots are heavy- I mean they are a size 13! With no way for me to wear them along the trail I hung them on the side of my pack. When I was on the trail, I thought about Paul all the time. I’d ask him what he’d like to do or which campsite he’d prefer. In that way, carrying the boots was like having a guardian angel.”
Tricia Nesser, a 51 Physician’s assistant protected the boots through the Presidential Peaks in the White Mountains. She said that she is extremely afraid of heights and that when she was crossing water on planks or climbing up and down ladders that she would ask Paul for strength. When she asked she stated that she would feel a surge of courage and that it pushed her to keep going. She knew that Paul was watching over her and wanted her to succeed.
They were asked about their best experiences and their worst experiences on the trail. I know that through hiking it can be tough, but something always inspires you to continue, to see you through. I have written a lot about what it’s like to reach the mountain peak so when Newlon wrote about his worst day on the trail my eyes began to tear up. He said, “There was one rough day along the trail when I was climbing up a mountain, beaten-down, just staring at my feet. Then Paul’s boots kicked me in my left arm. I looked up and saw a deer standing in the middle of the trail just staring at me. It was as if Paul was trying to show me something. He was telling me to pay more attention to the beauty of the world around me.”
Matt Maszczak, an REI employee, that said Paul reminded him of himself. Someone in their 4os and always too busy to do what they really loved, but continued to dream about it daily. When he heard about Paul’s boots he felt like he knew who Paul was and could relate. He was pulled to do this in fear of nothing else amazing happening or another opportunity to finally do what he dreamed about. From his hiking experience with Paul’s boots he wrote what he took away from the experience the most. “When I signed up, I thought this would be a great way to honor someone. Now, I realize that it was so much more. The A.T. is like nowhere else in the world. It is the only place I have ever been where I instantly felt like I belonged. When people heard what I was doing, they smile and nodded. They weren’t surprised. It made sense. You know, the thing about this life, the normal one we all succumb to, it hardly ever makes sense. But life on the trail? That life has meaning and honor, and it just makes sense in every single moment. And I learned that because of Paul.”
While I read this article I realized that my heart really wanted to share this story with you all. I hope that was telling me that more people than we think need this story in their lives. To think, that the Appalachian Trail was the only place that Matt instantly felt like he belonged and he almost never went? That can happen to a lot of us, can’t it? It may not be a month’s long journey in the mountains or even hiking at all, but there are lots of things that we all dream of and we can tend to push them off because of our responsibilities that we currently have. But I wanted to remind you all that before the New Year starts and we fill our minds up with New Year Resolutions, that don’t mean much, lets pick something that you want to do to better yourself or give yourself an experience to always remember. Forget about the cutting out sugar and losing ten pounds resolutions, which are healthy decisions too don’t get me wrong, but think about what will nourish your soul too. Once you figure out what that is make a plan to do it! If it is hiking I would love to plan hikes together, or things to do outside. Just say the word and I will make every effort to do this together because just like those people that carried Paul’s boots, I to see the importance and significance of being outside and hiking. You learn so much about yourself and you get to see some pretty amazing views as well. I hope you find what you are searching for and I hope you have the courage to begin.