Paul had always dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but, as it happens to many of us, life got in the way.
Paul put taking care of others before his dream. He nursed first his mother, then his father, through their end of life illnesses. After they passed away, Paul returned to thinking about his dream. But by then, he had developed a life-threatening heart condition. He was given a year to live.
Instead of resigning himself to his condition, Paul began planning his trip down the AT. He collected gear, stored up food supplies, and polished his boots. He spent hours listening to outdoor podcasts and reading the stories of thru-hiker adventures. He must have pictured himself out on the trail with these hikers, living out their adventures alongside them.
But, sadly, by that point, Paul could barely walk around the block. He died last year at the age of 53. His dream was left unfinished.
Paul’s wife wasn’t ready to let Paul’s dream go. She reached out to the outdoor community with a simple request: she wished that someone would take Paul’s boots out for a hike, any little hike on the Appalachian Trail.
The call to action went out, and the response was overwhelming: over 450 hikers pledged to take Paul’s boots out on the AT. Mack-Boulder’s sixth grade lead teacher Jim Parker was one of them; he heard of the Paul’s Boots project through listening to an episode of “The Dirtbag Diaries” this past January.
In the end, 25 hikers, including Jim, were chosen to make Paul’s dream come to fruition. “My family knows all too well the sadness of lives cut short, dreams left unrealized. Hearing Paul’s widow, M’Lynn talk about Paul’s dream, I knew I had to help out this project in whatever way I could,” Jim said.
This summer, from thru-hikers to weekend warriors, these hikers have been handing off Paul’s boots up the entirety of the Appalachian Trail in an epic, 2,190 mile Olympic torch style relay.
Jim has just returned from hiking with Paul through the Vermont section of the AT. He carried Paul’s boots from North Adams, MA to Hanover, NH, a 150-mile journey. “On the trail, you have a lot of time to think. The major theme that came out of hiking the trail with Paul was of the healing power of joy (happiness, stoke, whatever you want to call it) and how reflecting on the joyful moments in our lives rather than the petty inconveniences can truly heal the soul.”
A documentary on the Paul’s Boots project is expected this fall from Duct Tape Then Beer and REI. To learn more, check out http://www.ducttapethenbeer.com/paulsboots, and explore the Instagram hashtag #paulwalkson for more pictures of Jim and others’ hikes with Paul this summer.
~Jim and Brenda Parker