Sunday Night Check-In: Paul’s Boots

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I’ve got a long afternoon and plans this evening, so let this Sunday Morning Check-In serve as my Sunday Night Check-In. I have a project blowing up at work, so I have to spend some time today sorting that out and then I’m checking out for some time with my spiritual family.

My new friend Sallie invited me to join her for a hike with the Sierra Club yesterday on the Backbone Trail in Kisatchie. I’m so glad I went. First of all, I love meeting an entirely new group of people, but the day was perfect for hiking. The Backbone trail is an out-and-back trail in the Kisatchie National Forest. I arrived at Trader Joe’s for the 7 AM departure, but the Sierra Club seems to be a little more laid-back than the Hiking Club. When I arrived, no one else was there, and the group ended up assembling around 7:25 AM for the carpool. The Hiking Club would have left anyone arriving later than 7:01 AM in the dust.

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I listened to country music for a part of the way but got tired of music. I remembered the hiking podcasts that had been recommended to me, and I thought that might be a good distraction on the 2.5 hour drive. I listened to a podcast about why people thru-hike long distance trails on Sounds of the Trail.

You can hear “This is Why We Do It” here. 

It was fun to hear interviews with thru-hikers and the reasons why they choose to live their lives to the beat of a different drummer. Since those who do this frequently have to have long spans of time off at a time, they have to live their life in a different fashion – more like that of a college student. I have to say that I dreamed of a Sharon who would unplug from the regular 9-to-5 lifestyle that I’ve built and say “F*ck it, I’m hitting the trail.” Could I spend days and weeks in the woods? How long could I go without a shower? Could I spend lots of time not knowing where the next paycheck was coming from and still enjoy myself? Who would I be when I finished?

Wired, one of the hikers interviewed in the podcast, said she was a regular 9-to-5er “work ’til you retire” sort of person until her 30s. Someone asked her to go on a thru-hike, and she told them that her twin sister was planning on having a baby next year, so she couldn’t go. The woman looked at her and said,”Do you realize how stupid that sounds?” There were a lot of things that eventually got her on the trail, but she said when she arrived at the Pacific Coast Trailhead to begin her first thru-hike, she caught the first glimpse of who she really was. Not an emotional person, she broke down and cried at the sight of the monument marking the beginning of the trail. The enormity of the 2400 mile journey and what she was about to do moved her to tears. As she sorted out her emotions during her journey, she realized that this was when she  started living life instead of just following a script.


With that inspiration, Ashok and I hiked our little 7.6 mile hike on a glorious day in a pine forest with a sandy trail. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the group was small so it was very peaceful. We came upon a creek, and Ashok went crazy with excitement zipping in and out of the water. A group of backpackers was standing on the bank after crossing, and we were pulling our boots off to ford the creek. She ran in and among our group, and everybody was laughing with her infectious excitement. A bit later,  we ate lunch perched on a ridge with a lovely view. I sat on a rock and ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and was very grateful that I put my explosive project on the back burner for the day. I knew I’d feel better on Sunday to work on it.

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I enjoyed my ride up so much that I searched for more podcasts and saturated myself in the inappropriate humor and antics of thru-hikers from the Pacific Coast Trail. I listened to one group tell about their thru-hike on the Sierra High Route.

Sierra High Route from The Trail Show

These hardcore hikers – male and female – provided me with fodder to imagine myself hanging off a cliff in the middle of a waterfall while I looked down below at ice fields and glaciers. My little stream crossings down here seemed like the kiddy playground compared to their adventures. I wondered if I had it in me to do something like that. I’ve always thought I should have been adventurous when I was younger, but, honestly, I was too scared and anxious. I’m much more equipped now to deal with the emotional challenges of trail hiking. Maybe it’s not too late….

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I finished off my podcasts with one from Trailside Radio where the producer actually interviews people along the trail and another from The Dirtbag Diaries that really moved me. Paul, a man in Australia, had always dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail. For years, he listened to hiking podcasts and meticulously planned his trip. His leather hiking boots were lined up and shined. Two packs were packed and waiting for his first footfall. Every night, he’d tell his wife about the characters in the podcasts – how they got their trail names, tales of their misadventures and inspiring moments from the trail. Paul had a heart attack and died at 54.


Of all the things his wife M’Lynn lost, she didn’t not want to lose Paul’s dream. If he couldn’t hike the AT, then maybe his boots could. She emailed The Dirtbag Diaries and proposed a project. In conjunction with REI, The Dirtbag Diaries has started an Olympic-style torch relay on the Appalachian Trail. Hikers doing sections of the AT, day hikers and thru-hikers will pass the boots on until they complete the trail. The project is called Paul’s Boots. 

You can hear about Paul’s Boots here.

I came home filled-up and invigorated – and quite exhausted – from the day. This morning I checked out the Paul’s Boots website. The course has already been set, so my July trip on the AT can’t be included in the relay, but I’m definitely going to watch the journey unfold. In her initial email to The Dirtbag Diaries, M’Lynn said she just wanted pictures of the boots on the trail and to hear the stories of the people who carry them.  But when asked what was the BEST thing that could come from this initiative, she said “If it gets somebody off their ass to do this, that’s even better …. because we waited too long.”

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I can’t wait to see what happens. I wish I could be there. But, even if I can’t, Paul’s story is inspiring me to get out and do what I want to do before it’s too late. He died a year younger than me. I know he’ll be enjoying watching the journey of his boots from above, but I’d love to enjoy the journey of my boots while I’m in them. I’m not sure I’m a thru-hiker. I’m not sure what I am. I’m still evolving. At death it’s not the things people did that they regret … they regret the things they didn’t do. Maybe Paul’s Boots will lead me on the path of minimal regrets.

What are you waiting on? Is the “script” that was given you the one you want to live? Even if you never did it, wouldn’t it be fun to write the script? 

3 Comments on “Sunday Night Check-In: Paul’s Boots

  1. There is so much world to see. When my kids were young we must have gone to Disney 10 times.
    The trips I remember best were the one to PA, Philadelphia and Amish Country. The trip we took to western Mass, hiking Mt. Greylock and going to the Shaker Village. The trip to Quebec was awesome also.
    I like to see real things and don’t care if I never go to Disney again! We have enjoyed Disney cruises and I will be going again.
    Now that the kids are out of the house my wife and I are planning a trip to Germany and France this summer!
    I also think about things I should do now before I’m too old. Who knows when I wont be able to walk the streets of a village in France? Who knows when I’ll have to give up running and have to watch every bite I take?
    There is much to do.

  2. Pingback: An Appeal for Getting Out in Nature | Midlife Moments

  3. Pingback: A Thru-Hiking Fantasy | Midlife Moments

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