This is a story about Paul Evans as I learned from an article I came across in Backpacker Magazine and a USA Today article. After doing some more Google searching, I came across a film. His life and the life of his boots moved me to share them with my Scouts at our last Court of Honor a few weeks ago.
Perhaps Paul’s story will be worthy enough for you to share with your students. My Christmas wish is for you to read my short introduction, and watch the film below. I hope it moves you too.
Paul Evans, an Australian from Queensland, had always been an avid hiker. Every chance he had he had found him hiking along the trails near his home.
Later in life he moved back home to care for his ailing parents which occurred about ten years ago.
It was then that he met and married his wife M’Lynn who he had met online in a discussion group for caregivers. Together they took hikes around Australia whenever they were able to get away.
Sadly his Mom passed in 2010 of Parkinson’s and his father in 2011 of Alzheimer’s.
And then his health also began to fail.
During what became an ever worsening health condition, Paul had the dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. In fact he did the research, bought all the gear and finally told his wife he was ready; setting three pairs of his size 13 boots next to the door.
Then, not much later in July of 2015, he had a heart attack at the age of 53.
He did not survive.
After donating most of his gear, his wife wondered if a part of him could still go on the AT. She put out a request on blogs and a favorite hiking podcast, Dirtbag Diaries.
She got over 400 responses.
And this is how Paul’s boots began their journey from Georgia to Maine, handed off from hiker to hiker. Each volunteer chosen agreed to complete a leg of the AT carrying them 2,189 miles through fourteen states and six national parks.
Some of those 40 people hiked along quietly, while others had conversations with Paul – a man they had never met, but whose four pound boots they were now willing to carry to help fulfill a dream.
It is now that Alex “Daddy Long Legs” Newlon enters this story.
An epileptic who was told he would never thru hike the AT, he was now four months into completing the goal, and now at New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
He was close to quitting.
He had been carrying those heavy leather boots strapped to his pack.
And during his moment of exasperation and doubt, Paul’s boots untied and whacked Newlon’s left elbow.
“I look up and there’s a deer standing in the middle of the trail staring at me,” Newlon remembers. “It was as if Paul was trying to tell me to pay more attention to my surroundings because, lost in my head and caught up in my own doubts and fears, I was missing the beauty of the world around me.”
Here’s the film that captures the trip that Paul’s boots took.
Seen well over eight hundred thousand times, there must be something about carrying someone’s else’s dreams upon one’s shoulders that sounds appealing.
Take a look and listen to some of those that self labeled themselves as Paul’s Protectors.
So the question that I asked myself when I read about the story of these boots, I now ask you.
How often do we miss the beauty that surrounds us? Are we taking the opportunity to do the type of things that Paul never could?
I am hopeful our Scouts see a world they may not have noticed before when each month we leave our church, and seek out a new adventure.
When we hit the trail or set up camp in the woods I hear the laughter of friends, the crackling of the warm fire, and the sizzle of a meal being made in a dutch oven.
It’s a time to spend some sweat equity arriving at one’s destination and in the process learn a little about ourselves in the process.
Hearing the birds begin their day shortly before the sun rises or the quiet of the woods around us has a way of adjusting our default setting back to reflection of what we do and contemplating why we do it.
This holiday season, I challenge you to take a day, or maybe more or even just a few hours, and spend time outside seeing the world our God has created.
Take a hike, a walk or a bike ride with those you love.
Let it be time away from the holiday rush and efforts to do it all.
Let it be a time in which we spend with our families seeing the world around us, perhaps differently than we have before.
Merry Christmas to each of you.
I hope you will do more than read these words and take up my challenge – doing something Paul’s boots were able to accomplish, but Paul never could.