Days Hiking with In-Laws, and Their Perspective

I currently don’t have a lot of time to write an update on my recent shenanigans, but I promise there’s more to come soon. Luckily, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law wrote a wonderful update on when they came to visit with Sue. Shout-out to all of them for such a fun time. The support from family and friends at home has seriously kept me going.

More Than Half-Way There… Take That Hand, You’ll Make It We Swear*

*with gratitude to Bon Jovi

Hi, we’re the Harrys from Wisconsin. We had the great luck to hike with Paul the “weekend” of Nov 9-12. Our segment of the AT—Reed’s Gap to Tye River suspension bridge—is in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest, south of Shenandoah National Park. We’re happy to write this report on our four-day adventure. In a nutshell, the mountains are stunning, the AT is a helluva walk, and Paul is crazy.

Let’s unpack that.

First, the mountains. Simply stunning. We can think of no other way to describe them. If you haven’t hiked to a place like Hanging Rock, sat down on the sun-soaked rock, and shared a snack of apples and cheese with your fellow hikers, well, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. The perspective you gain is absolutely priceless. And it’s not just about looking across the valley over at The Priest. It’s about rearranging—even throwing out—the furniture. The stuff that suddenly seems small and unimportant as you drink in the mountains. The stuff you jettison— completely throw overboard forever—because it’s much easier without the extra weight. What good was it doing anyway?


As for the hike itself, the AT is undeniably challenging, both physically and mentally. We enjoyed our few days of hiking. The challenges were manageable. But consider the thru-hiker. Take nearly 40 pounds, strap it to your back, and start walking. Up the mountain, down the mountain. Up another mountain, and down. Repeat, again and again. Keep walking. Day in, day out. No matter the weather. Hot. Cold. Rain. Snow. Keep going. For 1,400+ miles, covering territory of nearly flat to over 5,000 feet elevation, on your way to mile 2,100+.

If the sheer physical challenge doesn’t amaze you, the mental toughness required will. Hiking the AT is about mental discipline as much as it is physical strength and endurance. The AT, for all its beauty and brilliance, commands respect.


Which brings us to Paul. He’s crazy. Grade A, first-rate, card-carrying crazy. Crazy tough. Crazy disciplined. Crazy dedicated to the AT journey. There’s a difference between the journey and the trail. Paul’s got it figured out.  


Finally, our last point—something we realized as we hiked across a rock slope between Spy Rock and The Priest. Timbers spiked into the rock create an edge. Without this edge, it’s a direct drop off the rock slope. The timbers create a narrow path to walk. As we walked this less than six-inch wide path, we realized thousands and thousands of feet had traveled this way before us. On the AT you think you’re alone, out in the middle of nowhere. But in reality you’re not. You’re walking where somebody else has walked before. Lots of somebody else’s.   

You can’t be alone, not on the AT. You may be walking solo, and you may get lonely, but no one hikes the AT alone. The AT is more than a trail. It’s people. It’s your fellow hikers you meet on the trail—passing messages along or sharing their water when you’ve run out. It’s the volunteers who build and maintain the trail. Ditto for the forest service folks. It’s the people back home who ship you supplies, and somehow keep your non-AT life collected while you’re gone. It’s the trail angels. It’s the local who picks up yet another AT hitchhiker, drives him to town, and then buys him a beer and a meal. The AT is full of people. People taking care of other people. Without people who care, there’s no AT.  

So, Paul, thanks for being part of the AT and allowing us to join the adventure. We had great fun hiking with you. We’d do it again in a heartbeat. Even the downhills.

We’ll be with you at Springer—if only in spirit—when you cross the finish.


Crossing the Tye River suspension bridge. What’s not in the picture are the three hikers following Paul. Somewhere nearly across the river, minds changed, and all four hikers turned around, retracing their steps. A fifth hiker, from James Madison University, patiently waited his turn to cross while the four hikers returned. The group shouted out, “Sorry, we changed our minds!” The student answered, “That’s OK, I know all about that.” As the first returning hiker stepped off the bridge, she told the student, “I tried to tell them, but they wouldn’t listen.”  The student rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, don’t get me started. I know all about that!

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