Faces of the Appalachian Trail, 2014: Paul Bunker

Trail Name: Big Tex & Rugby (Paul’s son, Callum, who he hiked with)
Home State: Texas
Occupation: Project manager
Hike Timeline: February 28 – August 4, 2014

Before: Paul Bunker and his son, Callum

Before: Paul Bunker and his son, Callum

Why did you decide to hike?

I wanted a challenge, as my life was just working in a stressful job. I gained 30+ pounds since starting an office job. My health was suffering, as I couldn’t sleep at night without medication – I was pre-diabetic and my blood pressure was hypertensive. Once I decided to hike, I asked my son to join me. He agreed and that became my focus. I had split from his mother 14 years previous and moved to the United States (Callum lives in England still) 10 years ago, so I hardly saw him other than vacations a couple of times a year. It was a chance to spend some quality time with him and get to know each other.

What was the most challenging part of the journey?

Initially it was my fitness. I was very unfit and overweight, and my pack was way too heavy. For the first three days I was vomiting and couldn’t eat; I had cold sweats in the mornings and was exhausted by the evening. My son had to carry my tent and I gave food away. However, we pushed on and the further we went, the better I started to cope. I had some health issues as we moved up the trail; injured my back on ice, my knee was swollen and painful, resulting in a hospital trip, foot had fluid build up and resulted in medical care twice. Steroids, Vicodin and braces all helped get through the issues. Rugby had NORO Virus and we both suffered from dehydration at one point.

What was the most memorable part of the journey?

Sharing the trail adventure with my son. I really cannot imagine doing it without him and I’m not sure I would have completed it if he wasn’t there with me. Not because of the physical aspects, but because sharing the trail kept me going emotionally.

How did you feel after the hike was over?

Initially, I was relieved it was done. About a month from the end I was ready to finish. However, after a week or so I started to get very emotional when I watched our trail videos or even saw hiker summit photos at Mt. Katahdin. At two-and-a-half months, the post-trail depression as bad as ever. I have decided I will hike again next year. I am planning a 210-mile hike of the John Muir Trail, only because I must work to pay off this year’s hike. If I didn’t need to work, I think I would head out for another thru-hike. I am planning to SOBO the AT in 2019. I think having these plans helps me cope with post-trail . I admit I am struggling transitioning back into the “real” world. Work, material things (except upgrading my hiking gear); even humans just don’t interest me in the same way. I have less patience for people. On the trail I found people to be considerate and very, very helpful. We looked after each other and would talk to total strangers on the trail like they were old friends. It was just a different world.

After: Paul Bunker and his son, Callum

After: Paul Bunker and his son, Callum

What did you gain from the experience?

Health, understanding that we are granted a short window on this world and we need to experience and enjoy life before that window closes. That humans ruin the world we live in for selfish material gains. But most of all I gained a relationship with my son, and we are now close.

What are your goals for the future?

I have a five-year plan.

Get a VW Camper
Hike the John Muir Trail
Hike the Inca Trail
Build a tiny house and downscale my life
Hike the AT again…

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