I was in southern California last week for a photoshoot. We were about five miles off the main road in the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest when I heard a voice: "That's my hula hoop!"
It came from an area where I knew we didn't have any crew. I looked over and saw two people coming up a trail that I didn't realize was there. If you're going to overhear a single snippet of dialogue in a wilderness setting, "That's my hula hoop" is about as good as it gets. Two fully loaded backpackers, a man and a woman with dreadlocks both, passed by with a friendly "hey bro" and disappeared down the trail to the south.
That's when I first noticed a small trail marker: Pacific Crest Trail. We were on the famed PCT and I didn't even know it. The trail runs the distance from Canada to Mexico (the PCT is the trail in Cheryl Strayed's book, and the movie, Wild). I like to think that the hula hoop duo started their journey on the British Columbia border. When I saw them they were about 20 miles from Mexico.
Anyway, this sighting got me thinking (again!) about thru-hikes and routes like the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Appalachian Trail, or even the Superior Hiking Trail along the north shore of Lake Superior. On my flight home from San Diego, I pulled out an issue of Backpacker magazine that I had been carrying around unread for a few weeks. And what do you know, coincidentally (or sign from the universe?) it was a special thru-hike issue.
Now, getting to my original point: Paul's Boots!
One article that hit me especially hard was a tribute called Paul's Boots. It's about a man named Paul Evans whose dream it was to hike the Appalachian Trail. He never made it. But Paul's boots did and it makes for a great read.
It also makes for a great documentary which you can watch below. The film tells the tale of Paul's Boots, of course, but then also expands so far beyond that – telling the tales of all the wonderful people who volunteered to bring Paul with them on their journey.
The AT stretches 2,181 miles. And yet, the sense of community and caring is about as tight-knit as you'll find. This story captures it all so well.