Life and Death, the Appalachian Trail

I met him one evening in North Carolina. On a day where I covered more miles than I should have, Shady came to the shelter after me meaning he had hiked even further. Yet he was full of energy. Shortly thereafter a hiker partner of his arrived.  To my surprise they even considered hiking on despite the onsetting darkness. But, they stayed.  I usually would prefer less people around but Shady and Doodles were great company and helped me make a bonfire of massive downed tree trunks.
When I was considering hiking the AT I thought about the shortness of life.  Some wait till they are retired and 62 to the hike the trail.  Would I even live to see that age? Let’s do it.  Let’s go NOW!
Hiking with someone on the Appalachian Trail is a crash-course in Them 101.  In a 4-hour walk one day with Shady I heard everything about him.  This would take years in the “normal world”, but on the trail opportunities abound for discussion.  In fact, there is little else to do. I learned of his years as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, how he had recorded a dozen kills, and was shot in the scope of his gun – losing sight in his right eye. Telling him about my life change in quitting my job to go into the ministry of the church, he asked me many questions about my faith.  He seemed honestly to be a believer, but had had so many diversions in life.  He wanted to get back into church and had a desire to know God.
I lost track of Shady somewhere mid-trail, but stories of him traveled and I heard of his adventures.  He quite possibly was the most popular guy on the trail, but still found time for everyone. Despite being a fast hiker he eventually slowed to hang with girl and a group of hiker-partiers.
A month after completing the trail, one morning I saw on my phone that Shady had called.  I called back but he didn’t answer.  I messaged him online.  He said he was ok.  He wanted to me to do a Bible study with him and I suggested he read John’s Gospel. I never heard from him again.
I don’t know the details, but Shady is no longer with us. I can only hope he truly came to know the Lord. I thank God for knowing Shady.

0 thoughts on “Life and Death, the Appalachian Trail”

  1. Doug, this is Corinne’s mother. I have been following your posts for awhile especially during your time on the AT. I have a close friend who started hiking the AT back in the summer along with her daughter who had just graduated from college. Both she and her daughter posted at times on separate blogs and I began to see/hear AM’s discouragement at one point. She experienced several falls and just wanted to go home, but she felt like such as failure. I shared some of your last posts with her that spoke to the pain of your journey even as you neared the triumphant “summitt”. Anyway, she appreciated your words.
    I just sought you out tonight as we saw a PBS 1994 NC Now and Then show that showed an interview with Bill Irwin who is blind and hiked the entire trail in the 1990s. I wonder if you have heard of him. He spoke greatly of his faith. Here is a link:

    1. Hey Beverly, thanks for letting me stay at your place during my AT trip. Mike and Corinne saved me from an odd situation in Hot Springs at a hostel. We read about those who succeed on the trail, but the reality is 80% don’t make it. I was often discouraged, but obviously there are many others who were more so. I also considered quitting in CT. The biggest problems for me was always rain, heat, cold, bugs, and loneliness. The actual hiking alone would never have stopped me. I’ve heard of the blind hiker, but haven’t seen the show on him.

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