Recently, a heartbroken woman contacted the Dirtbag Diaries with a story about a man who waited just a little bit too long to chase a dream. Paul remained indefinitely stuck in the quicksand of responsibility. Entwined in rat race of obligations, he put off his aspirations to care for struggling loved ones. When tragedy struck, Paul’s life was snuffed out too soon, leaving his dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail incomplete.
Crushed by Paul’s unfinished ending, his wife contemplated ways she could bring his story to a close. M’Lynn, had one last request for her beloved husband. She wanted to see Paul’s boots, dirt-caked and heavy on the Appalachian Trail.
Today, Alex “Daddy Long Legs” Newlon can be found with a pair of size 13 leather boots strapped to his pack. He carries a piece of Paul along with an important message beating at the heart of his own thru-hike:
“My name’s Alex Newlon. I’m 28 years old. I have epilepsy and I’m trying to show other epileptics to go for their dreams and to not allow this disease to control their lives.”
Two unlikely stories melt into one, radiating courage as they’re set in motion. Ignoring the “cannot’s” and the “should not’s”, Alex and Paul’s boots begin every day with another step forward.
“Lots of things could trigger a seizure like dehydration, sleep deprivation and strenuous activities but I don’t want that to stop me from pursuing my dreams. I’ve learned a lot from having epilepsy and the fact is I could have a seizure at any time, any where. My life is always on the line no matter what but so is everyone else’s. I couldn’t let something totally random control my life.”
Alex, like Paul’s wife, is feeding the flames of a vital concept. Don’t wait. It’s not worth the risk of never having tried at all. Bound by the weight of epilepsy, Alex is determined to defy his own doubts in pursuit of a thru-hike. And as he wrestles his own demons, he eradicates one of Paul’s.
Paul’s story, though not as M’Lynn had imagined it, is one of incredible inspiration. His last exhale is an exclamation to the wider community pleading that we begin. His tale weaves together many stories in a collage of remarkable events as three sets of his boots make their way down the Appalachian Trail to complete a journey he would never start.
During his phantom thru-hike, Paul has been named “Caregiver”. Not only was he completely dedicated to his loved ones during his life, but he also now lives as an encouraging echo along the Appalachian Trail:
“He has really helped to remind us to take everything in and enjoy every minute of being out here. It’s easy to take things for granted and when you’re on the AT you quickly realize how precious the little things in life are. Just like Paul we need to help out all of those around us.”
And now the Appalachian Trail community is helping Paul, in one last effort to push dreamers over the edge. A random act of kindness trickles down the Appalachian Trail like the capillaries of a living entity.
“Like Paul, we all need some help accomplishing our dreams. Experiencing random acts of kindness out here or “trail magic” makes every person walking the trail want to give back in some way. So as hikers we need to start doing more random acts of kindness off the trail and we’ll slowly change this world. This world is beautiful and kind and we need to show the rest of society how beautiful it really can be.”
With more than 200 miles behind them, Alex and Paul’s boots continue to embody the character of the Appalachian Trail, weaving together their stories in a tapestry of ambition. Don’t wait, they plead, willing hesitant dreamers to begin today.