“That’s crazy!” My guess is those words are heard by everyone who tells kith and kin they’re going for a 14-state, 2185.3 mile walk in the woods along the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Face it. Taking five or six months off from work, school and/or family to hike the AT isn’t normal. Not abnormal in any psychological sense, but different from the norm — those who finish school, crunch along at work and who stay by the sides of family and loved ones.
You don’t have to be on the Trail for long before you meet doctors, accountants and other supposedly staid and steady citizens of our great nation. You’ll also meet hikers who pretend to be doctors, lawyers and whatever. The Appalachian Trail is a subculture with all kinds of people.
Then, there’s Paul Paur. I first heard about Paul on Sunday, June 8, 2014. Trail People were concerned for him and about him. The law was notified.
Paul spoke to our friends at Neel Gap’s Mountain Crossings Outfitters on Wednesday, June 4th, about leaving his car there. A few days later, his backpack was found in the middle of the AT just north of Neel Gap. Inside the pack were expensive gizmos, hiking boots, ID and a few thousand dollars. The search was on for Paul Paur, owner of the pack.
Posters went up along the Trail in Georgia, courtesy of the Union County Sheriff’s department.
Hikers reported on Facebook about their encounters with Paul, who has picked up the Trail name “Trash Bag” because that’s what he sleeps in at night.
I met a couple on Sunday, June 22nd — SoBo section hikers traveling from Nantahala Outdoor Center to Springer Mountain — who encountered Paul along the way.
Paul alarmed the young man but not the lady. Yes, Paul seemed troubled. Unprepared. “Rambling about religion” and odd, even among the Odd Ones on the Trail.
But being odd isn’t illegal. If it were, the AT would be desolate. Being weird isn’t illegal. If it were, we wouldn’t have many movie idols, rock stars or extended family.
Paul has been labeled as depressed, schizophrenic, suicidal and a missing person. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Trail or online. I have no label to slap on him or box to jam him into. People are complicated. People’s lives are complicated. We cannot be defined by one sterile word or another.
No one wants Paul to hurt himself or others. No one wants anyone on the Trail to face extraordinary dangers.
The trouble is … you cannot simply yank someone off the Trail, except for temporary observation or treatment, against their will, simply for being unstable.
I have not met Paul Paur. I cannot diagnose what he is enduring or suffering from that drove him to abandon his material possessions and head into the woods to face … whatever.
I believe Paul needs our prayers. His family is looking for him. Authorities are on the lookout. Hikers are warning one another about him.
Was Grandma Gatewood out of her mind to leave home and hike the AT in a pair of dang Keds? Using a shower curtain as a tarp? THREE times?
One thing is for sure about Paul Paur. He is loved. I witnessed a phone call between hikers who spent time with him as they spoke to a person who cares deeply about Paul.
Paul is not alone. He is not alone in his overwhelming troubles. He is not alone in his struggles.
This is where writers would say something like, “We are Paul! A little bit of Paul is in all of us!”
There’s some truth in that.
But we all try to cope with our situations differently.
Paul might need to be on meds to have victory in life. Maybe God will be the sole solution. Maybe he’ll buy that hiker hostel and help others.
Or maybe Paul will do himself or others harm.
Time will tell.
In the meantime, be cautious. Be careful. Be kind. To Paul and to all of us who fight battles in our minds, souls, hearts and lives.
If you don’t know what I mean, stay tuned.