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  • John Shannon

H.O.B.O.-Hiking Ones Boots Off

Recently we reached out to fellow hikers on a Facebook group and asked if they had any stories or experiences they would be interested in sharing with us. Within the first few responses, we struck gold with John Shannon. John has a unique appreciation for beauty in the natural world and hiking, but more specifically, hiking the Appalachian Trail which he began in 2017.

Below, is his very first post on his Facebook page called "hiking Ones Boots Off- HOBO" where he's been recording his AT section hiking adventures:

Hiking One's Boots Off--HOBO on April 17, 2017

I'm gonna hike the Appalachian Trail. That's right, I leave this Wednesday to travel to Amicalola Falls State Park in north Georgia to hike to the 8.8 mile approach trail that will lead me to the official southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT) at Springer Mountain . For my first section-hike, I will hike from Amicalola Falls State Park to Springer Mountain and then, all the way to Deep Gap campground past the southern North Carolina border--all in all, about 100 miles in 10 days, to just get started.

I'm not exactly sure how I first got this (crazy?) idea in my head. Maybe it was 5 1/2 years ago when I read about Judy Young, a local retired school teacher, taking to the AT (without her husband, no less!). Maybe it was when some dear friends met us in Gatlinburg a few years ago and we gave them the

grand tour of the town, which included a trip to the top of Newfound Gap that just so happens to be a point where the Appalachian Trail crosses and I started wondering...Maybe it was when I went hiking with my wife Lesley and middle daughter Summer this past June in a rainstorm where we didn't reach our destination, but I had to go back and finish the hike by myself 4 days later. And maybe it was when I went back to Gatlinburg in July to actually hike a 4-mile section (8 miles round trip) of the Appalachian Trail because I just had "to see."

I remember the day before I was to actually take my hike to Charlies Bunion. I had just finished a shorter but strenuous 4-mile round trip hike to Chimney Tops near Gatlinburg. (Chimney Tops is where the terrible November 2016 fire started that devastated so much of that area.) I had already decided that the next day I would hike to Charlies Bunion (part of the AT), but since Newfound Gap was where I was going to start my hike the next day and since the Chimney Tops parking lot was not too far from Newfound Gap, I decided to go ahead and drive on up there.

I don't know exactly how to describe what felt when I got out of my car that day. All I know is that as I made my way across the parking lot toward where the eastern side of the trail started, I couldn't even look at the trail. In one sense, I felt like the trail was "calling my name" as corny as that sounds. But on the other hand, I just knew instinctively that if I stepped even one foot on that trail, it would change my life. Well, I wasn't sure I wanted my life changed. I had a loving wife, 3 wonderful daughters, a job where I loved serving people, an awesome church, fantastic friends, a comfortable life...WHAT IN THE HECK WAS I DOING IN THIS PARKING LOT?!!

Nevertheless, I kept walking across the parking lot. As I got closer to where the trail begins (still not looking at the trail), I decided to delay the inevitable for a few minutes. You see, the restroom facility lies just down to the right of the trail and so I high-tailed it down there to collect myself. After splashing some water on my face, I slowly started walking back up the small hill from the restroom facility to the where the AT was waiting on me. As I came to very edge of the trail, I stopped. I didn't hear an audible voice, but I am convinced I heard the Lord speak to my heart, "John, you're gonna need to step on that trail today." I sort of felt like Moses where he in Exodus 3 encountered Jehovah God at the burning bush at Mt. Horeb where God said to him," “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” While I stood at the edge of that trail, I don't believe God was asking me to take my hiking boots off, but no one can convince me that I wasn't standing on holy ground. Just as sure as I knew I was to marry Lesley Brown and just as sure as I knew I was to go into the funeral business, the God of the universe was asking me to step on the trail--with me having full knowledge that life was going to change for me. And just as scared as I was to step on the trail, I was too scared NOT to step on the trail, lest I missed what God had for me to do. And so I looked down the trail and then...I stepped. There were no lightening bolts, no bright lights, and no chills going up and down my spine. But with that simple step, God continued, " are going to have to hike ALL of this trail, not just to Charlies Bunion." Again, I felt like the excuse-making Moses on Mt. Horeb , "Lord, you don't understand, I have a wife and family. Lesley would never go for that. And of course, I have too much responsibility at work, they NEED me there. And church, I still teach Sunday School and I am a deacon right now (Its funny how we think we need to remind the Lord of such things), surely I can't work that out. Though I love the outdoors, You didn't make me much of an outdoors-man. Plus, Lord, I haven't camped multiple days in a row in over 40 years. You know I like hiking but I didn't have THIS on my bucket list and I have never hiked more than 8 miles with a backpack. And by the way, I don't even own a backpack! And what about bears, and ticks with Lyme Disease, and poison ivy (You do remember that I don't do very well with poison ivy?) and rattlesnakes, and mice who haunt AT shelters stealing one’s food? Don't you see that I am WAY out of my comfort zone?!!" And from out of the hollowness of my lame excuses, I am positive I heard the Lord deliver a single utterance to me. The utterance? "So?" He simply said, "So?" And with that, I began to slowly understand. It didn't matter what I felt about it or my inabilities or my schedule or my resources. If He was calling me to do this, He would provide all that I needed to make it happen. So, on July 20, 2016, while Lesley was celebrating her 50th birthday with the women in her family in Florida , I stood atop Newfound Gap on the Appalachian Trail and recognized the holiness of that moment and that place. I was to become a HOBO--someone committed to Hiking One's Boots Off. Since that day, I have done just about any and everything I could think of to prepare for Thursday, April 20, 2017--the day I will officially step on the AT and 9 months to the day from "my burning bush" experience on "my Mt. Horeb" at Newfound Gap. I still don't feel completely prepared for such a journey, but the Lord has provided me a wonderful hiking partner in Paul Penick and I have soaked in as much information as possible to put me on the AT. Everything else I need, the Lord will need to continue to provide--what I need, when I need it, and how I need it. This is gonna be one heck of an adventure--a 2189.2-mile adventure!

Well, I guess I better start packing. I wonder if I should buy a backpack now? And I guess I'll need food. I probably can just pick something up at a McDonald's on the trail. Surely they have those there... “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (ESV)