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A Father and His Young Son Document 2,200-Mile Journey on AT
07/15/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon
Asher and Paul Molyneaux

When Paul Molyneaux and his son Asher of East Machias decided to hike the Appalachian Trail four years ago it was, not surprisingly, a major undertaking.

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Paul was unemployed and broke. His marriage was on tenterhooks. And Paul had more than just himself to consider. Asher, was only 8 years old at the time. He weighed all of 60 pounds. But their journey of self discovery, they say, turned out to be the best thing they ever did together. And it's the subject of a new book titled A Child's Walk in the Wilderness.

The idea to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail was Asher's. He said he was inspired by the 1992 film Last of the Mohicans based on James Fenimore Cooper's classic tale. The film was shot in North Carolina, and the scenery was etched into asher's mind. So was the idea that the setting intersected with the 2,200 mile-long trail that begins in Georgia and ends at Mount Katahdin in Maine. To this day the scenic Great Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina-Tennessee border remain Asher's favorite part of the trip. And then there was the wildlife he saw.
"We saw rattlesnakes, bears, deer, seven moose," Asher said. "In New York we found a nest of ravens. We saw 25 bears, which I mean, is alot for alot of the people we met hiking the trail. Rattlesnakes were one of the most amazing though, I think. Rattlesnakes and moose."

When hiking the AT its tradition to chose a trail name. Sometimes other hikers pick one for you. Asher and Paul again turned to Last of the Mohicans for inspiration. Asher took the main character's name and turned it into the Mexican-Spanish word for deer: Venado. Paul took Tecolote, the Spanish word for owl or guardian, which he said seemed appropriate for the occasion. Along the way they met characters such as Dox XX, "the most interesting man on the trail," Popeye and Apocalypse, who had the habit of losing multiple items in his possession and refusing to let that do him in.

"He'd say 'Oh, it's not the end of the world. Oh, it's not the end of the world,' every time he lost something or something went wrong on his hike so finally people took a twist on that and called him Apocalypse," said Paul.

There were times during the seven-month trip that Paul and Asher did get discouraged. It rained a lot. Their gear got soaked. Their feet got wet and blistered. The trail motto for thru hikers is "No rain. No pain. No Maine."

"The most discouraging moment was on the Knife's Edge in Pennsylvania when it was sleeting and raining, driving rain and sleet," Asher said. "But I didn't want to give up."

Despite all the rain, Paul Molyneaux said he spent a lot of time preoccupied with finding and filtering drinking water. And, then of course, there was the daily obsession to keep their packs light. The main rule of thumb for hikers is not to carry more than 20 percent of body weight. That means a journal or a jar of peanut butter can feel like a ball peen hammer. In order to avoid becoming overloaded Paul had carefully plotted places to pick up care packages sent by his wife. And he said his good planning and Asher's confidence then allowed him to embrace the philosophy of the man who conceived of the Appalachian Trail: Benton MacKaye.

"His idea was that in order to be whole people needed connection with three things: wilderness, rural processes and community," Paul said. "And he felt the trail, the way he envisioned it would give them all that. You would hike through this wilderness. You would stop at these camps and learn rural skills and you would be part of a community. And part of going out on the trail was searching for this."

Asher Molyneaux JumpingMacKaye believed that if people had all these things they could also have healing, something he needed after his wife committed suicide. Paul Molyneaux said that while on the trail, he and his son were able to let go of all the confines of modern life, the gadgets and the worry and the emotional baggage and focus instead on the most basic connections to the natural world. He said said letting go of his own ego also helped repair his relationship with his wife. And for that he said he is eternally grateful to Asher.

"You know I look at this and I say we're both lucky," Paul said. "I'm lucky that he came up with the idea and he's lucky that I said OK."

Molyneau's wife and ten-year-old daughter also hiked parts of the trail with him and with Asher. The father and son's advice to anyone considering hiking the AT is to plan well, pack light and don't put it off. There is, they say, no time like the present.

Note: Paul and Asher Mollyneau will be speaking about their trail adventures and their book Tuesday July 16 at 6:30 pm at the Camden Opera House as part of a series of events sponsored by the Friends of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

Photos courtesy of the Molyneaux family.

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