SE alumni conquer the Appalachian Trail

Lornna Bates, Staff Writer

Darrell and Miriam Parrish, both 59 years of age, completed a five-year long backpacking trek along the Appalachian Trail, spanning 2,175 miles of rough terrain stretching across 14 states. The couple actually met while attending school at Southeastern and currently reside in Abilene, Texas.

Considering the Approach Trail, which is where Darrell and Miriam actually began their journey, Darrell estimated the total mileage the couple accrued at 2,197 miles per person. The Approach Trail is a separate trail that leads to the beginning of the Appalachian Trail, which accounts for the 22-mile difference.

Initially the journey began as a summer adventure, said Darrell, a respiratory therapist and advancement chairman for the Boy Scouts. Miriam is a neonatal nursing practitioner. The couple fully intended to complete the entire hike during the summer season, beginning on March 19, 2006 about 80 miles north of Atlanta, Ga.

Darrell and Miriam began amidst cold and sleeting conditions for the first three weeks. After 350 miles into the journey, the hike was sidelined for a five week stay in south Kansas because of an illness and death in the immediate family. With a sizable portion of the summer season gone, Darrell and Miriam continued their journey through to Labor Day, completing 1,150 miles by the end of summer, Darrell said.

Darrell shed 64 pounds in the course of the first summer which ended in Pennsylvania, he said. He also noted that this adventure has taught them healthier ways to eat. Darrell said he would “like to maintain his weight and not gain it back.”

The family has adopted a change in eating habits, such as whole grains, veggies and health conscious foods. Meat no longer plays a central role in their meals, which now include a homemade loaded veggie pizza, which Darrell said is excellent.

The summer of 2007 the couple completed 550 miles before the trip was once again postponed due to a fall injuring Darrell’s right knee, he said. The injury occurred in Massachusetts.

Darrell and Miriam completed only 98 miles of their journey before an unfortunate injury to Darrell’s left knee stopped the trip for the duration of the summer of 2008, Darrell explained.

By the summer of 2009, the couple had reached New Hampshire, but the wet rainy conditions made the going slow and treacherous, Darrell said. “We were both falling three to four times a day,” said Darrell. The conditions caused another postponement to the journey.

During this past summer Darrell and Miriam were finally able to complete the last leg of their journey which ended in Baxter State Park in Maine atop Mt. Katahdin.

Upon their return, the couple had postcards printed for friends and family to celebrate the monumental trip. Darrell and Miriam wrote, “We climbed Mt. Katahdin, the highest point in Maine, on July 29th; we saw spectacular views of clouds, lakes, rivers and other mountains. And, the wildflowers and wildlife will never be forgotten!!”

Throughout the backpacking expedition, the couple encountered many scenic sights, including White Mountain and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, Mt. Everett in Massachusetts, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is located in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Often the Parrish’s would be hiking between cities anywhere from eight to 11 days from society. The couple carried dehydrated meal packs, their own water-purifying system, extra clothes, sleeping bags and a tent, along with other small necessities, said Darrell. Darrell’s pack weighed roughly 40 pounds and Miriam’s pack 35 pounds.

Darrell said that he was the logistics man on the journey. “My wife does not know the difference between 2,175 miles and 90 miles,” he said. “It’s all just one foot in front of the other.”

Darrell enjoyed the challenge of tracking the multitude of numbers associated with their trip within his head. “How far today, how far total, average mile per hour,” said Darrell, these are among the statistics he kept up-to-the-minute on. He kept track of the mileage travelled up to any position and the mileage that remained. He also said that he is a man who knows numbers, having received a degree from Southeastern in 1975, accounting being one of his three majors.

Along the trail, the Parrish’s assumed trail names. Darrell said that his trail name was “Numbers” and Miriam chose “Butterfly Mama” because of her avid interest and extensive knowledge of butterflies.

Oddly enough, considering Darrell’s involvement with the Boy Scouts for the past 30 years, the idea for the trip was Miriam’s, said Darrell. When asked if there were any future plans for more backpacking expeditions, Darrell said that both he and Miriam would like to journey through the Grand Canyon next summer or through some trails located in Oklahoma. “The plan is to find which trail to do next,” said Darrell.

Photo provided by Darrell Parrish