Saturday, October 05, 2002

Father, son learn about life on trail

        Danny Eucks and his 14-year-old son, Dray, are lucky guys. They just got back this week from hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.

        Six months in the woods. April through September.

        2,168 miles. From Georgia to Maine.

        Two first-time hikers.

        Danny's ready “to give it another whirl.”

        Dray isn't. He's glad he “made the goal.” But, “never again.”

        Standing side by side, they smiled at each other in Dray's homeroom at LaValle Private School in Fairfield.

        Before them, a map hung on a wall. A marker's squiggly line charted their progress from the Deep South to the mountains of Maine.

        Danny and Dray are still coming to grips with their good fortune.

        First, they must acclimate themselves to Butler County-style civilization. After months amid the serenity of the AT, as hikers call the Appalachian Trail, loud noises and four walls make them jumpy.

        A few nights ago they went to a restaurant. A tray of plates hit the deck.

        “Scared the bejeepers out of me,” Danny said.

        In school, Dray finds himself fidgeting at his desk. One look outside or at the map on the wall, and he feels like he's “back on the trail.”

        People keep asking them what their trip was all about.

        The question makes Dray hem and haw.

        “I'm still sifting through it all,” Danny said.

        “I figure Dray will call me up when he's 25 and tell me in great detail what it meant to him.”

        So, for now, they're having trouble putting what they learned into words. With their help, allow me.

        Dray learned from his dad how to be more like a kid. Enjoy yourself. Life's short.

        “I'd make all kind of goofy sounds. Talk in different voices. He'd roll his eyes,” Danny said. “He found out I'm crazy. A big kid.” A 39-year-old teenager.

        Danny learned from his son how to be more like an adult. Get mad. Get over it.

        “I'd be on him all day about walking too far ahead. Lagging too far behind. Not being careful,” Danny said.

        “Then, we'd be eating dinner and he'd just ask me to pass the salt like we never had an argument.”

        So, the father learned his son is “very forgiving.” Danny realized he “got mad about something unimportant. You shouldn't let that stuff poison the rest of your day. Or your life.”

        Between sharing these insights, Danny and Dray recounted their experiences by recalling what they counted on the trail.

        Bears sighted: Six. “Two ran away from us,” Dray said. “The other four just stared.”

        Boots worn out: Eight pairs.

        Falls on the trail: Dray 102. Danny 16.

        Knuckleheads encountered: One. “This guy we met on the trail tossed a bullet in the campfire,” Dray said. They never camped with him again.

        Gifts given: Two.

        Danny wanted Dray to have the gift of “knowing that you are capable of doing anything. Most people learn that late in life. Dray knows it at 14.”

        Danny and Dray exchanged their second gift each night. Before crawling into their sleeping bags in the still wilderness, they said:

        “I love you.”

        At the end of the day, those are the best words anyone can hear. No matter what trail you're on.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at; 768-8379. Past columns at


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