Walking with Jason

Walking with Jason

by John F. Hunt


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781481732307
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 04/28/2013
Pages: 308
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)

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Walking with Jason

By John F. Hunt


Copyright © 2013 Jason William Hunt Foundation
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4817-3230-7



How Did I Get Here?

Plans Change

I would have to attribute the origination of my brother's interest in the out-of-doors to my father.... When Jason was old enough, he became a Boy Scout and dad reenlisted.

—Danielle Hunt Palka, Celebration of Life, eulogy, October 20, 2001

"Sal! Sal! It's Sal! Where were you at?"

With those words of surprise, discovery, excitement, and joy, a little four-year-old boy with a crop of wildly curly red hair ran through the crowd, joined Sal on stage, and stole the hearts of all who witnessed it. Little G (Giovanni) had not seen Sal, his older brother, for twenty days, not since his family had dropped Sal off at the Wilderness School to begin his expedition. United once again, they stood together, Little G held tightly in Sal's bear hug, with two big smiles in an image of brotherly love. DCF Wilderness School director Dave Czaja turned to the audience and said, "Crew Two just got a little bigger."

It was graduation day at the State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families Wilderness School in East Hartland, Connecticut, and thirteen young lads were completing an amazing step in their lives. Families, friends, social workers, referring agents, supporters, Wilderness School administrators, and field staff gathered to honor their accomplishment of completing a twenty-day wilderness expedition. Unknown to one another at the start of the experience, unfamiliar with the woods, unskilled in the individual and group skills that the wilderness requires, and, most critically, needing to develop their own life coping skills, these thirteen boys, ranging from twelve to seventeen years old, had literally experienced conflicts, accomplished personal goals, conquered challenges, and learned more about themselves in those twenty days than they thought possible.

Where their previous life experiences may have been lacking in positive values, where they may not have been dealt the best of hands in the past, where their lives may have teetered on that fine line between right and wrong, being safe or in danger, they now have a glimpse at a better way. They do not leave with a checklist of do's and don'ts; rather, they have the experience of having successfully met the challenge. They have experienced success, and in experiencing it have internalized it. They have been guided in this experience by dedicated young adults who have the skills to protect them in their quest and, yet, leave the teaching, the instruction, and the education to the wilderness itself.

Jason, our son, was such a wilderness educator. Following his death in 2001, Rosemarie, his mother; Danielle and Amy, his sisters; and I created a foundation to support such programs. The Jason William Hunt Foundation provides scholarship funds so that youth with needs can attend such programs and grow. The origins of this book lie in a desire to memorialize Jason, to hike the Appalachian Trail in a way that promotes therapeutic wilderness programs, and to create a cash stream for the foundation's scholarship fund.

People ask how the idea to hike the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine over approximately 2180 miles, as a sixty-four-year-old, married, part-owner of a business ever originated. While my explanation seems perfectly reasonable to me, to most others it seems quite the opposite. I guess that just has to do with the maturity one develops through the years of shared life experiences in a Venus–Mars, Ying–Yang sort of way.

Ideas do not just happen. They develop over time, waiting for a trigger to give them life. And for my trigger, I have Rosemarie to thank. I have been a manufacturer's representative in the hand tool, hardware, and locksmith markets for more than thirty years. Often, a manufacturer will run a mobile display van program at each dealer's place of business as a means of marketing product to their customers. To do that, they outfit a truck by trimming out the back section to display product. We are talking carpeting, lights, store display paneling, video players, and air conditioning—in short, the works. It was during such a van promotion that the generator wasn't working properly, the air conditioner was broken, the shocks were dead, and the power steering wasn't power steering anything that Rosemarie said, "Take a hike" and it all came to be. Actually, she claims to have said, "Retire. You don't need this. Do something else." But to me, retire meant "take a hike." It was perfectly clear to me.

Let me explain something about my wife. Rosemarie is an elementary school special education teacher with a master's degree in special education for emotional disturbance. All of our family, friends, and neighbors recognize that after thirty-eight years of marriage to me, she qualifies for a "practical doctorate" in emotional disturbance, if such existed. Besides, everyone knows that a great teacher motivates students to make their own proper decisions. So we all know that she was leading me to the only conclusion I could make. Her saying, "Retire" was really code for "Take a hike."

I have always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail and especially to do it with my family. But life in general—building a family, job demands—consumed our focus. Even though we were outdoors people who biked, hiked, camped, sailed, and snow skied, sometimes getting outside got tough when faced with the demands of a wife and two daughters who desired the comforts of home to meet their personal needs. Sailing, swimming, and even snow skiing were acceptable because restrooms were close by, but going into the woods? Only now are both girls interested in camping, so the chance to hike with them made this decision even more exciting. And besides, they can better explain it to Rosemarie, who is still trying to understand how "retire" became "take a hike"!

And then there is the inevitable question: Why? The answer starts with the fact that I have always enjoyed walking. On occasion, I would walk home from grammar school and high school, which were each about two miles away. In Boy Scouts, I enjoyed hikes in the woods. The idea of walking the Appalachian Trail always intrigued me, and I often dreamed of hiking as a family. When we lost Jason, it became less important, but as I came to accept his loss, walking the trail became a way to memorialize him and to acknowledge the greatly unselfish efforts of so many young adults who lead children on paths of self-discovery in outdoor settings. I also believed that writing a book such as this, in showing how the woods work so well for children with needs, could have a positive impact on those children and workers both. Also, I wanted to push back against some negative comments recurring in books written by Appalachian Trail thru-hikers that imply that the trail is just for them. It became a mission.

Jason was not quite twenty-five years old when, on a climbing trip to Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, he fell. Ironically, he fell from a route called Neat and Cool. It was the last day of his vacation and was to be that one last climb before packing up and heading home. When he fell, he sustained three contusions on his brain, lapsed into a coma, was air evacuated to Vancouver General Hospital, and never recovered. The family gathered in Vancouver, and for nine days we stayed by his side, prayed, talked, put up signs, hung balloons, worked around-the-clock shifts, whatever we could. Three operations later, there was nothing more that could be done to reduce the spasmodic swelling that kept recurring.

While at Turpin High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jason learned to rock climb. At Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, that skill turned into a passion, and he looked for ways to feed his hunger. He found that he could help others and climb at the same time. He combined Rosemarie's teaching background and my interest in the outdoors and created his own persona. Over the years, he worked in programs such as after-school mentoring and outdoor programs for youth considered chemically dependent, troubled, and/ or behaviorally at risk, in places as far flung as Montana, North Carolina, and Connecticut.

At times, he doubted that he had what was needed to help his students improve. But he kept at it, and in the process he matured and became a better person. The old saying about it is better to give than to receive is proven every day by those who spend their time working with youth with needs. The power one gets from being outdoors, from being in nature, and from working with nature to help another person takes on its own mystical sense of fulfillment and becomes another acknowledgment of higher truths and presence.

To this end, and in memory of Jason, my journey took form. The route was known, the gear was packed, family and friends were scheduled to join me along the trail, and administrators of selected programs along the Appalachian Trail were ready to meet with me to explain their programs. The excitement built as the start date approached. I even picked a trail name: PowerLock. Thru-hikers have trail names. I am not sure why, but they do. Some are given by other hikers, and some, like mine, come by way of one's own life experiences. Mine is related to the several jobs I have had over the years. In the 1970s, I worked for Stanley Hand Tools, which continues to make a brand of measuring tapes with that name. As the 1970s were the days of CB radio, I used "Powerlock" as my "handle." And just before I retired, I worked as a manufacturer's sales representative for Kaba Ilco, the largest key blank manufacturer in the world. So I reworked my CB name by capitalizing the L, resulting in PowerLock. Out of respect for those I met on the trail and in appreciation of their patience with me for taking up their time by asking questions, I will use their trail names here.

My planned beginning was not without a new development or two. The first was our daughter Amy's announcement that she was pregnant, and this was quickly followed by Danielle's own announcement of the same. There I was facing six months in the woods, and our first grandchildren were on the way. Had I known that my simple decision to hike the Appalachian Trail was all it would take to produce grandchildren, I would have done it years earlier. While my hiking partners grew fewer, my family was now set to expand, and it seemed possible for a time to have the best of all worlds.

I actually started hiking the trail on March 14, 2010. That first day, I chanced to meet and began hiking with Jerry Horton, a gentleman with thirty-one years of experience as a youth minister and who used the woods in working with youth. Later that morning, we came upon a group of Ole Miss students guided by Riley Kurtz. Riley was majoring in park recreation administration with the intention of earning his doctorate in this field. Jerry and Riley were not on my list of preplanned visits, but they had outdoor experiences that I wanted to find out more about. I knew I needed to talk to them, which meant that I needed to find time somewhere along the trail to sit down with each for a chat. Then, late that first night, I called home and found out that Amy had been hospitalized with kidney pains of undetermined origin. Our youngest daughter, six months pregnant with our first grandchild, was in the hospital and I was four hundred and fifty miles away. The next day, I got off the trail and headed home. But even in the process of getting off the trail, I unexpectedly met Quartz, a psychiatric nurse with an amazing story about her work with young adults in the woods.

When Rosemarie told me Amy was in the hospital, we decided that I would hike one more day and call home that evening. This would give the doctors time to diagnose Amy's pains and the severity of the situation. Based on their decision, I could then decide whether to continue on the trail or return home. That was the plan, but I didn't feel right. I hadn't been home when Rosemarie got the call that Jason had fallen. As is often the case with a traveling salesman, when I travel is when something back home breaks, leaks, and or fails. Now I was four hundred fifty miles from home and Amy was hospitalized. Granted, she had a history of kidney aliments and had been on prescription meds for it, but because she was pregnant, the doctors had taken her off of her meds and she claimed the pain wasn't the same. It was different, and that had us worried. So I went to sleep that first night figuring that while I hiked I would at least get to talk to Jerry about his ministry and Riley about his plans after college, and then I could figure out what to do about Amy.

I spent the morning of Day 2 as I had the previous day, hiking with three others: Mike G., who was celebrating his fortieth birthday by hiking the Appalachian Trail after selling all he had and leaving Great Britain to come here; JayB who wanted to thru-hike; and Jerry, who was buddy-hiking a sixty-mile section just to get his friend, JayB, started. In group dynamics parlance, we were in the forming stage, getting to know one another, sharing general life information, and settling on a trail name for Mike that really seemed to fit his British blood—Sherlock. As we were finishing lunch, Riley and his Ole Miss club showed up. Riley shouted over that he had time to chat, which we did as my three trail mates headed north without me. I thought I would catch up to them later, but as it turned out, it would be six months before I would catch up to Jerry via the Internet and get a chance to talk to him about his ministry and JayB's adventure. Sherlock I never saw again.

I finished chatting with Riley and began to hike as he stayed with his group for lunch. It was a sunny day, and the hiking was great but I just wasn't with it. All day long, I had this gut feeling that I shouldn't be there. It continued through midafternoon as I stood in the middle of a forest service road at Cooper Gap (USFS 42/80) looking at my map and trying to figure what to do. Option one was to hike to a water source two miles away and then hike another 1.3 miles to that night's planned stop at Gooch Mountain Shelter. While at the campsite, I could figure out how to get home if Amy's condition had not improved. Or I could go with option two: try to leave right then and at least be close to transportation if I did have to go home. The underlying question was, would it be easier to get out now than after moving on to Gooch Mountain Shelter? But the real question was: How do I get out now?

Hikers call it trail magic—people appear, stop, and help; food appears, left on the side of the trail as an offering for hungry hikers. It happens all the time. And there I was standing in the middle of a dirt road somewhere deep in Georgia on the Appalachian Trail when Joshua Saint from the Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, Georgia, drove up in his white SUV and stopped. He couldn't get me to a bus stop right then, but he could first thing in the morning. I just needed to wait for Leigh, his wife, who was backing him up as he had lost a transmission line, was leaking fluids, and was trying to make it to a garage.

Less than two minutes later, along came the white van and I was off the trail. During the ride to the hostel, I met Quartz. She had been section hiking to test her physical condition and was heading back to check in with her doctor and hopefully get approval to thru-hike. She told me how she spent her life in Tennessee as a psychiatric nurse working in a state-run facility in a program that used the woods to teach independent living to young adult men. But then she asked what a tool salesman was doing writing a book about the woods and children with needs. I explained that my wife was a special education teacher and that I had always loved the outdoors. I told her about Jason and the foundation and then casually mentioned that my oldest daughter was with the Charleston County Park Recreation Commission, in South Carolina. Quartz asked me for my daughter's last name, which I told her. "Are you Danielle Palka's father?" she asked. What a shock! There I was in Georgia, talking to a woman from Tennessee who was more my age than Danielle's, and yet she knew my daughter in South Carolina!

She remembered Danielle because they had spent one weekend together two years prior on Cumberland Island, Georgia, having met through their mutual friend, Marlene. Then shock went to fear when Quartz, remembering that I had said something in the van earlier about two daughters' being pregnant, asked if Danielle was pregnant. My foot was in my mouth; the pregnancy had not yet been officially announced. It wasn't past the official let-everyone-know date yet, and I could hear Rosemarie and Danielle both screaming, "You weren't supposed to say anything!" I quickly recovered, confirmed that she was pregnant, but begged Quartz not to say anything about it to anyone, especially to Marlene, who as of then didn't know. What a small world. At the same time, it was, in what would be made evident time and again, a world of synchronicity, as Carl Jung, the famous psychologist, described it.

Excerpted from Walking with Jason by John F. Hunt. Copyright © 2013 by Jason William Hunt Foundation. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword....................     xi     

Preface....................     xiii     

Acknowledgments....................     xix     

Introduction....................     xxi     

PART ONE Starting Out....................          

How Did I Get Here? Plans Change....................     1     

PART TWO Therapeutic Wilderness....................          

Painted Toenails Jason Revealed....................     21     

Old, Old Wisdom Wilderness: Raw Power, Mystery, and Awe...................     31     

Leading from the Heart Profiles of Wilderness Educators...................     49     

Jack Reacher Meets Shannon Zich Empathy and Soft Skills...................     87     

The Quiet Mind, the Smart Heart Balance of Influence....................     117     

Five As and One T Trauma and Other Causes of Behavioral Dysfunction.......     133     

E = MC2 An Individual's Development and Potential..............     153     

Feeling like Rodney Dangerfield Validation....................     185     

222 Circles Rituals and Consistencies....................     203     

The Ultimate Challenges Contributing Adult, Supportive Parent.............     217     

A Culture of Joy and Belonging Setting the Standards....................     239     

A Telling Eileen Speaks of Her Experience....................     251     

PART THREE Epilogue....................          

What I Have Learned....................     259     

Appendix....................     269     

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