Finish of Appalachian Trail hike is a gift to dad

jwise@newsobserver.comJune 19, 2012 

Up in the mountains, Dan Allan of Durham got to know his father a little better. He also learned some things about being a father himself. And he learned something else as well.

The Appalachian Trail is tough.

“I was tired in the first mile,” said Allan, 36. His 67-year-old father Freeman, on the other hand, was full of pep in his 2,178th

Two weeks ago, the elder Allan hiked 71 miles to complete a trek on the Appalachian Trail, and his sons made the last 15 a family affair. To celebrate what their dad had accomplished, Dan Allan, his brother Gabe, 30, and their step-brother Joe Koelling, 42, went out and hiked along with him.

“It was a profound, profound Father’s Day gift,” Freeman Allan said.

“He was like a little kid, he was so excited we were with him,” Dan Allan said.

Freeman Allan lives in Crozet, Va., just a mile from the Appalachian Trail. But he said he first made acquaintance of it when he was a Davidson College undergraduate in the 1960s and thought about walking the whole thing, Georgia to Maine.

“It stayed with me, kind of a pipe dream,” he said. In the ’70s, he covered about 300 miles of the Trail in Virginia but as years passed, life intervened and it was not until he was in his 60s that he and his wife decided “to start living for ourselves” and he hit the Trail again.

“My sons were all rooting for me,” he said.

When the boys were young, they went hiking and canoeing with their father, but now they were middle-aged themselves with families and jobs and obligations of their own. For several years Freeman hiked solo, covering the Trail in sections until at last he reached the top of Mount Katahdin, Maine, and figured he was done.

He even got the official certificate attesting to his accomplishment. Then one of the boys pointed out that he had skipped a part. One weekend, Freeman had diverted off the Trail to visit his sister, a rafting guide in western North Carolina, and neglected to finish a stretch between Erwin, Tenn., and Hot Springs, N.C.

Dreading the thought of “all that hiking, all that hunger,” he nevertheless set out May 28. Meanwhile, the sons had conferred and decided to come along.

“Darned if they did not meet up with me,” Freeman said. That was Saturday, June 2, “And off we hiked.”

Besides honoring their father, Dan Allan said, it was a way for the brothers to be together. Joe and Gabe live in Chapel Hill, but they’re all busy with their own lives. “To spend time (together), doing something challenging like that, was a lot of fun,” he said.

Dan Allan got to talk with his father about being a father – Dan has 8-month-old twins – and life in general. The boys talked about their lives among themselves, past and present.

“I kept hearing these guys joking, remembering this and that that happened,” some things he never knew about, said Freeman Allan.

“You’re just kind of walking along ... with your family you’ve created,” Freeman Allan said. “It was very much a weaving together” of the boys, the family, the past and the future – sons now fathers themselves.

And then, Freeman said, “It hit me – my sons did this because they loved me.”

Sharing it was the most gratifying part of the 15-mile experience, Dan Allan said.

“The Trail is kind of a lone man or woman journey, where you kind of look within yourself,” Dan said. “But at the end, he wasn’t there by himself. ... We were there with him.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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