Sunday, February 28, 1999
The Rev. J.W. Wallis of McDonough Road Baptist Church in Fayetteville is preparing for the adventure of his life.
In January, he shocked his congregation when he announced his resignation from the church to hike the Appalachian Trail.
"It's a period of time just to take care of myself," he said. "I'm not retiring, just rewiring. I don't want to burn out."
Almost 2,200 miles on the mountain range from Georgia to Maine await him when Wallis leaves on March 25. He'll begin at Springer Mountain and ultimately finish on top of Mount Katahdin in the Baxter State Park.
The trip, which only 10 percent of those who begin the trail eventually complete, will take about six months, walking on average 12 miles a day. He'll carry a tent, stove, clothes, five days supply of food, and a sleeping bag. With incidental items, his pack will weigh around 40 pounds, although hikers are known to carry as much as 60 or 70 pounds.
Why now and not after retirement, many ask. Wallis said he wants to go while he has no grandchildren and while he still has his health.
"I've made a lot of good friends through the years who have never done the things they said they were going to do after retirement," Wallis said.
Wallis has been preparing now for four months, walking 5.2 miles each day at 7 a.m. with a loaded pack, but he says the actual hike "will be a process of learning."
Furthermore, Wallis and his family will learn more about each other, as this is a family trip.
His youngest son will begin the first five days of the trip with him; his oldest son and daughter-in-law will join him later in the trip; and then his wife, a Lovejoy High School teacher, will join him while on Spring Break.
His wife, through nervous about the dangers and uncertainties of the trip, is "very supportive," although he and his wife are in "the grief process" with leaving the church, he added.
Leaving the church will apparently be just as difficult for the Wallis family as with the church body.
"I've been at the church for 15 years and I've brought the church this far, it's time for me to step aside." Furthermore, he laughs, "the church has had more additions since I've resigned."
The family will continue to attend the church until Wallis finds another pastoring position at another church.
"They're a good congregation," he said. "The church is in the grieving process as well. Some are confused, some angry, but this is the first time I've ever taken time to do anything."
Wallis said he has been in the ministry since he was 18, over 35 years during which he has not only ministered, but gone to seminary, and received his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees.
"I feel like it's time," he said, noting that he would follow Luke 2:52 during his journey:
"And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."
"I hope to grow in all these dimensions," he said.
Wallis is preparing a sermon on the similarities of hiking and following Christ. "One of the things I've already learned is that is a passion."
With such odds against completing the hike, Wallis said he knows it's going to be tough. Right now he's just living with fantasy, with just the thoughts, he said, but he is prepared for aching feet and the days of walking in bad weather.
The Appalachian Trail backpacking community is quite diversified and has developed its own subculture. While on the trail, many assume a "trail name," that seems to best identify their character. Wallis will begin as "Hobab," an Old Testament man in the book of Exodus.
He will be coordinating with a man from the church that will track and document his experiences on the trail on the Web. He said he will correspond through letters and phone.
"My only fear is not completing the trail, but I hope the end result of this hike will be a better person."