I’ve known Paul Guyon almost fifteen years, so to learn of his death this week was a shock. He was one of my innermost circle of friends, and the more I thought about it, I realized he was a part of connecting me to many of my oldest friends in Florida, starting with the first hike we took. He’d lost his soulmate, Sunny, and after an outdoor memorial service, a group of us took a hike. Most of those friendships last to this day.
Sunny and Paul planned to be married at the Big O Hike that year. Instead, he spread her ashes around Lake Okeechobee as we walked. It was a solemn and sad time. He’d backpacked and hiked many miles with Sunny, and even though he didn’t ask, he needed his friends around him in that painful time. Along with Bob Coveney, we started knocking off segments of the Florida Trail, as I was writing Along the Florida Trail and The Florida Trail. More friends joined in along the way.
It seemed that each time he called about a hike, I’d meet more Florida ladies who loved to backpack. My circle of hiking friends expanded. I went to the Smokies in 2003 with a group from the Loxahatchee Chapter, and after the first day on the trail, only Paul, Bob, and I continued to backpack across the park from Clingman’s Dome to Fontana Dam. It was my first lengthy segment of the Appalachian Trail, working towards that dream of getting it done.
In 2004, Paul launched the first-ever Ocean-to-Lake Hike on a route that wasn’t quite complete. It didn’t matter; we all had a blast. One of the funniest moments of that hike was when we were settling into a not-so-optimal camp in a bunch of Australian pines along a levee in Jupiter Farms. In the shadows, I saw something that looked the like Burmese pythons everyone just started hearing about and just about jumped out of my skin. It turned out it was Paul’s hammock all rolled up on the pine needles.
Even in the years when I didn’t hike much, our paths merged every year at the Big O Hike, and on the occasional backpacking trip. In subsequent years, Paul brought a lot of long distance hikers into Florida to try the Ocean-to-Lake Hike. Being a part of that hike had a special cachet, since the full route wasn’t yet open to the public. It is now.
When I moved back to the Orlando area a few years ago, I landed a book contract to write Five Star Hikes Orlando. I involved a lot of local friends in joining me on hikes, but Paul was the one who always seemed available. We did more than a dozen day hikes that fall. He was two steps behind me when I saw my first bear in Seminole State Forest, followed by my second bear – the cub – toddling behind its mother.
He was always the gentleman, to the point of turning down a home-cooked meal after a hike, in case it might be taken the wrong way. But he’d just as soon meet me at a restaurant, or filter my water on a backpacking trip. Since he was fifteen years my senior, I thought of him as the older brother I never had. He saw me through three relationships and the solo years in-between. He was that rarest of finds, a male friend who was just a friend. Folks who saw us out and about together, friends and family included, didn’t always get that. But the many female hikers who Paul joined for hikes and backpacking trips certainly understood.
Because of his quiet demeanor, I always felt comfortable hiking and backpacking with him. While he could get frustrated with gear and technology easily, he was patient with my slow pace when I was collecting information and photos for books and this website. I figured that over the years, we’d hiked nearly a thousand miles together, in Florida and on the Appalachian Trail. As a fellow Florida Trail Association Activity Leader, he introduced many people to the outdoors over the past twenty years.
Before John and I headed off on the Appalachian Trail, we had dinner with Paul at a local restaurant, at his insistence. He wanted to pass along tips from his thru-hike and his many trips to the Appalachian Trail. As we got up to leave, he gave us both a hug and looked at John. “I’m expecting you to take care of her!” he said.
“I will!” said John. And of course, he did.
To write an article for the Florida Trail Association Footprint, I asked a group of friends who’d hiked with Paul over the years to share their fondest memories. I don’t know if they’ll have room to share the stories, so here they are. If you have one too, feel free to leave it in the comments.
Bob “LWOP” Coveney
I first met and started hiking with Paul in the late 90s. I had never backpacked before and he had already hiked a good chunk of the Appalachian Trail. He (and Sunny) took me under their wing and taught me about the backpacking lifestyle they both loved. Paul liked to sleep in a hammock, which in bear country would kind of make me nervous. He encouraged me to try it and I refused saying that seeing him hang in the hammock reminded me of a huge bear bag hanging from a tree. He really liked that and subsequently accepted the trail name: Bear Bag Hanger. Since those early days, I’ve thru-hiked both the Appalachian Trail and the Florida Trail. I attribute much of the success of those hikes to his early encouragement and him sharing his enthusiastic love of the trail.
Then there was the time when two crazy hikers took a nighttime stroll away from camp. Upon returning they thought they came upon a poacher stealthily sneaking through the woods. In an effort to startle off the “poacher” both hikers aimed their headlamps and turned them on simultaneously. Poor Paul was like a deer in the headlights – trying to (as rapidly as possible) pull up his pants from around his ankles. At least two of us thought it was funny.
Sue “Hammock Hanger” Turner
I was asked to share a favorite trail moment that I shared with Paul. I have hiked so many times on so many different trails with him it was very difficult to come up with a moment in time. He was just a good guy and I enjoyed all my time on the trail with him, even when we were both tired and cranky. Paul was a bit of a gentleman and much more reserved than I. On one of our first hikes together after Sunny’s passing we were “hanging” somewhere in the Grayson Highlands, (yes, he was a hammock convert!) Around one in the morning Paul’s head popped up in my hammock, between my legs. Seems he was returning from a nature call and got our two hammocks confused, or so he said! He, of course was mortified. I razzed him about it for years.
I shared a campsite with Paul the first time he came to the Big O. I mentioned several times that I was married, but he kept hanging around and I finally decided that he felt comfortable with me, no pressure! He really had his eye on Sunny. I enjoyed hiking the Big O with him and also the trips I took with the Loxahatchee group to the AT. He was a great Big O shuttle coordinator, although a little impatient at times!
A couple of years ago we did a few days with Mary (Aiken) on the Three Lakes section. I think Mary was getting started with hammocks and getting info from Paul. Paul and I came across a trap that had a raccoon in it. Paul was pretty sure the trap was for wild hogs and that no one had checked on it in a while because the raccoon didn’t look too good. He opened up the trap door to let the raccoon escape but it was too starved and freaked to move. Paul found a brick to prop open the door and made sure the raccoon got out. It took a while, and some prodding, but it finally took off.
We did so many hikes over the years. In 2011 Paul joined Dean and me for a month in New Hampshire hiking in the Pisgah WIlderness Area.
Lori “SwampTromper” Burris
I barely made out the “damn it,” muttered in quiet frustration. We’d missed the turn, lulled by the forest road and all the crazy talk about emus loose in North Florida leaving giant tracks in the sand. “Turkeys”, he’d said, adding no more to the conversation. I was pretty sure he was rolling his eyes, thought I didn’t see it.
The three of us had spent the last few hours singing every folk song that we could remember, and lots that we only partially remembered. The 90 mile hike had, so far, been nothing but fun. The Aucilla Sinks area was magical. Being lost would not have mattered except that we were meeting Gary for a hitch into town.
After looking at his maps and then the angle of our increasingly longer shadows, Paul set out at a slightly faster pace. Sharon and I followed. It seemed a few hours, but I honestly don’t remember; we never found another blaze. We did, however, come out onto the road just as Gary was passing. He pulled over, we got in, and about 1/8th of a mile down the road, turned around in the parking area that we had planned to meet him in. Well done, Paul, well done.
Sharon “TrailGator” Dudley
Paul and I had been hiking together in New Hampshire, but he wasn’t going back out with me so he dropped me off at the Wildcat Mountain trailhead. I was already scared of the Wildcats because he told me more than once than one of his other hiker pals would never hike them again. The climb up was brutal. At times it looked like I could fall off the side of the mountain. I’m thinking this is the way it’s going to be the whole time? I think at one point I sat on a rock and cried. I made my way up the mountain, wondering if I had made a mistake in soloing this part. As I hiked along, I could hear the gondola. I knew I could get off the mountain there. I was tired and hadn’t had a day off in a while. I decided to push on and headed on towards the woods. Then I heard my name called. I heard it again. There was Paul! He had ridden up the gondola to see me. I was so happy to see him! I rode the gondola back down the mountain, had some food and rest, went back up on the gondola the next day feeling refreshed and had a wonderful hike.
I hiked with Paul through most of Maine, New Hamsphire, Vermont, Mass, and Connecticut and well as a good part of the FT. He was always (well most times) patient while I dawdled along taking hundreds of pictures. A great gentle soul— unless he was mad at his GPS, then not so much.
Paul very much loved the trails and his hiking community. He once told me that his hiking buddies were more than friends, they were like family. He was instrumental to my becoming a “hammock hanger” (and probably a long distance hiker) after he loaned me a hammock for my first OTL hike several years ago, and that was just after meeting me a couple of months prior on The Big “O” and hearing that I had back issues sleeping on the ground on an air mattress. Paul was tuned into anything and everything about hiking and always ready to serve the needs of fellow hikers. I even wrote to him a few times inquiring about hiking gear and he took the time to write back with detailed information to help me make informed decisions when purchasing gear. Paul’s heart was BIG for the hiking community and will surely be missed.