Toast & Woo stare off into the distance

The journalist in me loves a great song lyric.

I like lyrics that are complex and winding, such as “Blinded by the Light.”

I also like them profoundly simple.

Adam Duritz of Counting Crows penned one years ago that I think about often:

“If you’ve never stared off into the distance then your life is a shame.”

It’s a line I engage with our sons when we wander out on a drive or a walk. I don’t announce it so much as just hope it strikes them. Once last fall, a night full of stars blazed brilliantly across the black sky. I stopped our walk, and just looked up, saying nothing to the boys.

From my youngest came: “Wwwwwwwoowwww ...”

And after that admiration, we moved on.

It’s from moments such as that that I have a ton of admiration, and just a tinge of envy or jealousy, for Toast and Woo.

They are not part of Counting Crows.

Toast is actually 2008 Liberty High School grad Evan Coombs, and Woo is his buddy, Tim Borden. (The nicknames are from various life points; nothing too outlandish.)

And if you search Toast and Woo’s Extended Ramble on Facebook, you can join my admiration, envy and jealousy.

On Wednesday, Toast and Woo embarked on a walk.

Well, in fairness, if the Boston Marathon is not just a road race, then I guess theirs is not just a walk.

They’re on a 2,186-mile life excursion on the Appalachian Trail. Wednesday found them in Springer Mountain, Ga.

Today, they are somewhere northeast of that, with Katahdin, Maine, in their sights, some five months or so from now.

Hiking the AT, as it’s called, is a quest undertaken every summer by approximately 3 million people, tackling various lengths.

A few thousand people every summer attempt “thru-hiking” — which is canvassing the entire path through 13 states over five to seven months. And of those souls, about 600 people complete the daunting trek. These summers, more people complete it now every year than the total of all the people who completed it in the AT’s first 40 years — starting in 1936.

And this year, Toast and Woo aim to be finishers.

“I am confident they will finish,” said Evan’s dad, Fritz Coombs. (Mom is Janice.) “They’ve made a lot of preparations. They also realize they will have to improvise. He’s always been a ‘hope for best; plan for worst’ type of person.”

Toast is no rookie who got this idea off the latest app.

The Vindy has bumped into him at several life moments as he grew up, attained Eagle Scout status, and took off to New Mexico to help run a Boy Scout camp. For the past several years, he has hunkered down in the Rocky Mountains.

Fritz said Evan’s longest hike was 70 miles over 10 days in 2005. Daily hikes of 12-15 miles are common.

He announced this latest venture last fall to the mixed emotions of his parents.

Fritz said it’s a perfect time in life — out of college and not tied down with homes, loans or family. Each saved about $4,000 (AT organizers say you should plan on $2,500-$4,500.)

Part of the magic for any thru-hiker experience is relying on the help of others, especially total strangers, as they cross the continent.

Fritz said help from family and friends is in abundance in the middle part of the trek. He plans at least one trip to resupply them with lighter summer gear versus their heavier spring gear they have now.

A cherished part of the trek is what is called “trail magic” — when kindness and aid come from total strangers.

Toast and Woo posted Friday night that just 27 miles into the walk, they had their first magic:

They dined on hamburgers, compliments of college kids who were on their own spring-break trip.

If you have friends and connections along the AT route, they have this offer to help fuel more trail magic:

“If anyone you know wouldn’t mind having a pair of very smelly, swampy, beardy guys pay them a visit, please shoot us a message (on Facebook). Even just a few hours to shower and have a beer (hint...) can mean the world to a thru-hiker.

In return, you’ll get some of the most authentic Appalachian old-time music that you’re going to hear that week!”

Yes — the two are travelling with their banjo and fiddle, ensuring they will not break the AT record of 58 days set just last summer by a teacher.

But I don’t think speed was their goal.

On the Facebook page, Toast does as good a job as any songwriter spelling out the goal, or lack thereof:

“I’ve been adamant since the get-go that mine and Tim Borden’s thru-hike of the AT is not a soul searching journey; rather, I’m mostly curious if I can actually walk from Georgia to Maine. But I can’t help but wonder what I’m going to learn about myself. For all my attempts to feign expectations and desires, I hope that I learn how to live the way we were.

“We are a people built on our exploration. Complacency is the enemy of who we are. If I inspire one person to put aside their modern life for just a little while and see if they can be who we were, that will be enough. At that point, I will have done more than just walk.

“I leave you all with the quote with which we closed our campfires every night at Pueblano, in the place where the seed of all this was sown:

“May your trails be winding, and long, and crooked, and lonesome, and dangerous. But may they lead you to the most amazing views.”

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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