Boots ‘n Beer – a Drinking Club with a Hiking Problem

It was after many years of hiking, when Warrenton’s Jim Carson realized that what’s good for the soul is better when shared, that he started talking up the idea of a hiking club – for guys only. Well, there was some ruckus from the ladies corner, but nevertheless, on December 17, 2009, the first crew ascended Mary’s Rock in the Shenandoah National Park. And so began the club’s monthly hikes.

On a cold day in January while climbing the Little Devils Stairs trail, many names were proposed for this new and motley hiking group, eventually settling on a name we’d all be proud to wear on our caps and T-shirts: The Warrenton Hiking Club!

Only later, as the spirit of the club revealed itself, emerged a byline: A Drinking Club with a Hiking Problem. With time and the help of one of the most avid hikers, Cooper Wright, the byline morphed into the moniker Boots ‘n Beer.

The Promise

Meanwhile, our intrepid leader, harboring big plans, told all that he wanted to cart busloads of hikers to the trail head every month, and he shared with us a professor’s message to his students that was passed along to him, prefacing the inspiration with the following sentiment: “It really expresses what I’m trying to nurture with our little hiking group. As I’m always saying, it’s good for the soul.”

One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast … a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breath deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.                                                 Edward Albee

The Hikes

And so every month we hiked another peak in the Appalachian Trail or in the Blue Ridge Mountains, crossing streams, exploring valleys, encountering bears and deer, burning up from the heat, getting soaked in the rain, hearing in awe the hauling winds, feeling limbs get numb from the icy cold, all the while recalling the hikers maxim: There’s no bad weather, only bad gear!

As confidence rose and muscles hardened, elevations got higher and the distances got longer. Word got around that the hiking was fun and the camaraderie unequalled. Recently this winter, even with rain and cold in the forecast, 18 hearty hikers braved the elements and as luck throws the dice enjoyed a sunny afternoon climbing 1800 feet on an 8 mile hike.

Naturally, some got blisters, others slipped when fording streams, and newcomers rediscovered their hamstrings and glutes, yet at the end there was pride expressed with high-fives and fist pumps, even the occasional “I did it!”

The Bucket List

As the group hiked and got to know each other, an intensity of purpose emerged when an item on the proverbial Bucket List was picked up in the trail chatter: Hiking 150 miles on the Appalachian Trail during the Spring of 2011! George Wotton was the first to commit: “This is something I want to do for myself. I’ve discovered the joy of hiking!”

When that Bucket List item was ticked off, it was the seniors who kept asking what’s next, because there is a knowing voice reminding them “Enjoy life while you’re still old!” As a result, almost every week The Warrenton Hiking Club Seniors hit the trail checking off one great hike after another.

The Reward

Hiking in the mountains requires physical stamina and being properly hydrated, but nothing motivates more and builds mental toughness than the thought of a cold beer as a reward for burning thousands of calories. Is it any wonder that most of the hikes are planned to end in the vicinity of The Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill, VA?

Boots ‘n Beer offers friendship and camaraderie, good stories and laughter, as well as an afternoon in the middle of the week to rejuvenate the body and refresh the mind and soul as one connects with nature and earth. Over the last two years Warrenton’s little hiking group has grown to over 60 prospective hikers with a core of regulars numbering around 25 committed hiking dudes.

Curiously and quietly, there emerges over time a knowledge within each hiker akin to ancient wisdom, a wisdom recorded in the

“The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”

by Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse from Australia, which John Hagerty shared with Boots ‘n Beer and was supplemented by Jim Carson (JC).

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

  • A very good reason to get outside and hike with us. (JC)

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. 

– What better outlet than the camaraderie and shared experiences of Boots ‘n Beer! (JC)

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

What better way to nurture the bonds of friendship! (JC)

I wish that I had let myself be happier. This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.” 

  • WOW! No better description has ever been provided for the value of Boots ‘n Beer! So get off your duffs, stop making excuses and join us for good health, good will and good beer. (JC)


Written by  Andreas Keller