In REI’s Tearjerker, People Carry Out a Fellow Hiker’s Lifelong Dream in Tribute to His Life

Community comes together after an untimely death

Headshot of Christine Birkner

Many hikers set epic, long-term goals for themselves, like summiting a treacherous mountain or hiking a grueling trail. Paul Evans was no different. His lifelong dream was to hike the Appalachian Trail, but two heart attacks and his untimely death at age 53 left that dream unfulfilled. When his wife emailed producers of The Dirtbag Diaries podcast last year to help rally the outdoor community, they answered the call. And REI tells the story in a new film called Paul's Boots.

In the 37-minute film, produced by Duct Tape Then Beer, 40 hikers from 14 states hike the Appalachian Trail carrying three pairs of Evans' boots the length of the trail. The hikers, who ranged from children to 70-year-olds, began their journeys in January and sent photos to Evans' wife along the way of his boots on the trail. The film tugs at the heartstrings, from his wife's emotional voiceover to a moment when one hiker perches his boots on the crest of a hill and says, "Some good views this morning, Paul."

"Paul's Boots is an amazing example of an impact of an individual on a community and the ways in which the different experiences of those who carry those boots celebrate lives lived outdoors," said Ben Steele, REI's chief creative officer.

The film launched Monday on REI's website. Screenings and Q&A sessions with the hikers also were held in Washington, D.C., Portland, Atlanta and Seattle. REI donated the proceeds of ticket sales from the screenings to support maintenance of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. The hikers' stories also are featured in three shorter videos on REI's blog and on social media with the hashtag #PaulWalksOn. REI worked with Mediavest|Spark to distribute the film, including pre-roll advertising on YouTube, film syndication with Sharethrough and Visible Measures, and a content partnership with USA Today consisting of three original articles and two original videos based on the film.

"We've been blown away by the reaction so far," Steele said. "It's such a powerful story. Everybody has been moved by the sentiment, and they're saying it's really inspiring. The first time we heard it, there wasn't a dry eye in the place."

@ChristineBirkne Christine Birkner is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers marketing and advertising.
Publish date: October 12, 2016 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT