On June 30, Cynthia Harrell's job ended as director of the Crow's Neck Environmental Education Center when the facility closed due to inadequate funding.
The couple is preparing for a new stage in life, and they're excited about having more time for the hiking adventures they've enjoyed for many years.
Since they began backpacking and hiking in 1987, the Harrells have visited and hiked in all of the nation's 397 national parks and will continue adding to that number as new parks are added. Their hiking ventures have taken them to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, Nepal, Kenya, among others.
At a recent program for Corinth's chapter of the Audubon Society, Cynthia and Woody Harrell discussed the preparations they are making as they plan to tackle the entire 2,181-mile length of the Appalachian Trail early next year.
When they began hiking and backpacking in 1987, Woody Harrell was assigned to the Grand Canyon National Park for three years, and their sons, Stephen and Adam, were ages 10 and 8.
"It was an ideal place for them to get interested," Cynthia Harrell said.
Now Stephen, 34, is working on his Ph.D. in Dayton, Ohio, and Adam, 32, lives in Nashville, but each expects to hike some portion of the Appalachian Trail with their parents.
"Four years ago was the first time we got serious about eastern hiking," Cynthia Harrell said.
Getting serious means that after deciding to pursue the venture, the Harrells have been in a months-long process evaluating and vetting what gear they will take.
"One thing we've learned over the years, you have to get light," Cynthia Harrell said.
Their goal is to carry backpacks weighing no more than 30 pounds.
"We have weighed everything," Woody Harrell said, every decision about what to include literally weighed on a scale and each fraction of an ounce evaluated.
Earlier this year they did a 100-mile "shakedown" of the Appalachian Trail to get an idea of what they'd be facing, using it also as an opportunity to assess equipment options.
"The challenge of it certainly appeals to us," Woody Harrell said. "They're incredible mountains, and the camaraderie and people we met along the trail were wonderful."