By Lynn R. Parks
Photo courtesy of Kathleen Schell
From the April 2024 issue


Preston Schell’s 40th birthday was approaching and he and his wife, Kathleen, were trying to figure out how to celebrate. The Rehoboth-area couple — he is co-founder and president of the Ocean Atlantic Companies, a group of land development and real estate firms; she is co-owner of one of those companies, Monument Sotheby’s International Realty — were tired of the typical vacations they had taken and were looking for something unique.

“We’d been going on trips that were oriented toward relaxing, eating and drinking, and we said, ‘Let’s do something more adventuresome, a little more active,” Kathleen recalls.

She read that year’s edition of “52 Places to Go,” published by the New York Times, and there at No. 16 was Scotland and its newly completed John Muir Way, a hiking trail stretching 134 miles across the country, from Helensburgh near Loch Lomond to Dunbar on the North Sea. Muir, a 19th-century naturalist, author and advocate of preserving the American West wilderness, was born in Dunbar.

They took the John Muir Way in 2014. “We’d never done anything like it before; I don’t think that we’d ever walked more than 5 miles,” Kathleen says.

Since then, they have taken three other walks in Europe: the Ring of Kerry, a 111mile trek in southwest Ireland; the Thames Path, 185 miles from one of the River Thames’ sources in Gloucestershire to southeast London; and the Tour du Mont Blanc, 165 miles circling the Mont Blanc mountain range in the Alps and passing through parts of Italy, France and Switzerland. Their most recent walk, last fall, was intended to start along the New Hampshire coast and then head north through Maine into Canada and Prince Edward Island. But Hurricane Lee, the third major hurricane of the 2023 season, swept up into the area, derailing their plans.

“We didn’t get completely rained out,” Kathleen notes. “We ended up renting a car and driving inland, then we did a part of the Appalachian Trail and Ogunquit,” an Atlantic coast resort at the southern tip of Maine.

After each trip, Preston says, they’ve returned home feeling more fit than when they’d left. “We’d gone on a lot of group trips that involved sitting around, drinking a lot, eating a lot, and I’d come home and feel like, I’ve got to hit the gym.”

There’s no camping or backpacking involved in their walks. Each trip is planned so that at the end of the day, the walkers end up at a hotel or bed-and-breakfast and the tour includes transport of their gear from one stop to the next. On the Mont Blanc walk, there were rifugios (Italian for refuges), or little huts, along the way where the Schells could stop for a rest and even a glass of wine and some protein.

These ambitious walkers don’t use guides. “It’s extremely important to us that we’re by ourselves,” Preston says. “For me, this is the experience of pure freedom: waking up in the morning, generally knowing the next point you want to get to, but not having any agenda of how fast you will get there, what restaurant or hut you might stop at along the way, what point of interest might catch your eye.”

He also enjoys having whole days to spend alone with Kathleen. “We get to reconnect on an emotional, psychological level, which during the hustle-bustle of work and kids, the chaos of being home, doesn’t happen that often.”

In the works is a trek along the Milford Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park. Preston is negotiating with officials there for the couple to be part of a guided tour, which the park requires of people who aren’t carrying their own food and gear, but at the same time be allowed to walk 15 minutes ahead of or behind everyone else. Walking with a group “takes away a bit of that feeling of freedom and adventure,” he explains.

The couple would also like to walk in Scandinavia.

“These walks have been great experiences,” Kathleen says. “They’ve given me so much more confidence in myself. We are all aging, all evolving, and I’m happy to find a way to still be active. You don’t have to be parachuting out of planes, or heliskiing. You can just grab two poles, get a good pair of hiking shoes, find a destination and go. It’s a pretty awesome way to see the world.”