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On Navigating 2,650 Miles, Life’s Changes, and a Lasting Legacy

Cynthia Gilbert ’82 and Henry Shires ’82

In April 1999, Henry Shires ’82 stood on the Mexican-U.S. border gazing northward over a California desert trying to grasp how he was going to get to the Canadian border on foot in five months. It was a daunting sight.

But then a three-word phrase hit him: break it down. “I realized that all I needed to do was focus on getting to the next food drop,” he says. “Then the entire trip and summer became a series of much smaller problems.”

Chalk up the practical thinking in part to his Colorado College education. He recalled the title of his CC Commencement address by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “One Step at a Time — And Keep Walking.”

Shires and his wife, Cynthia Gilbert ’82, are no strangers to change. The two met nearly 40 years ago in Loomis Hall, and they led relatively normal lives — Shires working in software, Gilbert teaching biology — until summer 1997. That’s when they came across five hikers on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

Shires grew mesmerized with the idea of hiking the 2,650-mile trail. “Their dream became mine,” he says. At that same time, he grew disillusioned with work and soon quit to begin his two-year prep for the trek.

A year before the hike, Shires visited his local Sears for a sewing machine — he wanted to make a few things to take with him — one being a simple shelter. All told, it ended up being a kind of modified tarp with a mosquito net. He then decided to publish how to make it on the internet for fellow adventurers. Before long, folks began asking him to make the tarps for them.

But Shires says what truly improved the tent was Gilbert’s feedback. She said it was too hard to set up. So, Shires reworked it and eventually they launched their own company, Tarptent, now celebrating 16 years of covering campers.

Looking back on it all, both Shires and Gilbert say they began to realize just how vital it had been that their CC education prepped them for life’s changes. And they’re grateful, so much so that they’ve opted to name Colorado College in their wills, qualifying them for the Barnes Legacy Society.

“For me, it’s a recognition of what the Colorado College experience meant and still means in the context of my development as a thinking person,” Shires says. “The older I get, the more I appreciate how much and how well my Colorado College experience taught me to think critically. It isn’t what you learn at CC but rather that you learn how to learn.”

Gilbert adds, “I didn’t plan on starting a small company, but it has been a broadening experience that I know started with the friends I met at CC and the professors that always pushed me to ask questions. I want future CC students to have this opportunity.”

To learn more about including Colorado College in your estate plans, contact Stephany Marreel at (719) 389-6231 or smarreel@coloradocollege.edu.