7. Star Bright

The inspiration for my distance hiking centered on gaining the health and vitality to lead a long, productive life. The inspiration answered a secret wish deep within, and it provided the drive to endure discomfort of all kinds.

I thought I was done when I finished thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Yet the “idea” wasn’t done with me. Time and again, I returned to the trail and to roads in order to wrap up unfinished business. At times the “idea” became an elusive quest for enlightenment and immortality. On the last day of my last hike I went 50 miles, my symbol for longevity. Finally I was done, or so it seemed.

Once again, the “idea” had not finished with me. The persistent challenge to compile the data of the hikes and reflect on their outcome was hardly what I wanted to face. I can only hope that there will be an unforeseen benefit. The challenge has been, like the mountain of rice in my childhood, too much to stomach.

The walk grew beyond my expectations into a bigger “idea” than my own. One strand of the bigger story tells of a father’s love for his stricken daughter and how her prayers were answered. The story arc of this strand crosses above the steps of my walk like a rainbow.

The “idea,” after all, is weightless, radiant “light.”

[12-page concluding chapter]



6. Reflections on the Circle

Everyone travels a unique path. My four distance hikes over five years took 180 days in total, the last day ending with a 50-mile walk. Although these figures were not planned, they coincide with the midpoint of my life and evoke the experience of coming full circle. Their synchronicity seems fitting to me.

The idea of circularity must be native to the mind, if not the pulse of life itself. Whether the cave dweller views the passage of the seasons as one thing, or the scientist views the earth spinning around the sun as another, the basic concept of a cycle remains the same. A single line returns to its starting point at a later time. If you graph the cycle in time, it becomes a wave, just like the ripples of a pond, elevations of a trail, or rays of light.

In reaching back to the origins of my hike in family life, I see childhood influences persisting today. Our dog Stella, who introduces and closes the journal, must be one of the happiest examples. Her coaching drove much of my accomplishment in hiking. Tricia hardly expected Stella’s training to propel me the length of the east coast!

Maintaining continuity in “real life” challenges me. How do you attain success in business, remain happily married, and retain the respect of your children? How do you attain the health to accomplish lifetime goals?

Maybe the “idea” is to develop soft power, the basic energy found in a daily walk.



5. The Long Way Home

Any sane person knew it was “over.” The logistics of a self-supported hike demand a lot of time and money. Three years of going away supplanted the duties of keeping house and home together. On balance, there was no way to consider another foray.

When external events pointed to my setting out “one more time,” the process of breaking away from home became far more difficult than words can describe. However, once the southern road walk began, all kinds of unexpected encouragement appeared. Perhaps the upstroke of the cycle had begun.

New kinds of challenges occurred while traversing the urban landscape, yet in some way the drama involved the same characters wearing different costumes. The stimulation of the great outdoors invigorated me, but I thought more about home.

Walking the Appalachian Trail had been like going away. The extra legs in the North and South during the next two years became the return trip. The “idea” of heading out one last time came from outside, just as the original inspiration had. I now began to face the challenge of applying my lessons to daily life at home.

Everything has a starting point. How can you return, if you don’t know where you began?



4. Racing for Life

The loss of my health, the loss of Tricia’s mother, the bad planning, the bad diet, the failed first day of hiking, the two weeks of illness, and logistical frustrations on the trail, all contribute to sadness about this leg of the journey.

Perhaps the mistakes could have been prevented, but nothing could change the downstroke of the cycle. Adversities had to run their course, forcing new adaptations and different ways of thinking upon me.

Stubbornly refusing to quit, I returned to the trail, encountering remarkable people, animals, and a mountain spirit along the way. Yet the experience felt like a losing effort. Upon completing my northern journey, I felt relief, not joy.

The flame of the “idea” had gone out. My enthusiasm was spent. The costs and time committed to distance hiking mounted too high. Passion burned no more.

On the plus side, the experience planted seeds of renewal, for a life plan to live a healthy, productive 100 years. Surely, the time had come to get on with real life, at home and at work.



3c. Ministering Angels

The last month unveiled completely new challenges. There was no way to predict the solitude that my schedule placed me in, nor the stress of keeping my eyes glued to the six feet ahead of me for 50,000 footsteps per day. In this manner, the fixation of completing the trail in a hundred days, in order to live a hundred productive years, became a fervent prayer.

It seemed that, helpless and naked as a newborn child, I prayed honestly and my prayers were answered. It seemed that rays of light provided not just inspiration, but physical nourishment. So the flickering light of nature answered my supplications as I persevered in this bare emotional state. The idea of “racing light” formed, not about hiking, but around ethereal clouds, translucent leaves and reflections in water.

The “idea” had transformed from walking softly to receiving inspiration. However, the insight came at the cost of my dwindling physical reserves. Whether tripping over roots or gliding on air, I pressed onward with a passion.



3b. Mansion of Many Rooms

Despite a heat wave, insect attacks, and shoe failure, my distance hiking style finally took form. In New Jersey, my pace improved by a half-mile per hour. The flatter terrain of the mid-Atlantic states certainly helped.

The diversity of experiences made me realize that the great cathedral of the outdoors has many rooms, indeed. As the rhythm of the daily routine took hold, I began covering marathon distances daily. Again I courted exhaustion, occasionally hitting the wall.

The “idea” began to occur that something healthy was happening in my body after three or four hours of exercise, something that promoted healing and recovery from injury. Once I attained this state of thru-hiker mode, I maintained continuity for as long as possible, limiting stops to five minutes or less.

This distance-hiking activity was certainly taking me a long way from home.



3a. House of the Lord

The distance hike of the Long Trail had taken 17 days instead of the normal 25-28 days. It satisfied the requirement of being out on the trail for longer than two weeks, and confirmed that I could indeed hike 10 or 12 hours daily on a regular basis.

Apparently, daily walks with Stella were talking me into a more ambitious plan without my knowing it. On the trail, a 10-mile day became just a “walk in the park” because we had already done exactly that on many mornings. At home, walking provided a time for composing my thoughts and being receptive to the inspirations of nature.

The first month of hiking on the Appalachian Trail felt like a true adventure in an outdoor cathedral. As my body weight came off, I would sometimes put my pack on the ground to run uphill in search of a trail juncture.

Yet I often pushed too much, bringing undue hardship upon myself. The ultralight idea could lead to excess, as any hiking style could. Flying solo, I was just another novice thru-hiker adapting on the way.



2. The Long Way There

The idea of traveling light appears simple, but achieving it requires dedication. Easy to say, hard to do.

A person has about two weeks of physical strength in reserve before the weight of a heavy pack makes itself felt. Then the body cries for replenishment and the extra burden can wear you down. Expecting these demands, you can train with test equipment under simulated conditions and weigh every article of gear.

For ultralight hiking, the tradeoff swings on the hinge of comfort and safety. How do the comforts you carry during the day contribute to your safety at night? Can better mobility improve your response to typical emergencies?

For me, the ultralight hiking style began as a safety and survival strategy. The unforseen benefit turned out to be the extra hours it gave me on the trail every day. Those extra hours intensified my awareness of nature and stimulated my physical metabolism.

Initially, this light “idea” was only a glimmer. Stella’s daily walks were teaching me much more than I knew.



1. Star Light

>>> next  

Creation. The awakening of an idea stirs like the first sign of life in the primordial void. The void is not completely empty, but nearly empty. Having an average density of one atom per cubic meter, the universe exists in a state of plasma, similar to the flame of a candle.

Just as a spark or electrical discharge sets dry tinder on fire, so an idea springs to mind, echoing continual creation. It rarely occurs to adults that, in the vastness of time, our past and future have already gone by in the blink of an eye. But an innocent child knows. A child knows better.

A child wishing on a star reminds us of the faint glow of eternity still resonating in our collective minds, like a memory of a memory. Sometimes an awareness of that vastness comes to us between dreaming and waking...

[17-page background chapter about childhood, neighborhood, and growing up.]