I have a lot of diplomas, dating from nursery school right through to a PhD. But none of them has as much meaning as the one I earned this summer that’s just arrived in the mail from the Green Mountain Club, certifying my end-to-end through hike of The Long Trail.
In twenty-five days, a college friend and I hiked from Massachusetts to Canada. Physically, the 272-mile hike was demanding. It was also an enlightening, life-changing adventure in so many ways.
Aching knees aside, life on the trail is simple. There’s just one thing to do: hike.
Life at home is more complicated, with more demands on my time, more choices to make, and multiple deadlines to meet. Life on the trail reinforced an important lesson for a writer: the way to reach a long-term goal is to meet shorter, daily ones. Each day on the trail, we advanced between six and sixteen miles toward the Canadian border. Each day at home, I’m now writing between five- and fifteen-hundred words on a new book.
On the trail, I lived outdoors 24/7, in sun, rain, and moonlight. At home, I get outside daily no matter the weather, but not nearly enough.
On the trail, I enjoyed fantastic companionship with a dear friend. At home, I have renewed appreciation for my mate. He supported our efforts, bringing us weekly installments of bourbon, chocolate and clean clothes. It’s taken me decades to accept the mutual dependency of marriage. On the trail, I was reminded of my capacity for independent adventure, and that depending on another for help is not the same as being helpless. This has been good for my marriage.
I also learned how little I need, and how much I can live without, like social media, haute cuisine and a comb. I carried a sleeping bag, stove, fuel and food. I slept in a different place for twenty-five consecutive nights. For a homebody like me, this was nothing short of a moon shot. I didn’t always sleep well, but I don’t always sleep well at home, either.
As a result of the hike, I have a better idea of my strengths: physical, emotional, and as a friend.
I’ll never be a native Vermonter, but I’ve now walked the length of Vermont, the place that I call home.