Thursday, September 17, 2015

Traveling by Trail

Where middle-age starts and ends seems immutable when you're on the outside looking in. But from the inside looking out, that span -- the middle-age time frame -- grows surprisingly elastic.

Still, we all can probably agree 40-something kicks that middle-aged ball in the air and 60-something will likely catch it.

Which is one of the reasons I'll not see the movie version of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. The book is an autobiographical, picaresque tale about a middle-aged, kind of angsty, definitely out-of-shape writer and his equally middle-aged but way more out-of-shape friend, and their semi-commitment to thru-hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.

In the movie, Robert Redford plays Bryson. Age-wise, Redford has nearly a two-score advantage on the protagonist as originally written.

Now, this isn't to say 80-year olds can’t walk one of longest trails in the world. They can and do. In fact, every year, all manner of folk complete the AT – men, women, girls, boys, the blind, the homeless. An amputee walked it, which fills me with all sorts of hiker-slacker shame. These are stories worth telling -- it's just not this story.

The other reason I won't see the movie is that, other than free climbing the face of Half Dome, a long walk isn't exactly a spectator sport.

Without hoops, home runs, or triple hand springs, the visual glory of hiking pretty much resides in the eye of the beholder. And what the beholder spends plenty of time beholding is the top of his boots. Look skyward at hawks or treetops once too often, and before you know it, nose meets trail -- there will be blood.

Along the way of course, hikers find intermittent moments of transcendent beauty. Viewing the world from a mountain top is spectacular. But that's a teaspoon of time, versus the getting-up to, and getting-down from.

Knowing that, those who don't hike surely wonder what the attraction might be. I really can’t explain it. There's no particular skill involved, no trophy waiting at the end.

Hiking is basically a self-congratulatory exercise -- and strictly a matter of personal interest how high, long, hard the journey. Trust me, I've been on both the giving and receiving end of those stretchers, and nobody cares.

I think the appeal rests in that you're not out to impress anyone; which is a good thing, as you're not going to impress anyone.

But how liberating, if you think about it. To set the boundaries, goal, and take the measure of your own success. Should you succeed, meet those personal expectations, there will be applause, you betcha. A beautiful noise. You clapping for you.


  1. Gosh, Karin, speak directly to my heart, why don'tcha?

  2. You're so right, especially about this: "Look skyward at hawks or treetops once too often, and before you know it, nose meets trail -- there will be blood." That's how I got my bruised ribs while bird watching. I love hiking alone, with silent dog/s, to see flowers and wildlife and beautiful scenery, like in your photo. Fresh air and silence too. But I wouldn't want to do a long-distance hike, or a steep one to get to the top of a mountain like Baldy or Whitney. Not sure about the movie. The book was a hoot, but Bryson's humor is in his language and I don't think it translates well into dialogue. And tall, good looking but ancient Redford playing short, plump Bryson? Interesting casting choice.

  3. Great post, and I love the photo!.. I bought the book and was all excited until I read the review of the movie... think I will stay w/the book since books usually tend to be better, since movies cut out certain parts...And hiking is liberating-- love that slow burn!

  4. Good morningh Karin,
    I like so much your post and the photo is beautiful!
    I never had the pleasure and experience of hiking...
    I can imagine that hikers has moments of transcendent beauty viewing the world from a mountain top, as you said.
    I must to see this film and just now I watched "A Walk in the Woods Official Trailer". Thanks for let me know it. I like so much Robert Redford and btw I saw him watching the US Open Men's Final. He looks very happy and charming as always!

  5. Ops! I mean "Good morning", in Portuguese, "Bom dia".

  6. P- I expect lots of pictures from Fargo. Barbara - Hi, nice to see you again.
    Bellis - When I fall, and I've done my share of falling, it's always on the way down. Climbing up and I'm all business. But downhill, I'm Tra-la-la, I'm dancing, look at that curious rock forma...SPLAT.
    KBF, you will love the book. One of the funniest things I've ever read.
    Sonia -- Bom dia!

  7. God, yes. Sprained my ankle halfway down the Sam Merrill trail and thank goodness I had J with me to be mu crutch for the last mile.

  8. Lots of discussion up here at the end of the AT @ Mt. Katahdin.
    Thanks to the chap that ran the AT this summer, we are reminded of the following:
    1. DON't bring alcohol to the top
    2.DON"T travel in groups larger than 12
    3. No movies w/i 500 ft of summit
    and on, and on and on...

  9. Re: middle age: I've been known to tell people that it's my kids' fault my back aches and my joints creak, because they are getting old. I certainly don't think I am, even though I know I'm no spring chicken, and am probably well through summer duck-hood. Hell, I might even be an autumn turkey by now, but won't admit it.

    Robert Redford was on the cover of the Wall Street Journal magazine, and it's disappointing just how old he looks. So I won't be seeing that movie either, because he just plain doesn't look the part. But I think the movie adheres to rules 1 and 2 on Birdman's list.

  10. I learned to look down while walking in Berkeley, which, at the time, had no leash laws.

  11. I don't know that you're allowed to weigh in with any hiking advice whatsoever, Marjie, given you hit the trail in a frilly dress and ballet slippers.

  12. Yep! That's why I commented on middle age and Robert Redford no longer looking like my idol of 40 years ago. (Did you miss the pictures of me sorta hiking in a frilly dress and long leather coat and ballet slippers in Wyoming about 3 or 4 years ago? I didn't hike far, maybe a mile or 2).

  13. (And I think there was only one picture of me anyway, because I take the pictures around here.)

  14. I should confess that I own one pair of shoes that aren't ballet flats or heels, and they are faux Converse sneakers with zero support and only worn in exceptionally casuale circumstances or when helping a friend walk the pooch. But you make me wish I loved hiking, KB. It sounds really rather wonderful.

  15. When I was a kid, I made up a list of things I wanted to do. Don't remember most on the list but two stand out: get a tattoo and climb Mount Whitney. Guess theres still time before I completely disappoint my inner teen.

  16. We saw the movie ~ my husband and I. He doesn't often pick the lflick, and this is one he wanted to see. He read the book years ago, and it may be the only time he's recommended a book to me. It was a good read. We enjoyed the movie, not because it portrayed Bryson's experience because it really didn't. It was an evening out for two people somewhere between the age of Bryson and the age of Redford. And Redford.... I mean come on, he's still Redford.

  17. Do you ever hike parts of the AT, Sharon? I think Bryson there's a part of the trail in Maine that's the equivalent of scaling Everest three times.

    Do the easy one first, PA.

  18. In my younger years, I did quite a few hikes in the Rockies. The view from the top was gorgeous. There were also some lovely scenes along the way. But I have to say parts of it were just plain grueling - even though I was in pretty good shape. They were good, "character-building" experiences.