Thursday, September 17, 2015
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.