I’m heading out to hike The Long Trail, the oldest recreational footpath in North America. The Long Trail climbs along the spine of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada. It’s 270 miles, and I’m not sure I’ll make it, but I’m going to try.
Fifteen months ago, when I first floated the idea of the hike with my friend Jan, I didn’t even know that this was something I wanted to do. Now that our departure date approaches, I have an ever-growing list for clearing my calendar, clearing my desk, and clearing out. Here are the top ten:
- Mostly, I see this hike as a chance to press my own Reset Switch. For the past year and a half I’ve been writing and publishing exclusively in the short-form. Meanwhile, two long-form projects have been languishing: one in rough draft and the other in my head. I want to return to these projects, and I know that a long walk will help me regain the capacity for long thoughts.
- I’m looking forward to stepping away from my day-to-day life. It’s a life I’ve worked hard to perfect, and it’s hard to imagine a better one: I live and work at home, supported by love, routines, and responsibilities that root me to this earth.
- Readers of this blog know I’m a place-based writer. My idea of a good day is one not just spent at my desk, but one in which I never climb into a car. I don’t like to leave home if I don’t have to. But that’s not sustainable: sometimes, I have to. Even living locally, I use a car more days than not. If the hike goes well, I’ll travel only by foot for twenty-five days.
- In my regular life, I eat dirt-to-dinner a lot of the time, which is delicious, environmentally sound, and very labor intensive. Even when we eat food we don’t grow, we buy it in its raw form and take the time to prepare meals from scratch, sit down to dine, and work together to clean up. It’s a lot of work, and I’m looking forward to a month of food-as-fuel: we’re packing homemade instant meals of fast-cooking grains and freeze-dried beans and greens, with some animal protein for texture and flavor. No extensive prep on the trail: just boiling water.
- It’s been thirty-two years since I transplanted myself to Vermont, and I’ve put down roots so deep that I often find it hard to leave. But I know the world’s bigger than my seventeen acres and that sometimes I have to go away. I’m hoping that in addition to walking the length of this state I love, I’ll also gain the confidence in my ability to stay grounded in myself as I travel abroad to visit friends and family scattered around the globe.
- Despite efforts against entropy at home, I live a cluttered life. I’m hoping that living for twenty-five days carrying no more than thirty pounds of food, shelter and clothing on my back will remind me how little I actually need.
- As a self-employed writer, I’m always setting goals and assigning myself tasks and organizing my time. I’m looking forward to life on the trail, where day after day, all I’ll have to do is hoist my pack and hike.
- While I’d love to make it to Canada, I know there are a lot of reasons why I may not. My goals are to walk as far as I can and to have fun. When a former colleague learned about my adventure, she said, “I’m envious that you can take the time off to go on such a journey while the rest of us slog away at our computers.” I’m hoping that after slogging through the woods for a month, I’ll return to my computer with renewed enthusiasm, concentration and joy.
- It’s been over thirty years since I’ve been both away for so long and away from my life partner, who will be both keeping the woodchucks out of the garden in my absence and resupplying us along the trail. We’ve come to depend on each other, he and I, to the point where I’ve become more competent in tasks where I already excel (time management, vegetable production, household finances) and more dependent upon him for his strengths (firewood, snow removal, orienteering). Instead of following Tim into the woods, as I have for the last three decades, I’ll be hiking with Jan, who I’ve known even longer. She and I were born within days of each other, and setting off on this adventure together seems like a great way both to reclaim some independence and to step firmly into middle age.
- Taking off twenty-five days to hike the Long Trail is only partly vacation. I’ll still be writing – but with pen and paper. I will be off-line while on the trail, where I’m hoping to regain my concentration without the distraction of social media or email. Meanwhile, subscribers to my blog will still receive an Essay Every Wednesday while I’m gone and be the first to hear about the trip when I return.
I’m a regular walker. Most days, I set out with my dog and return with new ideas. Usually, we’re gone an hour, sometimes two. The dog’s not coming with me this time, and instead of walking a loop that leads back to where I started, I’ll be hiking away from home, to an unknown destination that will reveal itself one step at a time.
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