As you will know I like the idea that life is a journey. I recently engaged with 2 different accounts of a journey along what is known as the Appalachian Trail in America. The Appalachian Trail is a journey of over 2100 miles through various terrain and habitats across America’s eastern seabord. It is a well established route but the 2 accounts of the journey which I encountered were of a completely different type. It made me think about the way we approach life’s journey.
The first account I read was written by the author Bill Bryson who decided at the age of 44 that he and a friend would walk the Appalachian Trail. Their journey was to take them months to walk only half of the route .. which is not unusual given the average time taken to walk the entire trail is between 5 and 7 months.
The subsequent book which Bryson wrote ‘A Walk in the Woods’ is a slow meandering account of an encounter with the landscapes and people of the Trail. His reflections draw the reader into the surroundings and the characters of the American wilderness. It is full of momentary diversions from the trail, full of pit stops and scenic picnics and panoramic descriptions of the views and indeed the people along the way. The account is essentially more about the scenery and communities along the Appalachian Trail than about the author who made the journey.
The second account I engaged with was a 4 minute video made of an ultra-marathon runner who attempted to complete the Trail in the fastest ever time. In the end this turned out to be 55 days. A remarkable feet for sure. However, it struck me as to how much the runner missed in their attempt to speed along faster than anyone else had managed. Running both day and night there was rarely any footage of the surroundings and much more focus on the path being trodden immediately beneath his feet.
In the account of the ultra-run not one of the people Bryson had laughed and cried and fought with were present. Only the runner and their own singular thoughts and struggles featured in this account of the same journey. The account focused almost exclusively on what the runner needed to keep going. Self-absorbed it concentrated on how much food the runner had eaten each hour. How their equipment was holding up. What state their body was in and what it needed to function at its optimum speed.
It made me wonder about the way we approach our journey through life in the modern world. What sort of journey are we making on the trail we call ‘life’? Are we like Bryson taking time to engage thoughtfully with the views and the fellow pilgrims we encounter? Are we finding pleasure in the places we eat and people we talk to? Or are we like the ultra-marathon runner running head down as fast as we can through the landscapes and communities we are passing through?
I fear we are often more like the runner than the writer these days. And how sad this is! What seems to mark the 2 experiences as different is that one journey is made focused solely on ourselves .. on how we feel; what we need; how we are performing! The other journey is focused on what the journey itself has to offer .. who we are with; what our surroundings offer by way of joy and wonder; where we fit within the big wide world around us.
I am determined in 2020 to be a little more committed to the principles of ‘A Walk in the Woods’. To make the journey of life more about what it has to offer me than what I can prove about myself. The truth is that whilst we might not be the fastest or the fittest on this shared journey there is much to be seen and tasted and learned if we are willing to move a little bit slower and look beyond our own feet into the eyes of those around us and the vistas of a very beautiful Universe.