I finally did it.
That’s the best part, the primary victory.
I did the thing that I've been talking about doing for years.
Ben met me for lunch in Downtown Ann Arbor right when I arrived and I think he expected me to be basking in the glow of that victory: OH MY GOSH I JUST DID THAT OH MY GOSH IT’S FINISHED OH MY GOSH LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT HOW AMAZING IT WAS.
Instead, that victory quickly receded to the background as I launched into a point by point analysis of what I would do differently next time. After Ben finished laughing at me (apparently I don’t know how to just enjoy the moment?), I tried to explain myself.
You see, I’ve been dreaming about taking a long walking trip for over five years now. I wanted to do this trip because I love to walk and because I love to see new places and because I love the spiritual discipline of meeting and befriending strangers. I love driving through the back roads and taking the long way ‘round and subverting our auto-dominated transportation infrastructure. I love going to visit friends and the idea of doing it really cheaply and I love how adventure is all around us if we’re just willing to break a few rules. For years, this whole cloud of ideals and values have been languaged through one single ambition: “I want to walk across the country one day.”
This trip was my first attempt to translate that whole cloud of values into a real trip. And as expected, it was a failure: this trip did not embody everything that I’d dreamed about.
But that’s ok. More than ok, actually. Expected, essential, necessary. Failure was always the only possible outcome for this trip. After all, what are the odds that I could perfectly translate five years of dreaming into six days of walking on my very first try?
My huge accomplishment is that I’ve finally transitioned from being a person who talks about going on long walking trips into being a person who actually goes on long walking trips. Now I just have to get better at it. That's much simpler.
And so of course I'm already planning the next trip. I started planning it, as Ben noticed, the moment I arrived in Ann Arbor.
On Friday I'll take you guys through all the things I'm going to do differently next time, plus post a video of the trip and announce my plans for trips in the near future.
Today, I'm going to review the aspects of the trip that worked really well, accompanied by my Instagram feed from the trip.
Under the Stars
I was surprised by how many people asked me at the beginning of my trip: “What are the rules?”, “Are you allowed to come inside?”, “Are you allowed to take a shower?”. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to concrete rules, but I realized pretty quickly that I really only had two: I want to walk the whole way, and I want to sleep outside every night.
Before this trip I’d only slept outside without a tent two times in my life, a number that I more than doubled on this five night trip. Sleeping under the stars takes a certain kind of pychic and spiritual strength; I had to overcome my fear of all the unkowns lurking in the dark. My first few night were fitful and nervous, but by the third night I was sleeping like a stoic. Goodnight moon, goodnight scary shadow, goodnight God.
Strangers are Amazing
I believe in strangers. I have found them to be overwhelmingly kind, curious, and generous. During this trip, I talked to strangers at fruit stands, slept in their yards at night, and shared bread with them at dinner time. My love of strangers is not about chasing an adrenaline rush, or saving a few bucks on dinner and hotels, or trying to look cool by breaking all the rules. My love of strangers is a core spiritual commitment. If I can’t trust my neighbor to offer a simple word of encouragement, a safe place to sleep for the night, or a warm meal, then what kind of world to do I think I live in? And if I don’t believe that my neighbor is essentially kind, generous, and curious, then what kind of God do I believe in?
After a 17 miles walk, there is nothing like a plate of beef stew and biscuits. My third day of walking was particularly difficult and when I arrived in Byron at the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Smith where I’d be staying for the night, I was greeted with a glass of cold water, an invitation to dinner, and a warm soapy bath. What can I say? I aspire to greet every morning and every simple blessing with the level of gratitude and joy I felt that night.
Human Garbage Disposal
It’s a lovely and unique feeling to be burning thousands and thousands of calories every day. After two days of walking my body finally realized that we were living under drastically new circumstances and set my hunger switch to “always on”. I didn’t stop eating for five days straight.
It was so much fun to share the trip with you guys via Facebook and Instagram. Reading comments and responding to questions everyday made me feel like I had a huge team supporting me. Even better, one of you was even inspired to go on their own outdoor adventure. Go Natalie! Beautiful!
Route: Through Cities, Toward Friends
I love the technology of hiking: I like cooking my own food outside, I like the idea of "home is where you lay your sleeping bag", I love the simplicity and the discipline of life as lived out of a backback. Unfortunately, I don’t really like the woods. I get kind of bored out there. Which why I designed this hybrid system of using hiking gear to go romping through human built environments. I loved arrived in a new little city at the end of every day of hiking. I loved ending my day of hiking with a cup of coffee or a local beer. I love the constant presence of other people. And most of all, I love that my final destination was a peaceful weekend spent with a good friend.