Thursday, October 3, 2013


Someone once told me - and I really wish I could remember who, because I have talked about this before - that in the hiking world, there are really only two types of hikers: Destination Hikers and Journey Hikers.  It's easy to figure out which one you are: if all you can think about is the magical waterfall at the end of the six mile hike and then the parking lot going the other direction, you are a Destination Hiker. If you stop and look at every fucking leaf on every fucking trillium and oohhh and ahhh over the pattern of the bark on a tree and hike for six hours and only go a hundred yards, you are a Journey Hiker.

For years and years, I was a Destination Hiker. I was the first one out of the car, barking orders and getting everyone to line up and making sure we all had film in the camera so that when we got to Ohmygod Falls, we could all pose for the identical picture that everyone else who had ever hiked there had also taken, which was also available as a postcard in the gift shop. The hike would begin and I would set the pace and god help anyone who happened to be interested in lichen along the way.

That did gradually start to change, but not because I was having any big revelation. It changed because I got seriously out of shape and getting to Ohmygod Falls started to be more of a concept than a reachable goal. Many hikes were abandoned mid-trail, many friends disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm over the very hobby I had gotten them all interested in.  I did manage to complete one whopper of a hike, 14.6 miles at the famous Fiery Gizzard, but I should also tell you that I had a Percocet at about Mile 11, so I'm not sure I can say I well and truly completed it.  But my poor health did make me more of a Journey Hiker. I didn't have much choice - I had to pay attention to what I was seeing along the way because it was fairly obvious I wasn't going to see Ohmygod Falls. "I'll see you back at the car," I would say, and peel off from the end of the hiking column and head in the reverse direction.

This whole recovery experience has been kind of similar, I think. I'm definitely now a Journey Hiker, this time by choice, though I don't think there's really a Destination Hiker option, because I don't think there's anywhere to get. The journey is the hike, it's the point. I take note of things I didn't before, even dumb small things. I climb into the linen envelope of my bed each night and notice how it all feels, smooth and cool and soft and designed to help me rest. Before, I just fell down on it and sozzled off to sleep until it was time for breakfast wine. But every little thing matters differently now, or they all seem to have different meaning, anyway.

Last weekend, I bought a new hiking pole. I used to have two of the fancy expandable ones but they both broke. So I replaced them with a hand-made wooden one, turned in some hillbilly's woodshop up in the foothills of the Smokies. It feels better in my hand than the metal ones did, friendlier and warmer. I can use it in the physical world to find balance, to poke my way across a boulder field, to ward off snakes or - if such a gift were mine - even divine water.

Today is the final day of my out-patient therapy. After this, I have to proceed along this particular trail on my own, with meetings and the help of a sponsor. But there are no more requirements; I don't have to collect any more signatures or add up hours spent in conference rooms or turn the pages of worksheet assignments. It's all me from here on out. I think, though, that recovery is allowing me to do in the abstract world what my new hiking pole is doing in the physical: to balance. To poke my way across a boulder field. To ward off snakes. To - if such a gift were mine - even divine water.

I'm ready and willing to use either pole. I guess it depends on the journey.


Park Girl said...

"The longest journey begins with a single step..." I'm very proud of you my friend. Know that you are loved and supported.

Kaethe said...


Amy Stephenson said...

I love this blog and eagerly await your posts. Thank you!