— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
The sun was dipping behind the mountainside as we slid down into a valley campsite, our home for the night. Finally I could unstrap my pack and rub my aching shoulders. And breathe. And look. My husband David and I had traveled all the way across the country for this—these towering trees with blue sky peeking between the branches, these ﬂowered meadows, and soaring views of snow-sprinkled mountains looming ahead. We were halfway up the Middle Sister in Oregon, and it was breathtaking. (Literally!) The money we’d squirreled away for months, the planning, the shopping for gear . . . and the books we’d read for years had all carried us here. Here we were, with everything we needed for a few days strapped onto our backs, enveloped by the immensity of the forest. We were Lewis and Clark. We were Jill and Eustace. We were Sam and Frodo.
We were on an epic journey.
Reading stories, especially reading The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, fuels and inspires the hiking experience. C. S. Lewis once said,
“The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich signiﬁcance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story... by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it.”The very roads that wind their way into the heart of the woods or mountains bring so much more satisfaction and emotional connection once they have been dipped in a story.
And of course, the opposite is true as well: the scrambling among rocks, the fording of rushing streams, the aches and pains and sweat, the spreading vistas: these experiences- turned-memories fuel the books you read and re-read. Now you can relate and imagine in ways hitherto unknown, once you have done some dayhiking or backpacking. You can join Aragorn and feel what it must have been like to track Gollum. When you turn to the pages when Sam stews his brace of conies, you can let the smell of the campﬁre cooking come back to you. You can be so thankful to be reading indoors with a cup of tea when the weather is poor, because chances are you instantly are transported back to that 8-mile push along an exposed ridge in cold rain.
I’ve always loved books, but it took true love to get me into backpacking. When I met my husband-to-be, David, I found out that he enjoyed hiking and after we got married, we decided to try out backpacking. For an exercise-hater like me who had rarely camped before, the idea of carrying everything you’d need on your back and heading into the wilderness without a stitch of air conditioning and with nary a bathroom in sight... well, the idea was unnerving.
But true love carried the day, and the love of The Lord of the Rings has added fuel to the ﬁre. And today, reading and backpacking have joined forces to bring me a happier, healthier life. Backpacking has its ups and downs. Sometimes it’s not that fun and sometimes downright painful, but you know, so is reading Tolkien. It’s a beautiful thing: dipped in story, hiking becomes even better, and dipped in hiking, stories become even better. It’s a win-win.
|Sarah and her own little hobbit.|
Everyone else, you really must visit her Etsy shop at the link below. She writes LOTR quotes on pottery. In Elvish. With gold paint. They're breathtaking! I just ordered I think my seventh piece from her.)
When Sarah Rees is not backpacking with her husband David and their two-year-old son, Jadon, they live in Crestview, FL. Sarah blogs at http://makingdoblog.wordpress.