Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dipped in a Story: A Guest Post by Sarah

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 
— 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.
(Hamlette's note:  Thank you for this thought-provoking post, Sarah!  I love how you've gotten hiking and books to complement each other.

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.com/ and sells stuff on Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/shop/araneldesigns. They are currently working on adopting their second baby and hope to have many more hiking and reading adventures in their future.


  1. What a lovely post! As a long-time hiker and reader, I could definitely relate to this. I was hiking before reading, so I tended to relate the outdoors to the stories I read, filling in the feeling of wind, the smells, and sounds, etc. But I also tend to daydream a lot while hiking, bringing a story to where I'm at.

    So yeah, this was a very cool post to read, particularly as it warms up out here and I can't wait to get out hiking again. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I've been pondering this post for a bit, to see if I feel any relation between books (especially LOTR) and being outdoors. I haven't done much hiking for many years, but when I was a teen, my family and I hiked in the Blue Ridge once a week for several years. And I remember feeling very much like Daniel Boone (especially since we often hiked near where he had traveled) or Davy Crockett, and sometimes like Civil War soldiers.

    But the one time I really felt a convergence of fiction and the world around me was when I went on a very brief hike in CA where lots of movies were filmed. That was almost eerie, like a bunch of cowboys could come riding over the ridge at any moment, straight out of some John Ford western. I get goosebumps just remembering it.


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