Vicarious Adventures Through Reading

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When I was in North Carolina, my hiker friends gave me a copy of Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods. I’ve known about this book for probably as many years as it’s been published. Momma loved it. She talked about it all the time. She talked my second husband into reading it. He loved it. He went on and on about it. I even kept the book after the divorce, planning on reading it but never did. Now, I’ve had it sitting on my kitchen counter for about a month.

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This is the way I approach a lot of things. I intend to do them. I get excited … buy the book … rent the movie …. purchase the art supplies …. buy the sporting good equipment and then never use it. Once I’ve obtained the necessary ingredients, the excitement wears off, and it’s another thing on my “to do” list. Then it becomes another thing that I feel guilty about buying and procrastinating. Then, one day, years later, I find the evidence when I’m packing to move or something and wonder why I never did what I aimed to do when I was so excited about it. It was a missed adventure. And I regret it.

I sort of knew that I would start reading Bryson’s book. I just didn’t really feel like it when I got back from North Carolina. The real hiking was amazing, and I had such a blue ridge mountain high that I didn’t want to get into a book about the same subject. I was very excited about the movie, but it seemed to pale in comparison to what I’d experienced just weeks before on the real trails … in the magical fog of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And I remembered how fun and exciting it was to read about Cheryl Strayed’s Wild adventure every night in my tent with the stars twinkling overhead, the crickets and cicada’s making sweet music and my dog curled up beside me. The real high of that trip was still percolating through my veins, and  reading a book seemed like a letdown.

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Tonight at dinner, I picked it up and started reading. Bryson is funnier than Strayed. I was laughing out loud at his antics while I was eating pan-seared tuna and roasted carrots. Within moments, I was back on the trail. The traffic of Baton Rouge and the gray of my cubicle faded into the background of the Appalachian mountain range. Once again, I felt the dirt under my feet, my eyes watching intently to make sure I stepped over roots and on boulders and not on snakes coiled in the trail. As Bryson readied for his trip, I readied myself to be taken away on mine. Ahhhh ….. the power and adventure of reading.

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When I was a girl, I read voraciously. My most vivid memories are of laying in my bedroom with the curtains blowing in the open windows reading book after book. I loved the Hardy Boys’ mysteries. Momma would take us to the one-room library behind the grocery store, and I’d check out every one of those books. With each one, I got a star that would lead to my little award for summer reading. Those books – and that little library – were my window to the world outside of the small town of Watson. And my sense of adventure and mystery and wonder was born, stoked and simmered among those musty shelves. It was in the pages of books where I hid and played and dreamed. And somewhere along the line, I started having real life adventures, and I stopped reading so much.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about adventure. Why do I love adventure? Why do some people seem to abhor it? And why do others hunger for it but never take the steps to experience it? When I think of adventure I think of the outdoors. It was where I was raised. In some ways, I’m more comfortable there. We camped growing up. It seems like we were always outdoors in some fashion or another.

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But, I’ve had other adventures that were just as awe-inspiring. The inner journey that I took after my second divorce in discovering why I was having such problems with relationships was definitely adventurous. I never wanted to go there before, and I avoided it like the plague. It was definitely scarier than bears. But, I knew if I didn’t go on that inner adventure into my soul, I was going to stay bound and stuck in the hole I was in. And, like just about everything else, I read about where I was going in books. They were my inspiration, my guide and my solace through that journey.

My blog is about my adventures. Some of them are big adventures and others are just tiny adventures that add up to getting through the day. I get to write about my adventures so that others can read about them if they want. My blog is not a book, but the internet is like that one-room library of my childhood. It is the window to the world for a lot of people. It has its disadvantages, but think how much more we see of the world now than we ever could 40 – 50 years ago. It’s mind-boggling.

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Adventure is not necessarily what you do. I think adventure is about seeing something in a different way. An adventure could be driving to work in a different route. Another adventure could be cooking a new dish to see what happens when you combine this food with heat or yeast. Adventure is all around us. It’s just something we’ve never done before or even something we’ve done before but we look at through a different lens. Ever walk around your block and look at what’s on the ground instead of what’s at eye level? Try to see the world through the eyes of a child? Read a book and let yourself get totally immersed in the narrative?

So, I plan to be hiking the Appalachian Trail for the next couple weeks or maybe just for the weekend. We’ll see how long it takes me to finish A Walk in the Woods. I’m going to accompany Bryson on his grand adventure and immerse myself in the glory and beauty of the Appalachian wilderness. As a child I would have gone on this journey for the first time with no pre-conceived notions. But now, after going on my own adventures, I’ll see it in the context of what I know and already love about the place. I’ll know the pain in tired legs and feet, the awe of standing on a rock ledge and looking over paradise and the heady anticipation about what’s to come around the next bend. I’ll know because I have been there, but it’ll be an adventure because I’ll be looking at it through the lens of another’s experience.

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