I’m currently on a national road trip for my book, Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on America’s trail. At least that’s the headline version.
But, as with all meaningful journeys, there’s a much deeper story woven through my sojourn through America’s National Parks, cities and towns. It’s that we are (still) a nation of incredible places and people. In just the one month since I left Portland, Maine in my 1985 Vanagon, I’ve met a wide variety of people who are, to quote Thoreau, “living the lives they’ve imagined,” and not coincidentally, having the time of their lives.
In Luray, Virginia, the owner of a 5-week-old hot dog stand, a retired police officer who “always wanted to do this” and is wearing an ear-to-ear smile (not just because his stand sold almost 1,000 hot dogs to a supportive community in his first two days of operation).
On the Blue Ridge Parkway, I met Michael from Nottingham, England who was on holiday with his spouse exploring the length of America’s favorite byway and taking the time to take it all in.
On Skyline Drive, I met a 25-ish man (I’ll be forever disappointed that I can’t recall his name) from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey sitting on the roof of his Subaru, legs akimbo, watching the magnificent sunset over the near distant Massanutten Range. When he expressed his surprise that I even knew what the Pine Barrens were, I responded that I read a fine book about the Pine Barrens by John McPhee. His response was even better. His eyes got wide and he pointed inside the car beneath him. “That’s unbelievable, man”, he said. “I love that book. I’ve got a copy with me!”
In the L.L. Bean store in Lynnhaven, Virginia (adjacent to Virginia Beach), I met a woman that grew up in Millinocket, Maine, the closest town to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. In passing, her son saw my display map of the trail and said to her, “Look. Katahdin!”. Kathy and her husband had relocated to Virginia Beach 30 years ago. Yet, here, in this far away time and place, we chatted about people we both knew in Millinocket and all sorts of things about our native state.
What I have been fortunate to learn is that these infusions of connection and hope are vital to my well being. That simply living the life I’ve imagined is its own fantastic reward. As is meeting people along the way that are doing the same.