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Report No. 34
January 1, 2000

Just as we had planned, Dick and I spent several hours today reviewing the year just passed and talking about how we wanted to shape the new year. Some of that shaping comes in the form of tasks, such as cleaning the closets. Some in the form of discipline, such as spending less and saving more, eating better and getting more exercise. Each goal is worthy, but accomplishing those particular goals requires more renewed efforts than belief in dreams.

Dick is still riding the wake of his AT dream. Each day resurrects the memory of some small detail buried for months beneath the larger recollections of miles clocked and mountains climbed. It is in those miniscule milestones that he has come to realize the profound ways in which hiking the AT has changed him. Work is still important, but it no longer holds the power to control his choices. The idea of scaling back our lifestyle is no longer dreaded, but desired. Five days a week he wears a suit and tie, though we both know he'd rather slip into a sweatshirt and cargo pants. The 34-waist jeans he had to buy when he came home are now too tight. He has gained 30 pounds. In terms of re-entry, he's almost home. Almost, but not quite.

As for those big, life-altering dreams, Dick has had two. The first seized him while still in high school. He wanted to be a radio announcer. Poverty threatened to kill the dream, but determination conquered. Though he couldn't afford college, he did manage to go to broadcasting school. He worked as a news director for seven years, from Maine to California. The same determination that enabled him to achieve his first big dream also enabled him to achieve his second. There may never be a third "big" dream, the kind that either dangles like a golden carrot just out of reach, or looms so far in the distance to make even the contemplation feel foolish. But to have, and to have achieved, two such dreams in a lifetime is significant.

Though not in the category of big dreams, finishing the Long Trail has been on Dick's mind lately. About 100 miles of the trail conjunct the AT in Vermont before the Long Trail splits off and runs north into Canada. He'd need several weeks to hike the approximately 150-mile balance. He's not likely to do that this year, but who knows what the future holds? This summer he'll spend two weeks in Washington with the Appalachian Mountain Club, hiking the Mt. Rainier area. In the summer of 2001, the group will hike for two weeks in Utah. He has promised not to even think about Mt. Everest!

Several people who followed Dick's adventure wrote to share their dreams. Hiking played a major role in several, but not all.

Howard Lee of Greenville, North Carolina, dreams of thruhiking the AT. Here's what he wrote:

  • This goal has been going through my veins almost 15 years. My wife and I first hiked together near Wesser, NC. I have been talking about a thru-hike ever since. As I told you before, running my mouth has made my wife declare, "You will hike The Trail because I am tired of hearing about it."
    I am staying close to the trail by volunteering with the Konnarock crew out of sugar Grove, VA for the last three years. This way I can give a little back to the AT while I bide my time. It is also very rewarding and you meet many nice people. Everyone should try this.
    I have started planing my trip. I should leave in mid-March, 2003. My gear is slowly growing in mass, buying items as they go on sale. Found a Kelty Super Tioga backpack a couple of months ago with a $50 saving. A draft mail drop list has been compiled and I am just trying to keep myself in shape until 2003. Also have compiled a list of wares to take with me by gathering advice from thruhikers' webpages.
    Every new year the itch gets a little worse. It usually starts around late February and lasts until the current crop of thruhikers start updating their diaries on the web. Their stories almost makes one feel you are there with them. Their goals become your goals. You feel their sadness and joy. It is almost like you have known them all your life. Then, when they make it to Katahdin, well, you just feel like crying. You feel so proud for them.

John and Joan Southern wrote from Cardiff, Wales, to share their dream. Here's what John said:

  • When I was a boy my parents hosted a number of visitors to the UK from overseas through a program run by the British Council. When Joan and I set up house we agreed to contact the British Council again, and we hosted visitors from all over the world, mostly mature students doing a course at the local university college, and mostly over the Christmas period-which can be very lonely when one is away for a long time. We did this for years while our children were growing up, and made contacts in South America, Asia and Africa.
    Our dream is to go round the world and meet up with these one-time friends. What stops us? Money.
    (In case you were wondering, John and Joan Southern are the parents of webmaster Mike.)

Others wrote to share their dreams but asked not to be identified. One woman from New England dreams of using her carpentry talents in the poorest section of Appalachia to help people fix up their homes. But doing so would mean leaving her family for a while.

Money is the obstacle for many who wrote, but not all. A couple from Louisiana dream of hiking together again, though illness has left the wife bedridden. A young attorney from the mid-Atlantic dreams of thruhiking the AT but feels responsible for his aging father's law practice.

Writer Dorothy Randall Gray is a good friend of mine. I've attended no fewer than six of her workshops, four of them a week long. In her book, Soul Between The Lines: Freeing Your Creative Spirit Through Writing, she says, "When distractions overcome desires, dreams are shattered. If you let your desires overcome your distractions, then your dreams will come true." Dorothy's point is worth remembering. Here's another.

In her book, Marry Your Muse, the author Jan Phillips relates a Medieval fairy tale about a poor woman who came to Paris after dreaming that by standing on a certain bridge every Thursday she would get help for her sick children. With no money for medicine, the woman was desperate. On the night of the third Thursday, she stood on the bridge as usual. A passing merchant stopped to question her. On hearing her story, he scoffed and said that he too had been dreaming. He pointed to a tree in the park and said he had dreamed that he dug under that particular tree and found a sack of gold. With a smirk, he added that he didn't believe in dreams and walked away. The woman hurried to a nearby inn, borrowed a spade, and started to dig. Soon, she found the sack of gold. She bought the much-needed medicine. Her children were saved.

Referring to the poor woman in the fairy tale, Jan notes that "it was in the man's cast-off dream that she found her answer." She explores the implications for today's world and concludes by saying, "It is not more knowledge that is needed, but more careful listening, more dreaming, more daring."

Jan Phillips is also a friend of mine. For one week every August I attend the annual conference of the International Women's Writing Guild at Skidmore College and take Jan's Marry Your Muse workshop. I'm proud to say I'm now one of her "Musettes." I mention that here because I believe it is vital for each of us to find the spade we need to dig for our individual sack of gold. That spade could come in any number of forms: a workshop, a book, a movie, a song, even an overheard conversation. It might even come from something in the dreams shared on this website.

Back in Report No. 29 I wrote about the morning Dick arrived on Abol Bridge:

  • On the way to the campsite that morning, Dick walked alone to Abol Bridge. He had glimpsed the mountain for several days, but always at a distance. From Abol Bridge, Katahdin loomed like a sleeping giant, waiting to devour those who dared scale its sides. In the middle of the bridge, he stopped and stared at the mountain. "There you are," he said, acknowledging his opponent. Six months of anticipating and uncertainty pounded in his chest. He had left his family and friends, risked his health and safety, all in a quest for something he still could not define, not even to himself. Now, he faced the final obstacle. Softly at first, he spoke to Katahdin. "I'm here," he said aloud. "I made it." The adrenaline he would need tomorrow rushed through him. He spread his feet in a defiant stance, squeezed the railing, and shouted up to the giant: "I'M HERE! I MADE IT! JUST TRY TO STOP ME!"

    In the fairy tale, the man on the bridge had no time for dreams.

In Report No. 32 I shared with you my own dream of finishing the manuscript, Price of a Hero, the story of Captain Matthew A. Batson and his dream of transatlantic flight. I'm also working on a manuscript for what I hope will become another book, one about Dick's journey on the Appalachian Trail. It will take several months to finish. Once I do, I'll turn it over to my agent and pray that there are enough people out there who are as interested as you have been in the extraordinary adventure of one ordinary man. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, thanks for taking the journey with me.

And hold fast to your dreams!