[Dick Takes a Hike ...]
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Report #32
December 2, 1999

"A commitment may sound like a vow made to someone else. But deep down inside, a commitment is a promise I make to me."
--Zita Christian

The Tale

Dick has been home for two months now. He still dreams about the trail, sometimes envisioning the calm and solitude of the woods, sometimes the imagined trauma of being attacked by a bear. One night last week marked the first time since his return that he slept peacefully through the night.

He has already regained about twenty pounds. His appetite is still ravenous. We decided to wait at least another month before having any of his suits altered.

Last month, he accepted a new job and went back to work. The decision was an easy one to make in terms of our financial goals, but challenging because it meant returning to a world he thought he had left behind. Fortunately, Dick was able to work out an arrangement that will enable him to hike now and then, including a planned two-week trip to Mount Rainier this coming summer. He'll also continue to help out on my television show "Author Chat." We just started filming in the studio and Dick operates one of the cameras. The show is on local cable access. Nothing fancy, but lots of fun.

Dick has also returned to his sweepstaking hobby. Just last week he won a $25 cash card from K-Mart and a month's supply of breakfast food from Kellogg's: 12 full-size boxes of assorted cereals, several boxes of Nutri-Grain bars and Pop-Tarts. After six months of eating the pastries right from the box, he found out how good they are toasted.

RickRock called not long ago. He and Dick talked for an hour, most unusual for my husband. Rick promised to send us an epilogue about his return to the pre-hike world, including the fact that he's a homeowner now, blessed with the satisfaction and saddled with the surprises that come with such a major purchase.

Two weeks ago, our local paper, the Journal Inquirer, ran a follow-up article about Dick. The first one covered the time from Georgia to Pennsylvania. This one covered the rest of the trail and included the triumphant photo of Dick and RickRock on top of Katahdin. The article included the website address. As a result, we've received more email from people who say that Dick's journey has inspired them to tackle the AT. One of Dick's local hiking buddies, Bob Baldwin, has decided to hike the AT and plans to leave for Georgia in early April. Dick and I had dinner with Bob and his wife. I could see the wistful look in Dick's eyes as he recounted what life was like on the trail.

An Invitation

Anyone who has ever achieved a difficult goal knows that thought always precedes action. Some goals, such as thruhiking the AT, require a great deal of thought. But thruhiking the AT isn't everyone's goal. Good thing too. The trail would be crowded all the way from Georgia to Maine.

This coming New Year's Eve, Dick and I will join you as we review the year that was and visualize the year yet to be. That report will be the final epilogue to this adventure. Over these past eight months, many of you have written to express admiration and to offer encouragement. Some of you have written to share stories of your own. Some of you have sent photos. I now invite you to share your dreams.

Perhaps your dream is to go on your first hike-one that's long enough and strenuous enough to make you sweat and glimpse what life is like without the creature comforts of bed and bath. Maybe you want to take off for a month or two to hike a portion of the AT, or some other trail. Maybe you're lured by the idea of thruhiking and want to immerse yourself in an AT adventure of your own. Or maybe you long to surrender to the call of the wilderness and hike where few others have ever gone. Or perhaps your dream has nothing to do with hiking. Adventure takes all forms.

What is your dream? What inspired it? How long have you had the dream? What are you doing to achieve it? If you aren't actively pursuing your dream, what's holding you back? How will you feel if you achieve it?

Since I don't believe in asking for information that I wouldn't share myself, here's my dream: To finish writing the book I started two years ago. It's called "Price of a Hero." The story is about Captain Matthew A. Batson, a man who was fought in the Spanish-American war, was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Philippines, and who, in 1913, built what would have been the world's first commercial airplane capable of transatlantic flight. At least that was Batson's dream. One devastating incident destroyed the dream, forced him into bankruptcy, and revealed the betrayal of his two top financial investors. The question of sabotage has never been answered. Throughout the story, Batson's life is colored by his relationships with three key women: (1) his mother-a proud woman whose small-town life was plagued by poverty and scandal, (2) his first wife-a delicate, pampered woman whose family symbolized wealth beyond measure and political connections all the way to the White House, and who was forced to choose between that life and marriage to a lowly Army officer, and (3) his second wife-a spirited young secretary living on her own, who vowed to remain single until she met a genuine hero.

The story was inspired by a series of conversations I had with Batson's daughter, Suzanne Batson Shorts, a woman now in her eighties. Suzanne is my neighbor and a good friend. Her father died the month before she was born. Her knowledge of him came through family stories and an impressive collection of memorabilia, everything from diaries and photos to Army records and newspaper clippings. While I've already done a lot of research for the book, I still have more to do, including making trips to West Point Military Academy in New York and to Savannah, Georgia, and nearby Dutch Island, site of Batson's airplane factory.

Since I returned to the 9-to-5 working world, time has become a major obstacle to finishing the story. On my current schedule, it could take me two years to complete the manuscript. Timing, however, could be perfect. In December of 2003, the world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk. I envision the publication of "Price of a Hero" as part of that celebration. My agent reminds me, however, that I have undertaken the daunting task of making failure interesting. So part of my goal in writing Batson's story is to come to a new definition of success. Perhaps that's what this project of sharing dreams is all about.

Dick still doesn't view his AT adventure as a dream. Like so many others, he associates the word "dream" with "impossible" and "life-long." To him, the hike was a project, a more concrete way of describing the compelling urge he felt to challenge himself. Dream? Project? In the end, the words don't matter. What does matter is commitment, the kind that's personal and from the heart. It was just about this time last year that Dick and I progressed from the planning stage to buying a backpack. Step by step, he made his way to Springer Mountain in April, to Katahdin in September, and back home. The challenge now is to rein in his appetite.

If you'd like to have your dream-or your project-included in the New Year's Eve report, please email it to me by December 17. You can write a few sentences or several paragraphs, whatever you'd like. Please understand if I have to edit for length. If you don't want me to include your name, just say so. Do include where you're from. I'm hardly the only one with a dream that often seems out of reach. Who knows? Perhaps with a lot of hard work and even more luck, I'll achieve mine. Perhaps you'll achieve yours too.