When writing becomes difficult and the struggle to find the right word or idea or a story makes me want to give up, I compare myself to a long-distance walker I once knew.
I did not know her very well, or for any length of time, so, I will not use her name, not only because I never got her permission for that, but mainly because I believe it is not really important. What is important here, and I find fascinating, is the process in which a person changes over a lifetime and can be so many different things to himself and others. What is significant here is how with the years we learn to listen to our inner self and focus on things we did not value earlier. How we move so fast when we are young but learn to extract meaning from the slower pace of walking, maybe even limping, when we get older.
She told me that she started being a long distance-walker when she turned fifty-seven. Her marriage and professional life crumbled. She told me that walking gave her peace of mind. That made her decide to tackle her first long-distance walk, the Appalachian Trail. Since then, she became a dedicated walker. A lone walker. Always walking by herself carrying the necessary gear on her back, covering the miles until she reaches her planned destination.
Is it lonely, I wondered, spending days on the road with only oneself as a company and only the sound of your footsteps tapping the ground and the rhythm of your breath in and out, with no external distractions surrounding you and helping you bar the flow of thoughts in your head and protect you from your own fears? She just smiled at me and invited me to join her on her next walk.
I did not join her by walking, but I followed her through her online blog that I helped post. When she returned from each of her walks, I was there sharing the experience comparing the before and after. She told me about new friendships that sprouted along the trails and new insights revealed while facing the varied challenges of the road. Some external but just as many internal.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Walker is but a myth, she said on one of these occasions. There is nothing more lonesome than being unhappy amid a crowd, comparing yourself to others, forever competing in a race that cannot be won. I listened to her and thought about the similarities to writing. While not physical in nature, it can be as demanding and complex. The loneliness of the long-distance writer, these words resonated with me, and I think of her when I collect my gear and sit down to write.