There and Back Again: An Academic’s Holiday

“He often used to say that there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary.”

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I’ve always had a deep love for the epic. I’m also a huge Anglophile and devotee of good writing, so of course I’m a slavish Tolkien fanboy. The Hobbit was my favorite book when I was a child. (I had the soundtrack from the Rankin-Bass animated version on vinyl and wore the record out as well.) I wrote my first grad school paper comparing Gollum to Grendel. When my wife was pregnant and watching television made her motion sick, I read to her from The Lord of the Rings books every night. (Despite her wishes to the contrary, I continued to do all the character voices. Treebeard’s dialogue takes a really long time to get through.) I read the trilogy to my boys twice before they were ten.

Given this, I can’t help but frame my journey in terms of a quest. I would have taken the trail name Bilbo, in fact, but I think it’s been done. Radagast was a second choice. (Tolkien-inspired trail names are, unsurprisingly, fairly popular. I’ve seen more than one Gandalf, and Frodo is the nom de sentir of one of the more famous thru-hikers in the community.) I considered naming the parts of the blog after elements of the books (so that the Home page would be “Bag End,” the itinerary would be “The Red Book,” and other über-nerdy things, but I figured that would just be confusing).

Nerd Fitness—a fantastic site about exercise, diet, and all manner of inspiring stuff geared to geeks—has a great article about walking to Mordor (A Hobbit’s Guide to Walking), taking information from the Eowyn Challenge that shows the distances of the treks the characters make in The Lord of the Rings. It turns out, I’ll be walking about a thousand miles further than Sam and Frodo to get to Mount Doom, and about the same as Aragorn traveled to get to Minas Tirith. (And yes—I have an atlas of Middle Earth to prove this if necessary.)

So the fact that I’m walking into the journey from my own front yard—and walking back home to it, in the manner of both hobbit protagonists—holds real appeal to me. As Bilbo used to tell his nephew, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door… You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The adventure is the journey.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “There and Back Again: An Academic’s Holiday

  1. The same distance as Aragorn from whence to Mina’s Tirith?

  2. From Bree to Minas Tirith (with the side-trip to Isengard and then taking the Paths of the Dead) should clock in at about 2,444 miles. Technically, if we throw in the march to the Morannon before the gates of Mordor and back again, we hit just a tad over 2,700, which is pretty on the mark, so let’s throw that in, too. I like ending on a coronation…

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