“I wanted to quit and to do this forever, sleep in a bed and in a tent, see what was over the next hill and never see a hill again. All of this all at once, every moment, on the trail or off.” ~Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods was (surprisingly) a delightfully engaging read. I realize I’m a latecomer to this book as it was originally published in 1998, but I picked it up in the name of research for my own non-fiction writing. I wasn’t expecting much in terms of new inspiration. I’ve read a lot of travelogues, and even more about both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails. But I was inspired, in a wholly unexpected way. He did something that I have had a really hard time with, especially lately.
Mr. Bryson forgave himself.
He set this life-changing goal of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, all 2,200 miles of it. He’d mentally and physically prepared for, trained for, and scheduled for this incredible challenge. He suffered through the first weeks of hiking when your body and your mind is adjusting to the activity. He hiked until he learned to love the trail. But when he realized he wasn’t going to finish all 2,200 miles, not only did he not wallow in the depths of self-pity, but he didn’t give up. He. Kept. Hiking.
This would have been really hard for me. Extremely hard. Once I came to the despairing realization of not finishing, I probably would have given up the whole thing. Why even keep hiking at all if I failed to reach my goal? What’s the point? With aching feet, depleting finances, and a lonely heart, I probably would have just walked to the nearest cell tower and arranged my ride home.
I’ve been so swamped lately in my personal life, with several lofty goals in mind that are taking me in several different directions at once, and I feel as if I’m not making much progress towards any of them. But, reading this book, at this time, has helped a little. Even if some of these goals are truly unattainable at the moment, that doesn’t mean I should stop walking towards them. Progress, even a little progress, towards any goal at any time, is worthwhile.
After all, getting something done, is more than getting nothing done. In the final chapter, Bryson mentions that yes, he fell short of the 2,200 miles of the trail, but measured by any other standard in life, the amount of miles that he did hike would be impressive not only to all of us, but to himself as well. And he was satisfied with that.
And that’s the lesson I’m taking from this book. There is good in trying. Failure isn’t the result of not reaching a challenging goal, but rather the not setting one in the first place. And so, I will keep working towards mine.
~Note: If you like audio books, this is a great one, with Mr. Bryson narrating himself.