“Dad, you know the Tolkien quote,” I started hesitantly. My dad and I were about 45 minutes into our hike up to Lake Johnson and the trail had just vanished in an open meadow.
“Yeah, the one where Frodo sings, ‘The Road Goes Ever on and on, Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with weary feet, Until it joins some larger way, Where man paths and errands meet. And wither then? I cannot say.'”
Fortunately my dad did not sing, but unfortunately he’d said the wrong quote. “No, Tolkien says, ‘not all who wander are lost.'”
“Yeah,” answered my dad.
“We’re wandering and we’re lost.” Roads might go ever on, but ours was dead in the grass, consumed in the wild. And if we wandered much longer, my 40 pound pack was going to be the death of me.
My dad pulled out his map and I plopped off my backpack. It looked like the trail was supposed to be leading to the West, but the fire road we’d tried after the original trail petered out was going East. But neither of us are expert map readers and each time I tried to decipher the counter lines and trail dots my head spun. After a brief discussion about what we should do, I walked ahead, sans my pack, to check and see what was ahead. The path vanished again, only to reappear a little higher up the hill. After five minutes I knew this was no good.
We turned around and tried a trail that cut a sharp edge up the mountain. Sadly, as promising as this trail seemed, it was the wrong one. An hour and a-half in to what was supposed to be a 12 mile hike, my dad turned us back around and walked us back to the trailhead.
It was annoying to be back at the start, but I didn’t want to wander around and not reach Lake Johnson, so I followed.
Tolkien’s words repeating in my head, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.” There are things unseen in the seen world, which I believe is a key part of Living Spiritually. If I take everything for face value, I’ll miss the grand adventure God has for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to see the deeper meaning of wandering. I just wanted to be on the correct trail and to see my friends.
Maybe what the quote is really saying is, the point of life is in the journey, not just the destination. Maybe we can wander if our goal isn’t the destination, but loving the moments we are in while we are wandering and feeling lost.
I took a deep breath and placed one foot in front of the other. Quickly the trailhead slid behind us. The sun was hot and my mood was still low. We turned left at the fork in the trail, which meant taking the trail up to Stewart Lake instead of Lake Johnson. We knew the trails should meet up, but that hadn’t been our plan.
As I moved mindlessly over the ground, passing Aspen trees and beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers, a quote from Jack Kerouac sprang to mind. “Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by . . . Trails are like that: you’re floating along in a Shakespearean Arden paradise and expect to see nymphs and fluteboys, then suddenly you’re struggling in a hot broiling sun of hell in dust and nettles and poison oak . . . just like life.”
Keep your head down and just keep going, I thought.
With my eyes glued to the trail I smacked head first into my dad’s pack. He’d stopped for some reason. “Hey!” said a familiar voice. It was Philip, my friend we were hiking up to see. He was on his way down the trail to pick up his brother from the airport. He’s no nymph, but seeing him was very other worldly. I’d felt lost and dejected as I hauled my pack up the trail, but he confirmed that we were going the correct way and that we’d see him the next day at camp.
Kerouac is dead wrong, I countered. I can’t live life with my eyes closed to the magical world around me. I don’t want to glide along until the trail ends or my life is over. I want to keep my eyes open, even if what I see let’s me down. Even if I get lost along the way. After running in to Philip the trail opened up and the hike became easier. And definitely prettier.
And so the road went ever on, to Stewart Lake and then to Lake Johnson. My dad was right, though we were lost, we were still on the same road that led out of our front door, we were connected to the greater adventure along the way. And while we hiked, I kept my eyes open and saw covey of grouse, Indian Paintbrushes, and a friend who I hadn’t seen in several years.
Tolkien is right, not all who wander are lost.