Literary Hub has alerted me to an article on the importance of Lord of the Rings to long-distance hikers. According to a Rebecca Booroojian Outsider essay, many people have Lord of the Rings trail names (especially Gandalf), and inscriptions from the trilogy can be found in abundance.
For instance, one will find everywhere Bilbo’s lines about Aragorn, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Just as Frodo and Sam set out on an epic journey, so Appalachian Trail hikers like to think of themselves as epic. Booroojian reports meeting one hiker who explained,
The obvious connection is a fascination with adventure and the unknown. We want to picture ourselves as Frodo or Bilbo, stepping out our front door on a journey to the ends of the earth.
And another hiker:
It makes sense that people who enjoy epic tales of fantasy would be magnetized to do something epic of their own. Someone drawn to these types of stories might be drawn to finding the magic in their lives and dreaming big.
And a third:
The idea of having my own adventure in the woods helped romanticize the sufferfest of the trail. Climbing Clingmans Dome in a whirling snowstorm? Yeah, no—this is Narnia. Where is the lamppost?
And in a weird sort of way, thru-hikers are dealing with things more akin to a character in a fantasy novel than anything else. They’re facing low odds of success, adapting to unforeseen scenarios, and picking themselves up after various obstacles knock them down again and again. They grow weary and run-down over the course of the journey. They also get tougher, wiser, and sometimes grow long beards. And when it’s over, they have the deep-seated need to do it all again—I just set out on my second thru-hike, this time on the Pacific Crest Trail. In general, relatable is not a word that first comes to mind when thinking about the fantasy genre, but thru-hikers can relate. After all, when you boil it down, The Lord of the Rings really tells the story of an awful lot of walking.
I am not a long-distance hiker, but my own 3-4 hour hikes in Maine and Slovenia. support what Booroojian reports. A literary allusion serves to put a narrative context around the journey. When I got lost in the snowy Alps and it began getting dark, I thought of Caradhras, which the Fellowship of the Rings unsuccessfully tries to cross. (I found footprints that led me out.) When I was threading my way through rocky tunnels while climbing Maine’s Tumbledown, I thought of Bilbo and Smaug’s mountain.
Booroojian reports that, before setting off on the Appalachian Trail, she
marked in my guidebook where I would pass Frodo and Sam’s mileage to get to Mount Doom (about 1,350 miles—it’s toward the northern end of New Jersey, in case you’re wondering).
That would make Mount Katahdin the equivalent of Mount Doom. Imagine eagles eagles awaiting you to fly you down.