Which Way Is North
John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you are making other plans".
In 2016, I spent a good portion of the year, working to gain traction on a not-for-profit project to arrange hiking and coaching services for groups wanting use nature experiences to improve health. It was challenging and many times, I found myself like a fish out of water, with too much time in the city and not so much on the trail.
I decided to 'take some of my own medicine' and spent a month hiking by myself in the Washington and Oregon Cascades. I wanted to gain perspective on my projects, to recharge and to try to figure out some next steps.
My approach to this hike was to not have a plan, but to wander down which ever trails seemed to appeal. I went simply, just a tent, sleeping bag, clothes and food.
During the last week of hiking, I was strolling through a forest of old growth douglas firs near Eagle Creek, just south of the Columbia Gorge. The sun was warming my body after a cold night and in the space of half an hour, I felt a sense of peace that I had not noticed in some months. I had not seen any one for three days and was completely alone, with no map or compass, just following a northerly direction and knowing that I'd run into the Columbia River at some point. At around mid morning, I stopped to rest and just sat down, right in the middle of the trail. I wrote a poem - and then another - and I realized that I was just moving my pencil, but that the words were coming from the forest. Then it dawned on me, that for most of my short writing career - most of the time, nature is the muse. If I listen and don't try too hard, the words come effortlessly and hour can pass and seem like minutes. Right in that moment, I said to myself, "I write about nature. I am a nature writer". It was the loveliest realization. I made some coffee, stripped down and got under a waterfall to get clean, before wrapping up my writing and then strolling again, towards the Columbia.
I shared this realization with my writing coach and teacher, Christi. She didn't seem the least bit surprised. Then a few days later, I received a call from an agent, with the question, "Would you be interested to write a book about John Muir and the nature movement?"
I've been a disiple of Muir's for years, I grew up twenty miles from where he did, in Scotland. I've read and studied his work extensively and some ideas came to me about how this project might unfold. I made a decision, that if I was going to write about The Patron Saint of Nature and the Father of the National Parks... that I wanted to go all-in and immerse myself in the life of John Muir, in the places he climbed and hiked, and to try to imagine what his life might have been like? I felt compelled, as well, to be a scholar and disciple of his work. Muir tirelessly championed the cause of nature and wild places for everyone, he worked with clubs, politicians and presidents to advance the causes he lived his life for.
I reached out to other writers, advisors, mentors and people I've been lucky enough to know - who have devoted their lives to nature and recreation. It quickly became clear that many people were willing to back this project and support me to begin. I recognised that we could use awareness from this project to support organisations representing underserved and diverse groups who, can benefit from nature experiences.
I also realized that in the current and crazy political climate, with all of it's divisiveness and angst - that we can all do our part to promote the healing power of nature. We can all make a difference. Personally, I feel that for all the gifts, I've been given as a person, coach, guide on outdoor adventures, I feel such gratitude that I'm compelled to do my part to continue the work that Muir began over 150 years ago. I may be just one voice, but I've devoted my life to getting people closer to nature and It feels like a civic duty - to create opportunities for others - in the same way that many opportunities have been created for me.
So I decided to put together an expedition using the US National Trails system and wilderness areas in which Muir spent his life. I decided to climb the peaks that were important to him and his to walk between these mountains on foot on a journey from one end of the country to the other, North To South on the Pacific Crest. Once done, I'm going to take a trip to my homeland and walk the John Muir Way across the country from West to East, ending up at the house in Dunbar, East Scotland where Muir was born and where he fell in love with nature as a young boy - on exactly the same beaches and hills where I discovered my passion for being outdoors in wild places.
Muir was a minimalist. He would stuff bread and cheese in his pockets and go solo or days or weeks. He wandered and gained material for his writing. I asked myself, what the fundemental question was, to be able to undertake this expedition and book? I realized that ever so simply - if everyday for six months - I asked teh question, "Which way is north?", then I'd find my way, figuratively and literally. I'll learn about what John Muir's life might have looked like and I'll learn about myself as well. I'm pretty sure I'll also find what needs to go in that book.
I've spent three months researching Muir, running logistics for the trip, working with sponsors, politicians, land management officials, parks staff, nature writers and leaders as well as a core group of people who I expect to meet along the way as well as on the peaks I wish to climb up and down the West Coast.
I leave March 10 and will be posting articles, updates and plans on this site; as well as on social media. Like any expedition, I feel the essence of adventure; I feel hope and doubt, I feel bold but humble - and I feel honored to do my best to tell Muir's story and to continue his advocacy. Mainly I feel joy at the oppportunity to wake up in the forest and mountains every day for six months. I think this will be an adventure that is unlike anything I've ever done. It combines my greatest passions and I'm looking forward to getting my feet on the trail.