My least favourite part of running my own expedition grant is having to turn people down.
Which is why I love it so much when someone who doesn’t win a grant still completes their expedition.
Here’s one such story from Tom Hennell, who recently walked from Boston city centre to the summit of Mount Washington.
A Modern Day Pilgrimage
by Tom Hennell
In 2018, I submitted an application for The Next Challenge Expedition Grant. Although I made the short-list of applicants, I ultimately was not selected for a grant. For me personally, this was probably the best possible outcome.
How could not being selected be a good thing? It made me really evaluate WHY I was doing this expedition, and how committed was I to the idea. A few months later, I shouldered my backpack and walked out my front door on a modern-day pilgrimage.
I’ve always been enamored with the idea of doing a pilgrimage, but not necessarily in the literal sense. If a pilgrimage is a journey or search of spiritual significance, then one can decide the significance for oneself. Or, as Rebecca Solnit says in her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking:
“Pilgrimage is one of the fundamental structures a journey can take – the quest in search of something, if only one’s transformation.” With 50 years of clutter in my brain, 8 days of walking alone seemed like a good start to clear my mind and search for my own transformation.
My specific pilgrimage would start in Boston, Massachusetts (at sea level) and travel approximately 160 miles to the summit of Mount Washington (6,288 feet) in New Hampshire.
Mount Washington, although relatively small in global comparison, is home to some of the fiercest weather in the world, and is a spiritual destination for me. In addition, through promotion of my walk, I wanted to raise awareness of our increasing disconnection from nature and the physical and mental wellness benefits of nature.
I estimated I could walk 20 miles per day, and mapped out a route which allowed me to avoid major highways and would take roughly 8 to 9 days. I set specific destinations for my first two nights. These would be in residential areas and I wanted a backyard where I could safely camp without wandering around knocking on people’s doors. Social media connections helped with this, and I was ready to go! I wanted to leave the rest of the trip open for spontaneity and the excitement of the unknown.
On day one, I was able to start from my own house and walk 1.5 miles to the train station to ride the train into Boston for the official start. Those first steps are always the hardest; when you know you are committing to being out on your own for the next 8 days. But, you just put one foot in front of the other and each step gets a little easier.
I’ll jump right to the end of my walk and tell you that I did successfully summit Mount Washington 8 days later. It was harder than I anticipated and I’ll tell you the lessons I learned.
1. The quality of time you spend in nature is more important than the quantity of time. I spent 8 days outside by myself. But, walking the edge of busy roads is not necessarily quality time. The blisters on my feet and the cars passing by became over-stimulating rather than relaxing.
2. Walking on the road is harder than on trails in the woods. I’ve hiked a lot of miles, and was confident in my shoes and equipment. But, walking all day on pavement with a 35-40lb pack is hard on your feet and your body.
3. Interesting people are interesting. I met a number of people on my journey, but the interesting ones are who I remember…the mushroom farmer, the immigrant from India, the woman who was raising her grandkids after her daughter passed away, and the elderly German woman who hiked circles around me on Mount Washington. Take time to hear people’s stories and measure them by their interest.
Overall, the journey was different than I anticipated. It was harder physically, and I didn’t have the mental respite I anticipated. It’s good when things are different than we anticipate. It allows us to grow and adjust. We’re living creatures, just like nature, and if we are not growing it’s not a good thing. The lessons I learned were worth it and the experience priceless.
You can read more about Tom’s trip at www.citytosummit.org