Monday, October 31, 2011

Friends Met Along the Road to Mount Doom and Walking to the Lonely Mountain

I am a fan of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, mainly the Middle Earth tales which concern hobbits. One could say I’m a hobbit fan; they have a plain-spokenness and efficiency that mirrors the best in rural culture. While they do have their small-town peccadillos, they are mostly clear-headed and won’t tolerate injustice or prolonged oppression.

The Shire and the surrounding hobbit-realms of Eriador in Middle Earth are a blueprint for what I wish rural life was. I live in very rural southern middle Tennessee, and I can tell you, things don’t happen here like they do in Middle Earth. But the scenery is similar, and, if I close my eyes to the heavy farm equipment, planes flying overhead and the postman who speeds down our road like it’s the Indy 500, I can almost imagine I live in the mounded hill behind my cabin, like the huge extended family of Peregrin Took does in Middle Earth.

In the heady days when the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films were being released, there seemed to be a lot of Tolkien fans, although most were Viggo Mortenson or Liv Tyler fans. It didn’t matter though; I could finally talk to others online who enjoyed and thought about matters in Middle Earth. I went online to a serious forum (i.e., one where they actually talk about the books) and signed in.

On one section of that forum was a curiously long thread entitled: Walk to Rivendell. I learned that this was actually an idea that Weight Watchers had come up with, and it had spread to many LOTR fan sites, ending up on its own site, the Eowyn Challenge (see the site for the explanation of the name).  Thousands of fans of Lord of the Rings were taking to the streets daily and logging miles on a website. A map or app would then tell you where you were according to the progress of Frodo Baggins and his hobbit companions from Hobbiton to Rivendell, the stronghold of Elrond. It was a trek of 458 miles.

So I signed up and started walking. I walked about 3-4 miles every day, and by the deadline, which was the release of Return of the King in December of 2003, I had made it past the Ford of Bruinen, waving my sword at the Ringwraiths and shouting, “By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!” The neighbors peered nervously out of their screen doors, but since I had been tromping the road for months with a replica of Frodo’s sword, I don’t think they were too surprised.

So, once the hoopla was over and everyone had made it to Rivendell, I knew the next step. I was going to Mount Doom, come Hell or the crazy postman. So every day for over a year (I think it was more like a year and a half), I walked 3 miles a day, enduring a hellish case of bronchitis, two sprained ankles and an encounter with a rabid raccoon. By the time I had entered Mordor, I had two companions.

They were the neighbor’s boxer dogs, a mother and her very frisky daughter. They followed me every day, and eventually they started following me home. The neighbor was never at home. I began to wonder if he fed them properly. The daughter was a spitfire; she knocked over planters on our porch, ate a chair and killed a possum. Needless to say, my father-in-law ran them off most angrily.

Then one day, I made it to Mount Doom, a total of 1800 miles. Strangely, it didn’t have the feeling of accomplishment that making it to Rivendell had. I had gotten used to the walk, but I had a hard time at the end, having had to refrain for weeks at a time while my sprained ankle knitted back together. Finally, after the weary last step, I decided to join a health club so I could swim for exercise instead of walking. I wanted to keep my ankles, and my knees were threatening me with rebellion as well. 

Walking from Nagakubo Post Station on the Kisokaido to the Lonely Mountain? Not bloody likely! Apologies to Ando Hiroshige.

The most lasting and rewarding part of the walk was a friendship forged and fulfilled. The older boxer girl appeared one day in the neighbor’s front yard, long after he had moved. Apparently, he had abandoned her, and she was gnawing on a deer head. She was obviously nursing as well. The horrid neighbor had taken the feisty daughter and abandoned the pregnant mother.

So we rescued the lot—mom and 6 pups. We found homes for 5 pups and kept one for mom to play with. Mrs. Prettypaws and her tiny son Kamikaze (who is now huge) reside here still, our dearest family members, found along the road to Mount Doom so long ago, at least in dog years.

So, now that Peter Jackson is making The Hobbit into two films, the whole “Walk to Rivendell” challenge idea has returned in places. Of course it is now the Walk to the Lonely Mountain . Come to find out, it’s a total of 1934 miles from Bag End to the Lonely Mountain and back again. I’m not sure this old hobbit has it in her. What do you think, ankles? Knees? I’ll get back to you on this one!