Unexpected Pleasures of Distance – Thoughts on a Passage by Colin Fletcher


Excerpt from The Thousand Mile Summer, by Colin Fletcher

Excerpt from The Thousand Mile Summer, by Colin Fletcher

As Colin Fletcher’s thousand miles approached its conclusion, he became nostalgic and experienced mixed emotions about reaching the end of what he called “The Walk.”  He captured what many backpackers feel as they fall into the rhythm of an extended trip.

In the passage above, Fletcher became aware of the many sounds and sensations of his long distance walk and how they “had become as much a part of The Walk as deer tracks in the dust or the champagne taste of mountain water.” He reminds us to enjoy the sound of our boots on the trail, noticing different tones and inflections, depending on the type of soil, snow, or rocks. He even finds comfort in the weight of his pack. You know you’re having fun when you start “enjoying the self-reliant feeling of the pack’s weight!”

Prior to this passage, Fletcher described how his “apartment” was set up each day when backpacking. I could identify with his “office,” organized in his boots stuffed with notebooks, pencils, and glasses next to his head. His “kitchen” began a few inches away from his boots. He described how “domestic details” like heating water for morning tea had become automatic without any wasted motion or thought.

I never met Colin Fletcher who died in 2007 at age 85, but knowing an Arkansas hiker named “Wildman” was like meeting Fletcher’s kindred spirit.  Wildman (Carl Ownby) lived well into his 80s and hiked thousands of miles.  He used to slow down as he entered the last stages of a trip because he didn’t want it to end. I wonder if it was because he was going to miss his “tiger juice,” a mixture of several undisclosed beverages. He assured me it wasn’t the “tiger juice” but because he loved hiking long distances so much.

"Wildman" Carl

“Wildman” Carl receiving an award for his years of service to the Ozark Highlands Trail.

Colin Fletcher’s books, The Thousand-Mile Summer and The Man Who Walked Through Time, are two of my favorites. The Thousand-Mile Summer has a copyright of 1964. My hardback copy, found in a used bookshop, is a first edition. It has no great monitory value, but it’s a treasure to me.

Graphic on the title page of The Thousand Mile Summer.

Illustration on the title page of The Thousand-Mile Summer.

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