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As a man walks his dog through the neighborhood, floating screens in front of the houses show glimpses of a mountain forest.

Virtual Miles to Go

The last lines of Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” are among the best-known lines of any poem by an American poet:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep...

As an avid hiker and longtime backpacker, I’ve often thought of those lines, especially the last two, while hiking out of the mountains after a long trek. Even though it’s usually downhill most of the way, it seems like those last five or six miles will never end, especially when you know a cold drink, a good meal, and a hot shower is waiting at the end of the trail.

Prostate cancer won't keep me from my passions

I’ve chronicled how prostate cancer and treatment has influenced, but not deterred, my outdoor experiences, mostly in relation to taking time off after surgery and coping with the varying levels of incontinence that I’ve experienced since my surgery in April 2018. There’s lots of great hiking near where I live on the Central Coast of California and even more in the high altitude Sierra Nevada mountains, my favorite outdoor environment.

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In early July I spent three days hiking near Independence, California, reaching an altitude of 11,700’, covering twenty-seven miles over three separate hikes while camping at a trailhead, Onion Valley, at 9200’. This month, August, my wife and I are spending three nights at the Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park, and we’ll day hike through the giant Sequoias and to some alpine lakes. In September my three adult sons are joining me for a backpacking trip in the Eastern Sierra to a spectacular area called Granite Park, ten miles in and several thousand feet up from the trailhead. As with all of my hiking, I’ll be prepared with the shield and pads I need should incontinence be an issue.

Going on virtual hikes this summer

But I’m also doing a different kind of hike this summer, a virtual hike. Many of us have been getting more familiar with the virtual world in the last few months, and I discovered an app that allows me to virtually hike the Appalachian Trail, all 2200 miles, from Georgia to Maine.

By downloading Walk the Distance (free) on my iPhone and syncing it with the Heart Health app on my phone, every step I take during the day takes me further along the AT. I can see my progress on Walk the Distance, and every few miles there’s a photo and some interesting information about the history of the trail, the maintenance of it, the shelters available, the flora and fauna. I’m currently in Virginia having covered 500 miles, about 125 miles a month since May.

Yes, it’s going to take a long time for me to walk 2200 miles, and, yes, walking my dog in the morning is not the same as hiking through mosquito-infested woods in Georgia, but the virtual walk adds an interesting dimension to the mundane act of putting one foot in front another, adds a little excitement to the new routines we’ve all developed since March.

Enjoying life to the utmost of my ability

Frost’s famous lines hint at the limits of this finite experience we’re all having. With each day there are fewer “miles to go” before we hit that limit. I’m not a big fan of the word “survivor” as a way of identifying those, like me, who have had significant health challenges. Life isn’t easy. Everyone’s a survivor in one way or another. Eventually, the outcome is the same for all of us. In the meantime, I just want to enjoy living to the utmost of my ability given circumstances and my body’s limitations.

If you close your eyes and visualize Frost’s lines, you realize that he’s taking you on a virtual tour through images created by words. That’s what all great writing does and has been doing for thousands of years. All our lives we’ve been living in a virtual world and didn’t even realize it. I’ll think about that as I approach Chestnut Knob Shelter, in Virginia, just 0.3 miles away...three thousand miles from my home.

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