A Walk Across Upstate New York (Or, The Rewards of a Step-by-Step Process)

I’d been looking forward to it for weeks.  We had been talking about it since the early spring, and now, at the height of summer in western New York, the time had come.

It was 1995, I was still in college, and the prospect of a new century, a new millennium, was still five years into the future.  Cell phones were still mostly a novelty, and the Internet was a newborn, slowly gaining traction, just beyond the outskirts of the mainstream.  No matter.  As summer approached that year, I was excited, eager to partake of the adventure.

 

It wasn’t hard to plan.  School was out, we had cleared our schedules.  We had a full week to do it.  I had hoped to corral the entire gang–Rick and Joe and Matt and Andy, the neighborhood friends I had known for years–and also the people who inspired the protagonists in both The Eye-Dancers and its soon-to-be-released sequel, The Singularity Wheel.  But some of the guys backed out, citing potential dangers, scheduling conflicts, previous commitments.  That was okay.  We still had three of us going.

 

So it was that on the warm, humid morning of July 10, 1995, precisely twenty-two years ago today, my neighbor Rick (on the right), my cousin “Moose” (left), and I (center) set out on our mini-journey.

 

We would spend the next week walking across a portion of upstate New York.  I had long romanticized about walking across America.  This bite-sized facsimile would have to do.  We’d trek west from Rochester, traveling through remote, rural towns, experiencing the pastoral heart of the Empire State on foot.  And while our experience would only last a few short days, I knew, even before we started, that I would never forget.

 

The first day was the hardest.  We weren’t used to walking so many miles.  Our feet ached, we drank copious amounts of water, and we rested every few miles.  But we had a blast.  Walking mostly on the shoulder of the road, we traveled along both main thoroughfares and sparsely used back roads.  With our packs and gear, it was obvious to passing motorists what we were up to.  Some cars honked at us.  A group of college students sped past at one point, calling us “nerdballs.”  That made our day.  A middle-aged man in a straw hat, doing yard work at the base of his lawn, stopped us and offered us water.  We politely declined, letting him know were well stocked.  He asked us where we were going.  I’d like to say we were honest–just a weeklong walking trip across western New York.  Alas, we embellished the details–substantially.  Something about Colorado to Cape Cod, and back again.  What’s worse, the guy believed us.

 

“I wonder if we should have told him the truth,” I said, a mile up the road.

“Well, we’re walking across most of the country in spirit,” Rick said.  “So, I mean, it’s kinda, sorta the truth, right?”  That was good enough for us.  I have no good excuse to offer now.  What can I say?  It was a heady moment.  We were young.

That first night, we stayed at the farmhouse of a family friend just outside the small college town of Brockport.  Well, we didn’t spend the night in the house.  We slept out in the yard, in sleeping bags, under a sky dotted with stars.  We were tired–we had walked twenty miles that day, and had run through the wheat field out back behind the farmhouse that evening.  It took us a while to get to sleep, though.  We lay down, listened to the cries of hoot owls, the rustlings in the plants and shrubs that flanked the yard, the whispers of the night breeze as it shared its sacred, eternal wisdom.

 

We talked.  We joked.  We savored.

And the next morning, bright and early, we set out west again.  The walking was already growing easier, our bodies acclimating to the journey, adjusting to the rhythm.  It rained, briefly, and then the sun came out, a hot, large July sun that tested our stamina.  More cars beeped at us.  More insults were hurled.  More strangers stopped us, took a moment to chat.  For every derogatory remark we received along the way, we got ten more that were kind.

 

We walked through tiny, speck-on-the-map towns, with names like Clarendon and Holley and Albion, dotted with old capes and town squares and corner stores.  Interspersed between the towns, acres and acres of cornfields and dairy farms spread across the land like a luxurious green carpet.  We slept in cheap motels and ate convenience store pizza.  And then, on the fourth morning, we turned around, headed east, back to Rochester.

 

Suddenly, it seemed, the miles grew longer, the movements more laborious.  We had lost some of the spring in our step.  It was easy to understand why.  While we had journeyed west, away from Rochester, we were exploring new ground, in full discovery mode.  Sure, we’d seen many of these same towns before, but it’s far different zipping by in a car than it is taking the time to really look and listen and experience while walking.  Not to mention, a few of the smallest towns were in fact new to us.  We had never visited them prior to the walk.

 

Now, though, we were going back, covering much of the same ground we had just days earlier.  We took a few different roads, tried to change it up a bit.  But the truth was undeniable.  The return trip back was a known quantity.  We were heading back to the point of origin, no longer breaking new ground, no longer heading away, deeper into the unexplored.  The sun felt hotter, the humidity more taxing, the water supply less plentiful.  Even the pizza lost some of its zing.

 

As I reflect back on the experience now, two decades later, I realize the entire episode was not unlike writing a novel.  The walk away from Rochester was akin to the twists and turns and highs of creating the first draft.  You know where you’re going in a broad, general sense, yet the specifics of how to get there are shrouded in mystery and intrigue.  There is always a bend up the road, and until you take it, you can’t be sure what lies beyond. The euphoria of discovery is in the air as you boldly journey into the unknown.

 

Likewise, the return trip back to Rochester, plodding through familiar territory, was like the editing process, hashing over material already on the page, pruning, crafting, reshaping.  There is nothing new here.  The story has already been written.  This is the time to sharpen the focus, tighten the prose, and make sure the plot developments and characters and events link seamlessly together from front to back.  If Character X does this in chapter two, the reverberations must be felt in chapter twenty-seven.  The editing process can be tedious and slow–but it is a crucial aspect to completing a finished project.

 

And that’s where I am currently, in the process of finishing The Singularity Wheel.  I’m walking back to Rochester, as it were, through towns and streets and along back roads I have traveled along before. And yes, it can feel like walking uphill sometimes.  But I have to hope that the extra time and effort will help to shape the final product into something worthwhile.

 

One thing I do know for sure.  When we did get back home to Rochester that hot July of 1995, we felt as though we had accomplished something.  Sure, it would have been easier to hitch a ride back, shorten the journey.  But it wouldn’t have been the same, wouldn’t have meant as much.

 

That first evening back, the sofa had never felt so good.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

53 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. koolaidmoms
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 13:10:08

    I loved this. Having lived in that area for 15 years it was fun to read and be reminded of all those little towns and hamlets. The first trip to somewhere is always the most exciting and memorable. Thank you!

    Reply

  2. renxkyoko
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 13:17:36

    I felt the excitement of your adventure while reading this.

    Reply

  3. deborahanndykeman
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 13:49:28

    What a great thing to do! I really enjoyed this post. I liked even better how you related it to writing. A very good reflection of what goes into the writing process. Have a great summer. It’s beautiful there in upstate New York!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 10, 2017 @ 19:15:50

      Thanks so much! Of course, it must be said, in one way or another, I tend to relate pretty much anything to writing.:) Actually I live in Vermont now–but . . . I’ll be heading back to Rochester for a family visit next week!

      Reply

  4. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 16:19:17

    Nice, Mike. Well put! Writing, as with life, is quite the journey. I’m still outbound on my next project. It’s been wonderful bumping into you on your return. I’ll catch up with you at the Oscars 😉

    Reply

  5. joliesattic
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 17:28:21

    That was delightful Mike! I envied those three boys their adventure. I like to how you tied this in with the writing process.

    Reply

  6. Meredith
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 18:58:09

    What a great analogy!

    Reply

  7. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 20:02:50

    I enjoyed this a lot, Mike. The way you connect and lead your reality into your fiction is quite a talent. I hope that made sense.

    Reply

  8. Jennie
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 20:15:21

    Great post!

    Reply

  9. Nicholas Conley
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 22:32:51

    Awesome story, loved reading this.

    Reply

  10. joannerambling
    Jul 11, 2017 @ 01:56:43

    Sounds like it was a great time, once apond a time I used to love to walk now I can barely stand let alone walk

    Reply

  11. Karina Pinella
    Jul 12, 2017 @ 04:27:13

    It feels so good when you’ve accomplished something that almost feels painful when doing it. The more painful the experience that one overcomes, the more pleasurable the triumph feels. Makes you feel like a super person. Just comes to show how we really like to be challenged because it allows or pushes us to dig deeper to find the ability to meet the challenge.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 12, 2017 @ 19:23:20

      These are great points, Karina. And very true. There’s no question the more effort that goes in to accomplishing something, the greater the accomplishment feels when it’s all said and done . . .

      Reply

  12. ritaroberts
    Jul 12, 2017 @ 08:30:20

    I simply loved this post.What a great adventure and especially nice having friends with you to share the experience. Thank you for sharing this adventure with us too. Are you planning anymore ?

    Reply

  13. MelHopkinsdotcom
    Jul 12, 2017 @ 09:25:53

    And the guilt.

    The boys telling the old man a tale about their journey feels more like an allegory of the self-indulgent career of a writer.

    As a writer, I’ve found myself wrapped in guilt when perusing memories or visiting worlds to bring to life in this one.

    And like the boys, I’ve justified my “storytelling” by making it bigger by working in industries that could use my skills.

    Individual and solitary pursuits are frowned upon and mostly go unrewarded.

    I’ve always felt my personal goal of writing wasn’t sufficient or important enough in a society that encourages us to join something greater than ourselves to give our lives meaning.

    This post is filled with symbols that sum up the writer’s life and career perfectly.

    The added benefit of this article.is it reminds us writers and those new to field that it takes curiosity, community and courage to not only follow your own path but to be successful too.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 12, 2017 @ 19:27:09

      That is so well said, and something every writer grapples with. Writing is definitely a solitary task. It’s odd, though, because, though it’s a lonely process doing the actual writing, ultimately a writer shares his or her work with the world. And at that point, the community aspect of writing comes to the fore. I actually read through your comments three times–simply because everything you say is so spot-on! Always great to hear from you.:)

      Reply

  14. evelyneholingue
    Jul 12, 2017 @ 16:05:30

    Love this post with the analogy between hiking and writing. What a nice evocation of a significant memory. Love the photo too 🙂
    Take care as you finish your novel. Best to you.

    Reply

  15. kutukamus
    Jul 13, 2017 @ 20:54:55

    Happy trekking! 🍸

    Reply

  16. Sue Dreamwalker
    Jul 14, 2017 @ 11:46:33

    Wonderful to go back in time to that trek you had with your cousin and friend, what a journey you undertook. And to then relate back to it as being part of the twists and turns like the way the book you are writing unfolds..
    Wishing you every success as always with your writing Mike.. You have a wonderful gift that holds our attention..
    Sending love and well wishes your way.
    Sue 🙂

    Reply

  17. Anna Waldherr
    Jul 15, 2017 @ 00:06:33

    A great analogy for writing. 🙂

    Reply

  18. Dragthepen
    Jul 17, 2017 @ 13:08:44

    There is no place like home.

    Reply

  19. europasicewolf
    Jul 20, 2017 @ 11:09:37

    Enjoyed your journey ☺ Reminded me of my own adventures…and I used to pretend they were taking place in the US places I used to see on TV 😅 Much more exciting than the UK at the time 😉 I definitely relate to the sofa never feeling so good! A shower felt pretty good too!! I like your link to writing through your trekking too. For me such trips were a great source of writing inspiration! 😀

    Reply

  20. Alexis Chateau
    Jul 29, 2017 @ 23:24:51

    Thanks for sharing such a lovely story Mike – and I love the pictures. Looking forward to seeing the finished project. I’ve enjoyed the sneak peeks so far!

    Reply

  21. Mary Ann
    Aug 03, 2017 @ 19:00:13

    Great story. Many in VT hike the long trail, some all the way to Georgia.. It sounds like you all had a great adventure. .and a mighty workout 🙂

    Reply

  22. Kathy Lauren
    Aug 05, 2017 @ 08:23:01

    Hi Michael, wow, great post. Looking forward to your sequel.

    Reply

  23. mommyincolor
    Aug 17, 2017 @ 20:27:43

    I have lived in NYC all 28 years of my life and have only been upstate NY maybe once. It’s on my staycation list,though.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 18, 2017 @ 11:05:50

      I definitely recommend! Upstate NY is beautiful country. It’s so different from NYC, it almost feels like a different state altogether! Thanks for your comments.:) I really enjoy your blog!

      Reply

  24. reocochran
    Sep 13, 2017 @ 01:03:18

    Aww, the things we do as youths, they have meaning and substance. We learn, we journey and we bond with those we go with, also those we meet along the way. . . Great post, it certainly “felt” like you crossed the country. . . Hahaha 😀

    Reply

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