The Eternal Question 

Oct. 25, 2022

By Rue McKenrick

What, you ask, is an eternal question? In the simplest terms it is a question that takes so long to ask that there is never time for an answer. You get it? Don’t worry Folks, I am not going to get metaphysical here. Well, maybe just a little philosophical. However, I promise you my intentions are much more mundane. Of all the questions I get asked there is one that persists. No, it’s not how did you backpack the Triple Crown and The American Perimeter Trail? It’s not what does it take to hike so many miles or who inspired you to backpack these trails? Where did you find the gumption to do so? Nope, it is none of these. The question I have gotten from many puzzled faces and podcast host all over this country is………..WHY? 

I have dodged this question so many times I have lost count. I try to blow it off or act nonchalant. I use excuses, take shortcuts, and side steps. I pretend like the question is too hackerrank to answer in any kind of concise or meaningful way. I tell non-truths by just saying what I think the Questioner wants to hear. I say things like, ”It’s my job just like everyone else has a job to do.” I mostly use the same pretty phrases like for instance, “The People, the Places and the Open Spaces.” When all else fails I tell them it’s because I grew up near The Appalachian Trail. I tell them how I got lost in the woods when I was a kid. I tell them about my international travels. I recall a time I paddled the Delaware River. I say it’s because I want to do something positive before I croak. I mention an ex-girlfriend. Don’t get me wrong, everything I have written here is true. All of this has contributed to who I have become. I was recently when did I become a backpacker? I answered puzzled,”Become?” “I am still becoming a backpacker. “Just answer the question Rue,” I tell myself. The thing is in my mind I thought I did. 

I feel defeated as if I have left the person asking down. I want to say it was a singular experience or person. The problem is a simple question, why, becomes my own internal debate. A benign question, and I, left to my own devices, turns into the Eternal Answer.

Call me loquacious, call me long winded, call me voluble. The fact of the matter is I don’t like just hearing the sound of my own voice. The fact is I want to give a concise and short winded answer. The fact is my reason for backpacking is always changing. I was recently told that I never give a straight answer. This is sometimes true but I also rarely think linearly. It’s not my fault. It’s my dang brain. I do things because, like most people, it is to get what I want or I think something is going to make me happy. Love has a lot to do with it, but the converse is also true. You may want to buckle down because this next statement is a little rough and insensitive. Even murderers may kill because in some sick twisted way they think it will make them happy by getting or achieving what they want. What I am saying is only we know what we want and can truly answer the why. I think it was seeing fireflies as a kid or catching my first fish. The song “Orion Is Arising.” It is all of these reasons and the reason is constantly changing based on the trek experience. 

Okay forget all of that! It was probably church camp. 

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6 thoughts on “The Eternal Question 

  1. Enjoyed your explanation! I’ve I’ve always kind of thought this way too, and always wished I was born a few hundred years earlier (I’m related to SGM Ordway, of Lewis & Clark) fame, but my life was a little more stuctured than yours (U.S. Army). Just being in nature, making tracks, and taking it all in is what it’s about. It’s hard to explain why you would walk thousands of miles, want to camp out in the snow, or with the bears, unless you have done it! And by the way, loved the “Orion is Arising” clip.

    1. Hmmmm, why? I suppose that question posed to you or any of us, why we do what we do, is an interesting one. I like that it is the Eternal question because there could be reasons that may change over time.. to be frank. Perhaps it is simply a way for one to understand more about themselves that they need the answer, a fascination with our differences, maybe even something to inspire them to try something like walking around the perimeter of the US would light their fire! Who knows… but I like that it has prompted me at 3am to attempt to talk about it!
      I simply want to say too that I don’t need to know why, I just know the fact that you, Rue, have made these choices for yourself and for us to witness has and will continue to inspire me in my walk to do what moves me in some strange way to improve or help define what the heck life is about for me. The proverbial walk of life! Ain’t it grand!!

  2. Rue,
    The one nagging question we hate getting is WHY? The reason is because we don’t have an answer!
    When asked, I used to tell folks: If you’ve got to ask that question then you’re not going to understand the answer. Of course that simply begged the question. Then I changed to: BECAUSE. And when pressed, I’d say: JUST BECAUSE! Those were the two answers my mother would always give me when I’d asked her if I could do—whatever, and she’d say No. I’d invariably then ask, WHY Mom? and she’d say BECAUSE. That’d be follow up with: But WHY Mom? and she’d tell me, JUST BECAUSE! Such an exchange was perfectly fine between a mother and son, but flippant and totally inappropriate in our situation here.
    So over the years, as I’ve continued pondering (and agonizing)—and further taking a crack at the question Rue, during that time I’ve managed to boil it down to 40 words.
    Check my answer out here…
    God Bless,
    Nimblewill

    1. I am so glad we got to connect today. Thank you for reminding me of those forty words. I think it’s one of the most relatable poems you have written. Just love those forty words

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