By Joyce Cottrell

Joyce wrote this essay when she and Peter, backpacked on the American Discovery Trail from the Atlantic shore of Delaware to the Colorado Rockies.

Every day Laurel and Hardy exercise the art of “sameness” while on the American Discovery Trail. They both arise just after sunrise. Hardy mixes the powdered milk, while Laurel pours the dry cereal. They pull on the same clothes, whether freshly laundered or five days soiled. They pull down the tent, each having the same jobs, and then proceed to stuff their backpacks. 

The same heave-hoes get those heavy “Winnebagos” on their backs and the same clicks of the walking sticks on a rock or two means the day of walking has begun. They put one foot in front of the other for eight to ten hours a day. They take a morning cereal break, a midday ramen noodle lunch break, and at last, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich dinner.

Then, with the same system, the tent goes up and home is made for the night. They slip into their down sleeping bags, say goodnight as they have for 32 years, and shut their eyes. They try to ignore the physical pains from the day’s toil, rerun the events of the day, and play forward the plans of the next day. Sleep comes to Laurel and Hardy easily after physical and mental exhaustion. “Sameness” that began the day ends it.

Every day the sameness brings differences. Never once is the sky the same blue, never once is the temperature or feel of the air the same, and never once are the same birds singing the same songs. 

From Delaware to Colorado, more than one half of the 4700 miles of the American Discovery Trail, Laurel and Hardy have adventured. They experienced beautiful snow, biting ice, raw yet refreshing rain, uncomfortable mugginess, pleasant sunny dryness, and wind of different velocities. They’ve traversed through the beautiful farmlands, homes, and roads of Delaware; across the Chesapeake Bay to the rail-trails of Maryland; the bike trails and rural towns of West Virginia; woodland trails of Ohio; rustic towns of Indiana; a bit of Kentucky; bridle trails of Illinois; and the trail through small town U.S.A. Missouri. They’ve walked through the nation’s capital from its historic river trail to its brick residential streets. 

Now they’re making their way through Colorado’s national forests by way of forest roads, mountain passes, and historic towns. The forests, towns, cities, buildings, wildlife, and landscapes of the states are all different. Never once is their home for the night the same.

Every day the “sameness” brings a new person into their lives. The American Discovery Trail is a network of kind, generous, warm, giving, and loving people. Laurel and Hardy have tented in people’s yards, slept in their homes, eaten at their dining room tables, ridden in their vehicles, chatted with them in their shops, but mostly shared time with them and their families and exchanged life’s stories, hopes, and dreams. Laurel and Hardy have made friends and learned about the history of their families, towns, and states in a way so different from any other means of education. “Sameness” brings different friendships.

Every day the “sameness” has made a difference in Laurel’s and Hardy’s lives and hopefully everyone else’s lives they’ve touched. For sure, go out in God’s beautiful country, respect and care for it, but mostly live your dreams now. The American Discovery Trail is truly an amazing discovery.

Coast-to-coast hike background
Some quotes from the Cottrells
Trail Tales