Life on the trail has inspired a great many American classics, from Colin Fletcher’s “The Complete Walker” to Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.”
On Tuesday, Whitefield’s Andrea Lani officially made her own contribution to the legacy of literary alpine adventures.
Lani’s new book, “Uphill Both Ways: Hiking Toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail,” was published on March 1 and chronicles the summer of 2016 during which Lani and her husband hiked the 486-mile Colorado Trail with their three sons.
However, like any powerful piece of nonfiction, the story is about a whole lot more than a walk along mountain ridges.
“Ultimately, it’s a story about … finding ways to be happy in whatever life you’re given,” she said. “The ‘big reveal’ in the book is that living an unhurried life is kind of the secret to happiness.”
At once a meditation on the natural history of the Rockies, aging, and the relationships that keep families together, ‘Uphill Both Ways” is a book set in Colorado but that speaks to a universal human experience.
While Lani has lived in Whitefield for nearly two decades, she grew up in the suburbs of Colorado, where she spent most of her time outside taking advantage of the state’s recreational opportunities.
“That’s what you do when you live in Colorado. You go up to the mountains instead of going to the beach,” she said.
The natural wonder of her home state inspired both a love of the written word and the natural world. She first attended college with the intention of earning a degree in journalism but quickly decided she was more interested in science and environmental protection and found herself transferring to the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor to earn a degree in human ecology.
When she graduated from college in 1996, she and her husband hiked the Colorado Trail for the first time. Though she did not know it at the time, there would be another 20 years, a career with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and three children between her first and second adventure on the famous trail.
The decision to return to the Colorado Trail emerged at a turning point in Lani’s career. In 2012, she went back to school and earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine two years later.
However, when she emerged from the MFA program with a degree in hand, she found herself somewhat unsatisfied with the idea of returning to a “dead-end-ish” job without ever having taken her shot at writing a novel.
“I wasn’t feeling really rewarded by life; I guess you could call it like a mini-midlife crisis, so I was like ‘Let’s just drop everything for a summer and go to Colorado and hike this trail again, see what’s changed in twenty years, both out there and inside of us,” she said.
She admitted that when she first pitched the idea to her family there was some rebellion. It took two years, between negotiating with her sons and husband and planning, to make the trip finally happen.
The trip took 6 weeks, nearly the entirety of her sons’ summer break from school. Her oldest son was 15-years-old and the other two were 11, and while they looked back on the trip with a somewhat dramatic, forlorn attitude in the immediate aftermath, they now see it as one of the most important experiences in their young lives.
In some ways, “Uphill Both Ways,” is a story that falls in line, thematically, with Lani’s other writing, which focuses heavily on the natural world and motherhood.
When she was in her twenties, living in Gardiner and working for the state, Lani, like many writers, worried that she had not had enough profound experiences worth writing a book about.
“Everything I was reading was like, somebody was hitchhiking through Southeast Asia or biking around the world or studying wildlife in Africa,” she said.
However, in having three children, Lani said she found the life-altering experiences she was looking for. She began reading novels and short stories about motherhood, and in those stories she found catharsis, humor, and a way to process what she was experiencing as she raised her children.
“I was like ‘Oh, people write about this. I could write about this’,” she said.
She began to take classes focused on writing about motherhood and, eventually, she found herself in the position of being a senior editor at Literary Mama.
The online literary magazine is published six times a year and each issue features creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews, and profiles.
Being the savvy editor and writer that she is, Lani knew that some sort of book may come out of her family’s adventure, so she got good at tucking away parts of conversations or images from each day and writing them down by headlamp after everyone was settled into their tents.
“I don’t want to sound like it was contrived. The book wasn’t the goal, the goal was to be out there together as a family,” she said.
It took two years following the trek for Lani to complete her first draft of the book. When the pandemic hit in March, she started shopping around her book proposal to small publishers.
“The process of looking for a publisher as a writer, as opposed to going to an agent, it’s kind of like internet dating,” she said. “You kind of have to find somebody who shares your interests but there also has to be a spark there.”
It was around her tenth submission that she finally found that “spark” in Bison Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press that focuses on general interest books set in the trans-Mississippi western United States.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Lani said that she is already close to shopping around a collection of her essays on nature and motherhood.
“I personally have been changed by reading other peoples’ writing about the natural world, so I feel like if I could come anywhere close to the level that some of my hero nature writers are at then maybe I can … move the needle a micrometer,” she said.
Sheepscot General Store will be holding a launch party for Lani’s book from 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 5, at the store in Whitefield. The event will feature a meet-and-greet, reading, and book signing with the author.
For more information about “Uphill Both Ways” and Lani’s other writing, go to andrealani.com.