“Arise now, arise, Riders of Théoden! Dire deeds awake, dark it is eastward. Let horse be bridled, horn be sounded! Forth Eorlingas!“― King Théoden of Rohan
So now we have finally come to this, the climax of our little adventure. It has taken us a while to get to the fourth and final chapter in the There and Back Again story but we made it! I do apologize for the delay. This part of the story telling has always been the hardest to put into words. I…well you will understand soon enough. No need to go spoiling the ending now is there?
Very well. Are you ready? Let us continue on!
It has been quite the journey to get to this point so let us see what was waiting for over that last absurdly tall mountain peak. After all, what else could there possibly be left to do?
After a courageous but very foolhardy attempt at testing my ability to fall in a spectacular fashion it took me a day or so to recover my nerves. Nothing does the mind or body good quite like a quiet lake-side retreat out in the mountains where there is absolutely nothing for miles in any direction. Silence, snow, turquois waters, and plenty of tea in the vast wilderness of New Zealand is just what I needed.
It came as a bit of a surprise when I noticed something odd during one of my lakeside rambles. You see, it was grey and overcast that day but for some strange reason there was a bright flash of light on top of one of the nearby mountains. Do you see it? Sunlight off a snowcap perhaps? Oddly bright and strangely positioned for that. Or could it have been something else?
From where I stood it looked like a flash of a beacon of some sort. But a beacon on a mountain peak? Could that mean the beacons of Minas Tirith? Did somebody light the beacons? Because as everyone knows if the beacons are ever lit then Gondor was calling for aid. And if Gondor called for aid…I was going to need a horse. Where in Middle Earth do you get a horse?
One word: Rohan. So that is where I went.
Middle Earth is never more real then when it is experienced from the back of a horse of Rohan.
As my travel companions and I made our way throughout the borderlands of the Riddermark Tolkien’s words sprang to life before us. Harsh winds screamed across the plains with such force they threaten to blow the bus away in an instant. We passed through the location where the Warg Riders of Isengard ambushed Théoden and his people as they fled to Helm’s Deep. I knew that place in my bones.
It is hard not to become emotional when you realize that everything you have kept locked away in your mind for decades suddenly comes into being right where you are standing. Seeing this, being here, knowing that it is real and not merely a figment of your imagination is what travelling half-way across an entire planet was for. It stopped being about New Zealand a few miles back and then Middle Earth took over in full spectacular force. This, my friends, is what Middle Earth is all about. This was horse country. The land of the Horse Lords of Erol. And it is very real.
When you reach this point there is one thing left to do. You must go forth on your own and fear no darkness. Take yourself to the very edge of the modern world and journey into the mountains. Follow the Dimholt road if you dare.
When you are well and truly lost, and you will be I can guarantee it, you will come to a green valley hedged by the ancient forests. These are the forests of Fangorn and Lothlórien, where Peter Jackson made trees walk and Elves sing. It is in this particular valley that the war horses of Rohan can be found. If you are very lucky you may be given the chance to ride one.
These horses are nobody’s pack ponies. Most of them are fresh off the racing circuit and know only one speed. Fast. You need to be a prolific rider in order to be allowed to go riding out across Rohan and Gondor. There are no trails, no pit stops, nothing but the wildness of New Zealand, the mountains, and plenty of mud. You will get soaked. You will freeze. You will end up covered head to toe in freezing muck. If you are lucky you will still have the ability to bend your knees by the time you dismount.
Twice I rode out across that valley and both times felt like pivotal life moments, the point when all the threads of a storyline finally intersect at that one part that everything has been building up to for so long. You see it wasn’t about riding a horse across what is probably one of the most beautiful spaces of untouched nature on the planet. There was much more to it than that.
After all this is an adventure. In every adventure story ever told the main characters always have to face off in some sort of a built-up major conflict where the stakes are high and the final outcome is unknown. This journey was no different. So off I went astride a Rohirrim warhorse named Tobias to do battle with an enemy that only I could overcome. Myself.
For years the idea of coming here, doing this trip, was a personal motto that I would mutter to myself over and over again when things went bad. And they did go bad.
With the help of Tolkien’s magical world and the unforgettable characters that existed in it I was able to wage a relentless internal battle against the darkness that I could arm myself against. It may have been all in my head but if that was where the battle lines were to be drawn then I was not going to go into the fight unprepared. You cannot fight ghosts in darkness because you cannot see.
So I gave faces to the names that would have meant nothing without them. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression became the whispers of Grima Wormtongue, the Nazgûl shadow screams, and the long hard-fought battle with the Balrog of Morgoth. Whenever the “Dark Times” broke out the battle cries of Théoden King and Gandalf the Grey became my own.
“Forth and Fear No Darkness! Forth Eorlingas! You Shall Not Pass!”
Spending time venturing through the land of the Rings reinforced a valuable life lesson that I would share with you now. I learned it long ago but I will admit that there were times where I had forgotten it. Never give up hope. No matter how deep the darkness gets you are worth fighting for. Despite what your mind might try to make you believe you are loved and are never alone. Help will always be given to those who ask for it and there is no shame in asking. You are not alone in this fight.
Look to your local library as you would to Minas Tirith, a place of refuge and learning. There are a number of fantastic resources available through the library and its databases if you or someone you know is looking for answers to questions that are needing to be asked. Do not fear the unknown. The darkness can be terrifying and overwhelming but know that you are never alone in such times. There will always be someone with a bow, a sword, an axe, a staff, a shield, and a frying pan at your back to help you through whatever the deep dark of Mordor can produce.
If there is one thing to be said about journeying is that you have to always go in expecting the unexpected and hoping for the extraordinary. Because if you do you will never be disappointed. I set out as a bundle of nerves one problem shy of a breakdown but returned a little older, much wiser, and all the calmer for it. Journey taking does a person good I think. Facing lifelong fears head on does wonders to a person’s constitution and I can honestly say I now know how Bilbo, Frodo, Samwise, Merry, and Pippin must have felt when they returned home to the Shire after their incredible journeys. Things may appear the same but there is something a little different about the way you see things.
And with that we end this tale. It was a rather good one I think. Full of adventure, unexpected revelations, and plenty of good cheer. I hope you have enjoyed hearing it as much as I have in telling it. Until next time, I wish you all a good morning.
Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go! ~ Bilbo Baggins