Loop Year, John Sheirer (2008)
You’d think I’d really like this book. Heck, you’d think I’d love it. I thought I’d love it.
I really wanted to love it.
I can say I love the idea of it. Any longtime CTMQ reader (or personal acquaintance) will nod along when I say that the book is a daily chronicle of a guy in his mid-40’s who walks the same two-mile loop trail in Somers, Connecticut. Like, the guy (author John Sheirer) gets out to McCann Family Farm off of Route 190 and walks the relatively simple trail every day. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Rain or shine, through sickness and in health, etc.
I know. It sounds like something just dumb enough for me to do.
But I’m not an English professor like Sheirer is and I therefore don’t have a publishing connection. Nor do I think I could make such a book all that interesting. Sheirer, clearly, did think that he could, although he does write a few self-effacing entries questioning if that is truly the case. And here we are.
I learned about the book’s existence after hiking McCann’s myself and gathering background material to write up my hike. This usually consists of finding an old Peter Marteka article, perhaps something from ExploreCT, and, of course, stuff from the property owner. In this case, the woods are owned and managed by the Northern Connecticut Land Trust, an active organization with property and trails across several towns in north central Connecticut.
It was the 2008 Marteka article that alerted me to the fact that a book existed where a guy walked the shortest loop at McCann every day for a year and wrote about it. Twenty seconds later I found that it was carried by 3 libraries: Manchester, Russell in Middletown (THE library for Connecticut-centric stuff by the way), and South Windsor. Not even Somers’s where the trail is or Enfield where Sheirer worked and lived when this whole project went down.
Anyway, a week or so later, I had the book in my hands thanks to our wonderful Inter-library Loan program. Let’s read!
Sheirer is an affable guy. Humble, intelligent, and appears to be downright nice. As his project began, he had recently broken up with a serious girlfriend (yet remained friendly) and was still recovering from knee surgery. As an “old guy basketball league” player, his knees were pretty shot. He was – and still is in early 2024 – a professor at Asnuntuck Community College. (He moved to Northampton, but more on that later.)
Now, this book is not a daily hiking log. Many entries barely mention anything beyond “I hiked the loop.” Daily musings, personal philosophies, political rants (he really disliked George W. Bush who was president at the time of writing), dating life, and other tidbits. Sheirer did something else when writing this book; sort of an English professor’s challenge.
Each entry is 365 words long. Not only was he going to hike the same 2 mile loop every day, not only was he going to write about something related to that hike every day, he was going to make each of those 365 entries exactly 365 words in length.
I didn’t count any of the pages, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this didn’t get mucked with in editing. Some entries clearly look longer or shorter than others. And as for “every day?” That didn’t make the final cut either:
These silly discrepancies don’t matter a whit, of course – and in the end, I came to appreciate the missing days – but Sheirer makes several allusions to his “OCD” and compulsiveness. Now, this was early 21st century stuff, but his constant flippant mentions of legitimate neurodivergence got a little annoying.
Also annoying? The guy has a bum knee. He’s had surgeries and injuries and it causes him discomfort. In case you were unaware of this by the third day, he is sure to remind you of it 150 more times throughout the book. Look, I get it. I write about the same stuff over and over and over and have been doing so since 2006. It’s hard. Believe me, I know. But… maybe that’s why someone should have stopped Sheirer along the way.
There are mentions of trying to get a publisher and jokes about how this book was going to be a hot best seller. Again, I always appreciate self-aware mocking. (And obviously he did get a publisher – two years after completing his project.)
McCann Family Farm was donated to the land trust in 1997 and was trailed shortly thereafter. It’s a very nice property for hiking and these days you can hike here and continue on into the contiguous Whitaker Woods property – which wasn’t publicly accessible during the “Loop Year.” And in fact, now you can connect south to Soapstone Mountain and the Shenipsit State Forest trail system – and therefore the 50+ mile Shenipsit Trail itself from McCann’s.
Even if all that was available in 2005, Sheirer made it clear he wouldn’t have explored further than his blue-blazed two-mile loop. He had some idea that that would be “cheating” on “his” trail. Dude was dedicated.
Speaking of which, dude also had a bit of a hang-up over his own integrity. Several times throughout he wrestled with the idea of skipping a day or somehow otherwise cheating. It wasn’t so much he thought he could get away with doing so – of course he could – it was more about how he’d live with himself if he did. And the pervasive thought that readers will accuse him of doing so because, well, because why wouldn’t he skip a day for illness or injury or a close acquaintance’s graduation in Ithaca, New York?
I totally identified with this whole like of thinking, and assume I’m the rare reader who does. I face that a lot here on CTMQ. I could “cheat” trails and skip loops and write about stuff I’ve never been to in real life. But, much like Shierer, I have a strong internal drive to maintain as much integrity as possible. For me and only me.
I feel you, Loop Year Guy.
One thing Loop Year Guy does that I don’t presently do is volunteers for the Northern Connecticut Land Trust. (I justify this inaction on my part by telling myself that my writing about all these properties is my volunteer effort.) He builds bridges and trims overgrowth throughout his year on the trail, but also introduces us to some of the other Trust members. One in particular is Jerry Stage, a tireless bird lover and trail maintainer.
Mr. Stage has since passed away. (A CTMQ Commenter mentions him over on the Scantic Riparian Area page, noting that the longer yellow trail at McCann’s is now named The Jerry Stage Trail.)
The loop year continues through fall and into winter. Sheirer experiences some bitterly cold days and there was a decent amount of snow that winter. (Ah, remember snow? Speaking of which, Sheirer does sprinkle his book with some climate change comments. I hate how that’s become opinion rather than fact. Sigh.) At one point, he presents an FAQ for his project:
That’s helpful. Ever think this website needs one? You’ll be pleased to learn that it does! Right here!
Over the course of the project, our hero met a girl (online! In 2005!) and fell in love. His nascent relationship with Betsy of Northampton provides a nice side story to the whole hiking and knee pain thing. She seems pretty great and is really good for John. (So good, that he married to her today according to his website. Which makes me happy.)
Betsy had a dog that John liked to bring with him to hike his loop. But John wasn’t a fan of on-leash hiking, which grinds my gears:
Look. I get it. Some dogs have no issue off leash. Cool. But some people do have issues with it. And OTHER dogs definitely do! Not to mention wildlife. C’mon people, leash your dogs. (In Shierer’s defense, the official rules of McCann’s state the following: “Dogs are welcome but must be kept leashed in the parking area and along the access trail as far as Gulf Stream and under control beyond.”)
The book is less stream of consciousness than you’d think. Certainly less than if I attempted a similar project. Then again, Shierer is an English professor and teaches courses in public speaking and memoir writing. Oh, and he’s a published author. So maybe I could take a tip or two from the guy.
These next passages cracked me up. I know Peter and have known him for quite some time – but I didn’t know him in 2006 when Shierer met him for a piece in the Courant. Peter is indeed handsome, but my word! This must have made his day… week… Loop Year.
The daily entries grew more wistful as his days reached into the 300’s. What was he going to do on the 366th day? Would he find a publisher? Why did he do this in the first place? He was able to parlay this project into fairly substantial donations for the Land Trust – always a good thing. His relationship with Betsy grew stronger and he physically grew stronger and lost a few pounds.
He night-hiked (bro, buy a headlamp. I know you’re proud of your frugality but they aren’t expensive. The number of times you hiked with dead flashlight batteries was frustrating to me. Oh, and I hope you’ve ditched the Yaktrax by now and have some legit Kahtoola microspikes or something. Just my two cents.)
He completed his challenge and I completed the book… and you’ve read this page. If I’m to be honest, all three were slogs. Hikng the same two mile loop in Somers really isn’t all that exciting or interesting. Reading about it, even written by capable hands, is also not very exciting or interesting. Reading about reading about it, well, that’s on you. But he did it, I did it… and you did it.
Hooray for us. I’ll leave you with this: