A young man roamed through high mountain passes in his attempt to duplicate the journey of a famous monk. It was an arduous trip that lasted for many weeks. On some days, he found himself in danger from thirst. He begged for water at the villages he encountered.
More frustrating than the lack of food, water, and shelter were the missing landmarks he'd expected. The sights described in the monk's account no longer existed.
One day, he looked down from a high hill and saw a man pushing a cart along in a field. The fellow got his wheels stuck every few yards. He seemed in need of help. The young man waved. The cart driver waved back. And so the traveller descended into the valley below.
"Venerable fellow," he said after after establishing what language they could use, exchanging greetings, and understanding the advanced age of the farmer. "Why do you drive your cart here? I can't see your home ahead of us."
"My home is behind," replied the farmer. "This is the road over the next hill and to the village."
The traveller crouched. He studied the land with care. But his view from above had not misled him. This was a barren, uneven field, not any kind of road. If anything, this rock-strewn, shallow gully the farmer had chosen provided worse terrain for carts than the rest of the landscape.
"There are so many holes and stones this way," he said. "It's hard to believe this is the best path to the village."
"Perhaps it isn't," the old fellow admitted. "But I've used it a long time. This month, I've tried the journey twice. The cart broke down both times. Yet it's a good cart."
They both looked at the imposing mountains. If the direction the farmer had been headed was any indication, he had a long way to go around.
"This reminds me of when I was a boy," the young fellow ventured.
"Did you grow up around here?" The farmer gave him a doubtful glance.
"No. My father encountered a similar problem, though. He drove along a shortcut every morning. It had been part of a private road. The farmer who made the road was finished with it. He let the path fall into disrepair. That didn't stop my father. He kept driving on it. He took it every day for years."
"One wet day, my father got stuck. He needed help to get out. I remember him wailing about the expense of the towing and the time he'd lost. My mother showed no sympathy. She kept telling him, 'This is no longer a road. You've been driving on only the idea of a road.'"
"Are you saying this is no longer a path?"
"Perhaps it's the idea of one. I think I should help you walk this cart around the mountain or to a smoother path."
For a while they strolled together through the gully, side by side. The young man stopped to lift the cart wheels out of holes twice.
"To where are you travelling?" the old man wondered after they cleared the second hole.
"I'm embarrassed to say," replied the young man.