Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My AT Library Favorites

Appalachian Trail Section Hike 2016 -- My AT Library

If you've ever hiked on the AT, you've heard the question: "Have you ever read 'A Walk in the Woods'?"

Short answer? Yes.

Longer answer? Yes, I've read AWITW, and while it has some pretty funny moments, and does provide some interesting backstory about the trail, it's not the best book I've read about hiking on the AT (we won't get into the debates about how much, if any, of the book is actually true.)

Go to Amazon (or better yet, go the AT Conservency website store -- they'll use any money they make for the trail) and you'll find pages of hiking memoirs and DVDs chronicling the trail and people's experiences during their hikes. At worst these are dry renditions of days hiked, places been, and people met. At their best they go beyond and capture the feel of the hike, and let you experience the author's experiences and evolution.

Over the years I've built a small library of AT books, which I'll often pick up to reread when I'm getting psyched for my next trip. In no particular order, here's a few of my favorites.

Walking with Spring - Earl Shaffer

Shaffer was the first to thru-hike the AT in 1948, as a WW II vet looking to "walk the war off." What's most fascinating about his account is how much the trail has changed. In his day, many sections followed country roads and wound past now forgotten farms, crossroads, and mountain communities - including many that looked on him with suspicion if he hiked too near the local moonshine still. Earl didn't mind roughing it, with no shelter but an army poncho, no stove, and an old army rucksack to carry his gear. It's a great read about a different trail and a different time.

On the Beaten Path - Robert Rubin

Many AT memoirists romanticize their journey as a voyage of discovery and a life-changing experience. Not Rubin. A 40-something writer and editor going through a mid-life crisis, Rubin quit his job in the late 1990s and left his wife holding down the fort at home while he made the trek. Was it worth it? Sort of.

Rubin's keen eye and wit captures the personalities and experiences of the trail and places them into a larger context with the outside world. You really get a feeling for all the ups and downs - mentally, physically, and emotionally - involved in an AT thru-hike.

A Season on the Appalachian Trail - Lynn Setzer

Setzer interviewed dozens of hikers during the 1996 hiking season and  compiled a wide-ranging look at the many different people, landscapes, experiences, and hiking styles on the trail. Arranged as a month-by-month account, it's entertaining and instructive to learn about the experience of attempting a thru-hike from a variety of different perspectives. I've found it a valuable reference to consult when I'm getting ready to tackle a new section.

As Far as the Eye Can See - David Brill

Definitely my favorite - Brill reminisces about his 1979 thru-hike with the voice of a poet. A young man just out of college, he describes a life-changing journey with verve as he transforms from a uncertain newcomer to a toughened outdoorsman. Brill eschews the traditional chronological approach to trail memoirs and takes time to examine his time hiking through with a variety of themes and vignettes - some amusing, some alarming, but all entertaining and engrossing. I always finish this book wishing that I'd followed in his path when I was a young man. Definitely one of the best of the many books about hiking the AT.

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