One of the rites of passage between inclination to do a thru-hike to actually stepping on the trail is reading every book you can find by those who have hiked it already.
This is my list, in chronological reading order, with some notations and links to book notes or fuller reviews, where applicable.
I'll update it regularly as the list grows.
1. In Beauty May She Walk by Leslie Mass.
Thru-hiking from a feminine perspective. Author works to find her place and to not succumb to the pressure to hike someone else’s hike, to conform to someone else’s expectations or to try to please others (men) before pleasing herself. Also nice meditation on differences between how women approach life and the trail to how men approach life and the trail. A nice reminder for anyone hiking with the opposite sex—we are from different planets!
Mass describes her flip-flop hike and illustrates the challenges and benefits gleaned from approaching the trail this way.
Very affirming for women who have fears and doubts, though she doesn't specifically talk about her own fears in the book. It helps to have everyday role models who show us by example what we can do.
2. Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis.
A must-read if you have any trepidation or doubts about your ability to finish the hike. Don't skip the exercises at the beginning of the book! Read my book notes here.
3. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller.
4. Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis
5. Southbound by Lucy and Susan Letcher
(aka the Barefoot Sisters)
Yes, indeed, these two did hike most of the way south in their bare feet. Not only do their writing voices work seamlessly together, these ladies write well about so many aspects of hiking the trail--the relationships, the characters they meet along the way, the hardships, the beauty of nature even when it's kicking their asses.
This is my favorite book so far. And their next book is in the cue.
Because they were so smitten with their experience, when they got to Springer Mountain, they turned around and walked back to Maine. Love!
6. Thru Hiking will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn
Something for our PCT friends.
Though the book is sometimes repetitive, Carrot Quinn sees the world through the eyes of a poet and this book opened my eyes to a new way of seeing my world. For that, she gets a gold star.
7. Just Passin' Thru by Winton Porter
30 or so miles into a northbound hike the AT passes right through Mountain Crossings, an outfitter and hiker hostel right on the trail. Author Winton Porter is the owner of the store and he's collected a memorable trove of stories about some of the more colorful characters who've passed through the breezeway. And some who didn't quite make it in one piece. Literally.
Only on the Appalachian Trail!
8. Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery
"The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail" reads the subtitle. Grandma Gatewood was bad-ass way ahead of her time and her story serves as a mantra and a rallying cry for any hiker who might be having a rough day or week or trek in general. If a 67 year old woman can do it in Keds in 1955 (and again at 69 and again at 72, for crying out loud), then none of the rest of us have any excuse for quitting.
If Grandma Gatewood got through the Mahoosuc Notch, so can I.
If Grandma Gatewood walked 2,000 miles, so can I.
If Grandma Gatewood killed and roasted a porcupine, oh, wait, I don't think that will be necessary.
Anyway, you get the point. Hers is a remarkable story of resilience and tenacity. And a fair warning that hiking long can be addictive.
9. Lost on the Appalachian Trail by Kyle "Mayor" Rohrig
This is one of my favorite books so far. (I say that after every book, I know, but seriously...I loved this book!) It's not just a chronicle of putting one step in front of the other from Georgia to Maine. You really get a sense of the trail, yes, but you also get a sense of the potential for growth and transformation that a thru-hike offers. Mayor shares all his ups and downs, many of them laugh out loud, snort your coffee through your nose funny, and comes to the end of his journey a different person, a wiser person, a person transformed. Even CatFox, his little dog, grows and evolves! I would read this one first, if I were you.