On first reflection, I thought this book would be a good primer, a good first read, for anyone contemplating a northbound thru-hike.
And it is.
It presents a good, descriptive overview of a hike from Georgia to Maine and what to expect as far as weather, terrain, trail conditions, difficulty, foot problems.
And it's a compelling narrative that pulled me forward with tiny titillations of characters the author met on the trail (though we never really get to know well any other hikers that intersected with Awol’s time on the trail).
This book wasn't about the people on the trail. It was about the trail. And Miller.
It's a good thing he knows how to put sentences together.
I knew enough about the trail already to look forward to his description and handling of the highlights—the White Mountains and the navigation of the hut system, the Knife’s Edge, the Mahoosuc Notch.
Sadly, I was left knowing more about Awol’s feet than about any one aspect of the trail, so I was a bit disappointed for that.
Yet, something kept pulling me forward, one page after another, even though I was left craving more--more about the other hikers on the trail; more afterward, what happens after Katahdin is summited; more stories.
(But, full disclosure, this is how I’ve felt after all the books I’ve read so far by AT thru-hikers.)
But, this book isn’t about that.
It’s about learning to enjoy the quotidian aspects of living for an extended stretch of time in the outdoors, and Miller captures this perfectly, page after page.
It’s not car-chase, criminal-capturing exciting (though, funny enough, that does happen).
It’s day-to-day moment-capturing in all of its subtle beauty.
It is about this:
“It is easiest to characterize the AT in terms of its most challenging and spectacular features. Most people have experienced the difficulty of steep uphill climbs, rocky terrain, and pestering bugs. Likewise, spectacular overlooks and scenic waterfalls have universal appeal. But I have come to recognize that most of what is memorable and pleasing about my time on the trail is ordinary moments in the outdoors.” (Emphasis mine, because, fuck, yeah!)
“ Simply sitting unhurried in the shade of leaves is an irreplaceable moment. It is a joy in itself to amble through the woods for hours, even when views are limited to the dense trees surrounding me.” (OMG, be still my beating heart! Me again!)
“It is fulfilling to be saturated with the sights, sound, and smells of the outdoors. My fond recollections of my hike are full of unremarkable moments, like the smell of a dewy morning, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the blaze of a campfire, the soothing trickle of a stream, or rays of sun through a maze of trees.
Humans are creatures with a longer history of living in the outdoors than of living within the confines of concrete and artificial light. We have an atavistic sense of well-being when immersed in the natural world.” (p. 214)
So, what kept drawing me forward was that kind of depth of the author’s reflections while on the trail, wisdom gleaned on the trail that is just as applicable on one’s journey through life.
This book is full of little nuggets that make life richer.
And observations that only come about when we slow down and take time to see.
For that, this is a book well worth reading, whether you're planning a hike or not.
It will acquaint you with the beauty that can be found everywhere, if only we have the patience to let it reveal itself.
For more quotes and insights, click here to read my book notes.