Appalachian Trail (AT) Happiness: Getting Started, Reading & Research
As I’ve mentioned previously I have undertaken planning to do a thru-hike next year on the Appalachian Trail (AT). My hope is that I will walk all 2,200 miles of the AT from Springer Mountain, GA to Mt. Kathadin, Maine starting in late February or early March, 2015. This is my trail journal where I hope to take you from my decision to do this, through my preparation and then notes from the trail and hopefully all the way to Maine. All of this in my journey and process to live happy days my friends ~ Rev Kane
Of course two things that happen as soon as you mention to people you are thinking about hiking the AT, they either freak out a bit and tell you that you’re nuts, or they ask you if you have read Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods. So this was a fitting place to start, and over a long weekend along the Pacific Coast I read A Walk in the Woods. It’s an entertaining book, one that will be made into a movie that’s coming out sometime in 2015, hopefully after I’m off the trail. I have a feeling the year after the movie comes out there will be a ton of people on the trail, much like what happened in Alaska after Into the Wild came out.
Bryson is a good writer and he had the good fortune of bringing one hell of a character with him on the trip. So the book is entertaining but after reading it I really didn’t want to hike the AT. Bryson made the trip sound truly unpleasant, sure, he hits all the cliché high notes of doing an adventure, but he doesn’t seem to truly enjoy hiking the AT. Unlike the other books I’ll discuss in a moment, Bryson seems less connected to the AT, less like a thru-hiker and more like a tourist who did just enough not to be viewed as such, but not enough to truly understand the difference for himself. One of the key parts of doing an adventure is that they are transformative in some way; I didn’t get the feeling that Bryson immersed himself enough for that to truly happen for him.
The second book I read was a book called Appalachian Trials, that’s not a typo. This book written by Zach Davis focuses on the psychological aspects of hiking the AT. Zach Davis’ proposition is that the main reason people fail to complete the entire trail is not because of the physical aspects of the endeavor but the psychological aspects. Mr. Davis makes a really solid point and gives some great advice about how to get mentally prepared for an adventure like the one I’m planning on embarking on next year. After reading his book I started to feel more excited about the trail and the journey, mostly because some of the techniques he suggested were techniques I’ve employed on other journeys. If for no other reason, I enjoyed the book because it began to build my confidence about being successful. Also, Zach Davis was the first thru-hiker’s book I had read, not just someone who completed the trek but someone who got the bigger spirit of transformation that accompanies it.
One of the most recommended books about hiking the AT is entitled, AWOL On the Appalachian Trail by David Miller. People on the trail typically take a trail name and his was AWOL, the reason for the name became apparent on the first page of the book. David had asked for a leave of absence from his job to go hike the trail and he was denied, hence AWOL, the military acronym for Absent Without Leave. I had been reading Zach Davis’ book and had left it in the car, so I started AWOL’s book before I had finished Zach’s book. I began reading the first page and had to stop and laugh. You see that day I had been informed by my workplace that they were unwilling to grant my leave request as well, looks like I’ll also be going AWOL.
Reading AWOL’s book has been a joy, Miller is also a good writer, a thru-hiker who gets the experience and draws a vivid and incredibly detailed picture of what hiking the AT is like. My recommendation is that without a doubt if you are considering a thru-hike of the AT, you need to read AWOL’s book. Not only is it an excellent trail journal but AWOL connects to the transformative nature of a thru-hike in a way that Bryson completely missed. Miller also writes a fantastic trail guide each year, The AT Guide, I highly recommend it.
The most recent book I’m reading is called As Far As The Eye Can See by David Brill. Much in the same way as David Miller’s book, Brill truly understands the transformative nature of the journey, of what thru-hiking can mean to you personally. David Brill did his thru-hike in 1979, almost ancient history from a technological perspective, he carried more weight, ate much differently and didn’t have access to some of the neat gadgets we have today. In many ways, that may have made for a better experience, the opportunity to step even further out of society. For thru-hikers today I fear, at least from my perspective, that they stay too connected to their old life and the rest of the world to allow for the disconnection that leads to transformation.
One of the beautiful things about Brill’s book is that he relates lots of little low-tech and brilliant tips. One is the idea of twisting parachute chord to make a clothesline so that you can wedge socks and clothes into the line so that they won’t blow off, simply brilliant. Brill is the most poetic of the AT writers I’ve read so far, he’s truly in love with the AT, its culture, creatures both two-legged and four. His experience obviously had a deep impact upon his soul and it comes through in the pages. His book has reminded me of the importance of mindfulness and openness as I undertake this journey and I’m thankful to him for that.
I’m sure there will be more books to read, and I’m starting to look at more resources on the internet including whiteblaze.net, the AT online forum. The name comes from the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail along the way. David Miller also has a Facebook Page for the AT Guide where he posts updates to the guide and AT news. So off to the ether for more research, have a happy day my friends ~ Rev Kane