I thought this would be an interesting book for me. I like walking, running, fell-walking, etc. However, I found this description of it to be repetitive. After I had been reading for many trail weeks I didn't find much to distinguish one day from another. Maybe that is the truth of lomg distance hiking, but I suspect there is more to it than that. Too much it was mundane: which hikers he saw each day, what he ate, where he slept, what aches and pains he had. We don't learn that much about AWOL (his "trail name") the person. Before I read this I fancied the idea of walking the Apallachian Trail but now it seems an empty experience.
I've read several books and articles on hiking the AT. I've also hiked a few long distance treks (although my 250 mile max is only a 10th of the ATs 2000!) so can feel for the protagonists. This captures the camaraderie of a group trail hike well, and dispels some of the myths about the dangers - wet tree roots and loose boulders proving far more dangerous than bears for example. Much of the equipment used will seem strange to UK or even European trekkers, as will the idea of open sided shelters and only using a tarp' rather than a full tent. But the general feel of the hike, the reactions from trail-side strangers, and the philosophical musings will all be familiar.
The photography is disappointing and it seems a shame that in re-issuing the book Amazon didn't go the extra step of providing a few high quality photo pages rather than the low res newspaper style images we have here. But then, in 2003 the digital camera quality was a lot poorer than today so maybe the originals are not good enough. I read this while on a luxury cruising holiday and the contrast between the AT and my holiday could not have been greater, but the end result was that I wanted to get off the boat and pull on my boots. And, in fact, that's exactly what I did the first weekend after we got back - truly inspiring writing for the keen outdoorsman (or woman) or even those who just aspire to be...
I enjoyed the book though I thought there were somethings that could have added much more to the enjoyment. Also there are a number of other books on the market about
the same subject, one by a well known author with much more characterisation and humour, though he did not do the whole trip. That apart, I thought it gave
a good account of the trials and tribulations that happen when you undertake a huge commitment to complete an adventure like this, The second half of the
book I got the feeling that the author was more at home with himself and obviously much more confident in the day to day events. this was reflected in the
better descriptive text of what his environment was and people met. One thing that did come over was it seemed to be wet for a lot of the time, as well as a lot of trees,
I have to admire him and any one else who completes the task... for anyone thinking about going or even just to see what some one on the trail will experience,
I would say to that person, read it and enjoy..
The Appalachian Trail, known simply as the AT, stretches for almost 2,200 miles in the United States from Georgia to Maine; passing through the States of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. It was conceived in 1921 and completed in 1937 but really came into its own in the 1960s as the first National Scenic Trail; and by the early 1970s a permanent route was way-marked. The AT is famous amongst long distance hikers who may be thru-hikers walking the trail in its entirety, or section-hikers completing stages. Author David Miller resigned from his job (hence pseudonym AWOL) and completed as a thru-hiker in 2003. Surprisingly little is made of his older brother completing as a thru-hiker in 1981.
David Miller describes the AT marked by white blazes and side trail blue blazes plus connections for hitch-hiking to nearby towns for supplies, and he explains the ethics of persevering whatever the trials of terrain or weather, and in spite of injuries or illness, or hazards of bears, snakes etc. There are numerous hikers on the AT each year, generally adopting trail names, and David Miller refers to many of those he met as he recounts anecdotes humorously and honestly. His writing commences slowly in pragmatic and material manner but readers are intimately drawn closer as narrative develops along the way to more natural and descriptive.
In detailing the route David Miller tells of the huge volunteer input as well as formal organisations behind maintenance of the AT with provision of shelters and campsites plus `trail magic' as assistance from strangers. In addition there is much advice on preparation, equipment, safety etc. but `AWOL on the Appalachian Trail' is not a guide book (though David Miller has separately produced such). It is a personal account, told in the first person and mainly in present tense, of how the author's hike was a life-changing episode. Recollections of the journey may be somewhat repetitive but behind this is a stimulating story to motivate readers to get out of their particular ruts. David Miller left family as well as job, and he overcame a range of trials including sprains, blisters and infections. However he stresses that what are hardships at the moment eventually add to sense of achievement in the end, and it is these trials that make `AWOL on the Appalachian Trail' an inspirational read.
David Miller in his early 40s wrote in his memoir "AWOL on the Appalachian Trail" that Thru-hiking was more of a challenge than he expected. He describes many exhausting climbs and bone-jarring descents during his 2, 172 mile hike through fourteen states from Georgia to Maine in 2003. He says rain, wind, cold and hot days compounded the rugged rocky terrain and other obstacles. Even more exasperating was the uncertainty about continuing when he had sore knees, an infected foot and a sprained ankle.
I enjoyed experiencing Miller's evolution from focusing more on planning, covering miles and physical problems (he averaged 25 miles a day the first half of the trip) to doing less miles, being more attentive to the natural beauty, taking better care of his feet and leaving room for serendipity. He also became more reflective. He shares his anxiety about his finances and wonders what he'll do for a living when he returns to his three daughters and Juli, his wife of 15 years, in Florida. He says many people told him taking a trip at this time was irresponsible. For him the idea of "later" seemed jaded. He'd worked all his adult life holed up in an office as a computer programmer, his father had just had heart bypass surgery and his mom was fighting cancer.
He said, "The radical break from routine I made in coming on the adventure unloaded the attic of my mind. Everything I had stored away, out of habit, I've taken out and reexamined. I've yet to rearrange, toss things and repack."
He also learned loading the trip with expectations increases the odds of a premature end and how most of his worries never materialized.
Other highlights include meeting Miller's many fellow hikers with trail names like Kiwi, Dreamwalker, Moo and Biscuit and the wildlife like moose, bear, snakes, mice, a Luna moth and a Pine Marten.
This book also provides useful information about planning, hiking gear, trail shelters, hostels and history on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Miller also wrote an Appalachian Trail guidebook called "The A.T. Guide" which is updated annually.
I have nothing but admiration for anyone who a) gives up the rat race to fulfill a dream and b) pushes their body to the max ! This is not a self-indulgent book, rather it's an honest account of a journey. The descriptions of the trek are vivid and very enjoyable. There's humour and humility in the descriptions of fellow trekkers which is a real joy - they keep popping up in the book and you get quite attached to their journey as well.
David does delve a little deeper into his reasoning for the trip and also explores his emotions along the way, but it's not at all mushy. You honestly feel every step and will him to complete the trek. A really good travel read - easy to pick up and leave for a few days, but also compelling and there were times when it was hard to put down !
The AT is clearly a long and daunting undertaking, a great personal challenge for the people that do it, but ultimately it's all a bit mundane as the subject for a book. It's a bit like accounts of trudging up Everest from oxygen-assisted, fixed-rope riding, tourist climbers. Big personal challenges are not necessarily meaningful, or interesting, for other people.
While perfectly adequate, the author is not gifted enough for the power of his descriptions to make up for my lack of interest in his undertaking. Walking the AT sounds like a purgatory of trudging carefully way-marked trails between hut-fulls of buffoons ("AWOL", "Wolverine"...seriously?!)
on 14 December 2010
I won't summarise the plot...I'll simply say that this is a truly inspirational book. David Miller is a great writer. Truly a great writer. Maybe not with the polish of some but the tale has twists and turns - and along the way he shares a huge amount of knowledge on how to undertake a hike lasting several weeks/months. It's no mean feat to write a book which shares, teaches and inspires. I was gripped by the insights into his thinking and the honesty with which he shares them. There are many books out there that try to do something similar but I've not read anything which captures a journey and a rite of passage with such raw energy and such enthusiasm. Read Bill Bryson as a counterpoint...a professional writer who presses all the buttons with the skill of an experienced practitioner. David Miller's book is nothing like as polished...but just as gripping.
on 4 March 2015
The top rated review for this book describes it as "mundane" because it repeats much of the same - he hikes, he sleeps, he eats.
My response to that would be: you're reading a book about a guy that hiked over 2000 miles. What do you expect him to do?
So yes, there is a certain amount of repetition, in that he does much the same things every day. This, to me, contributes to the fact that the book stands as a good description of what it is like to hike long distances, and the day-to-day description is interspersed with information about people he meets along the way, a bit of info about the AT itself, wildlife sightings etc.
I think when a book that describes something incredibly hard, almost always painful, and potentially dangerous makes you want to go out and do that something, well, then it can only be a well-written book. I personally found it uplifting, though perhaps that's something to do with the fact that I'm a 40-something in the IT world with a family - it certainly made it easy to relate to his situation, and the reasons for him going AWOL in the first place.
A pleasant read, but watch out - you may want to give up your job and go and hike long distances after reading it :)
on 6 December 2013
I read Bill Bryson's a Walk In The Woods and it sticks in my mind as one of the most entertains books I've read.
This suffers by comparison. It's an honest account but not that engaging.