Book Recs for the Trail: SOBO Days 59 – 65

“You brought a game?”

After leaving Baxter State Park, my first night in the 100-mile wilderness was at Hurd Brook Lean-To. I cruised in just as a storm was setting in with my hiking buddy. We quickly set up our tents and then retreated to the shelter to avoid the incoming rain.

Other hikers at the campsite had the same idea and soon the shelter was full of nervous SOBO’s, breathing in the wilderness around them at the onset of their journey. Some of the SOBO’s though, had been here before, had hiked the trail before. They mostly provided great advice and talked about their favourite sections, much to the wonder and interest of the group.

My hiking buddy pulled out a deck of cards while we waited out the rain. Small groups formed and games of Rummy, Crazy Eights, and Spit began to unfold. The experienced SOBO’s warned that as the days grew shorter in the autumn, as we grew weary, there wouldn’t be time for games, that the deck of cards wouldn’t be “worth the weight”.

Hobbies on Trail

This interaction had me thinking about on-trail hobbies. It might appear such that the daily lifestyle of a hiker is nothing more than sleep, eat, hike, and repeat. But, as I watch my fellow hikers, I’m learning that almost everyone has something extra.

Some hikers like to watch downloaded movies in their tent as they fall asleep behind the community centre in Great Barrington, others will indulge in some gentle yoga at the end of the day with a view of Mount Greylock. Others listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music as they wander the surprisingly beautiful state of Massachusetts. Some play cards to celebrate the end of a SOBO’s fourth state. While I love a good stretch and also spend hours listening to content during the day, my favourite on-trail hobby is reading.

My On-Trail Bookshelf

I recently noticed a comment on the GPS app FarOut about reading on trail. The person said that they had purchased a paperback copy of A Man Called Ove, and were leaving segments of the book in different shelters along the trail for someone else to pick up. I’m not sure how this goes as far as LNT (leave no trace), but it’s certainly interesting.

Alas, I’ve opted for e-books on trail, reading every night on my cell phone as I fall asleep. Reading before bed is probably my oldest hobby. I remember sitting in my bed as a child, glancing over at my purple analog alarm clock, next to my fuzzy pink lamp, and thinking “ten more minutes”, “five more minutes”, as I read right up until my bedtime.

It’s the same for me now, except the exhaustion from the day of hiking usually puts me to sleep before my self-imposed bedtime. But, nonetheless, I’ve been reading more on trail than I have in any recent years, with the stress and bustle of university taking away reading time.

The Best Books I’ve Read on Trail

And so, for other readers, both on and off trail, I’ve curated a list 4 books that I’ve read on trail so far, among at least a dozen others. I’ve been lucky to find these all on the library app, Libby, which allows me access to my local library, even while I walk 10-20 miles away every single day.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Incidentally, before noticing the FarOut comment, I had actually already read A Man Called Ove. In the beginning, the description of the elderly male protagonist brought back memories of my late grandfather. The comical description of the man’s idiosyncrasies, routine — it was so real and relatable. I thought about how hilarious my mother might find the story.

Then, it started to become a little monotonous. That was, until I started to care for the characters. They were painted just like my own neighbours and family members. By the end, the simple, but meaningful and heartfelt, book had me choking with tears. On that note, you might have to explain yourself to fellow hikers, passersby on the commuter train, or your family members if you choose to read this one in public. But, I definitely recommend.

The Son of the House, by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

This book has won award after award and it’s no surprise. The story is told from the perspective of two Nigerian women. The narrative technique used to intertwine the two stories delivered beyond expectations, beginning with their kidnapping. The stories then separate, and the reader is projected back in time to learn how the two women ended up together in the first place.

Nwabulu, a young protagonist, lives a life as a housemaid, and discusses her trials and tribulations. She is a dreamer, brilliant, and spunky, an easily relatable character that the reader finds themselves rooting for like a friend.

Julie is a woman of a higher class, living a privileged life in Nigeria. She is cunning and caring above all else. She has a vision of what she wants in her life and goes to the edge to make it happen.

The reader might find themselves relating to either or both, or elements of these two women as they navigate their lives. This is what makes the story rich. I absorbed every single word. The author is a master storyteller. Read this.

Honourable mention to the book, Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, a book that employed similar narrative techniques in another great story.

White Fragility, by Robin Diangelo

This book was a fantastically blunt reminder that the journey of learning is never over. No matter your level of education on racial issues, this book is important. From the onset, I realized the power of this book. The author directly addresses the reader as “you”. I was interested in this technique to draw the reader in, force them to reflect, and view themselves as part of the problem and solution.

The author also doesn’t avoid discomfort. I am grateful for how uncomfortable I became at times during this book. This meant to me that I was chartering new territory, learning more about my own inherent racism, addressing critical reflections as a white person. Thank you to the author. This book is universal, but if you are white, it is essential.

What Happened To You?, by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey

As someone with little formal education in neuroscience or therapy, this book felt revolutionary. I had never considered the dual impact of neuroscience and emotion. In particular, this book explores the way that the brain, and therefore a human, reacts to experiences, especially traumatic ones.

The book is set-up like a conversation between Oprah and Dr. Perry. Oprah uses her experiences from discussing trauma with thousands of individuals and Dr. Perry responds with what he has learned from scientific research. The authors share the perspective that instead of asking “what is wrong with you?” (i.e. anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.), it should instead be asked “what happened to you?” (i.e. what events in your life have changed your world perspective to influence the way that you act and feel?). This shift is interesting, and I definitely recommend that everyone reads this.

So Many Books, So Many Miles

Entering Massachusetts, I descended a rock scramble with flies buzzing all around me. “I thought Mass was supposed to be easy”, was all I could grumble. I was refreshed after a zero day in Bennington, drinking my fair share of expensive coffee, reading in a real bed, and eating pizza with my tramily. But, I was also missing those luxuries, and nervous for the next few states.

Massachusetts was full of surprises, from stellar views atop Mount Greylock to quaint little towns like Dalton. The trail angels were out in full swing throughout the state and I thank them each for the treats and water!

As we climbed the ledges past Great Barrington and walked along a ridgeline all day until the descent into Connecticut, I reflected on books read, miles travelled, and friends made throughout this journey. I am ever grateful and excited to see what this fifth state has in store!

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