Book Review: Blazing Ahead

Blazing Ahead
Jeffrey Ryan
396 pages
Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2017

Many aspiring thru-hikers from across the globe set foot to hike the Appalachian Trail each year. Since its completion in 1937, only an estimated 12,000 have hiked the entire length of the trail. Probably the most noteworthy name on the list is Myron Avery, who alongside Benton MacKaye, devised a plan to bring the Appalachian Trail to life.  The visions of these two men are exemplified in Blazing Ahead—a story of their individual and combined efforts, hardships, and victories that lead to what is now the Appalachian Trail.

Jeffrey Ryan paints a detailed picture of both Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery’s life from early childhood. From this, we can learn of the two men that pioneered the movement of the building of the Appalachian Trail. Many collaborated to share their ideas and goals for the 2,181-mile trail. Readers gain a historical timeline of events and conversations that formed the footpath that so many hike today.

Benton MacKaye (Photo: Wikipedia)

In the early 20th Century, MacKaye was the first student to enroll in Harvard’s forestry program. During his time at Harvard, he crosses paths with Gifford Pinchot (PCT’ers should recognize this name). From his studies, MacKaye formed his vision for the AT. MacKaye held a strong love for the forest that spawned from his early years of venturing off into the mountains. This love would later grow into his idea to create the Appalachian Trail. In 1921, he published “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning” that would line out his hopes and goals for the Appalachian Trail, which essentially would provide a place for city dwellers to enjoy life away from the city.

Myron Avery (Photo: Smithsonian)

Navy Veteran, lawyer, and explorer Myron Avery became the man to take MacKaye’s vision and turn it into reality. At the time when MacKaye and Avery met, Avery was the President of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). These two men met with the Secretary of the PATC, Harold Anderson in Washington, D.C. to discuss their plans. It was clear from their first meeting that MacKaye and Anderson had a different vision for the Appalachian Trail. With the rapid construction of Skyline Drive, the men’s plans differed in the route and its purpose.

Even after much correspondence from MacKaye to various government organizations, protests, and speeches, it was ultimately Avery’s plan that passed in 1935. This would also mark the end of conversations between Avery and MacKaye. Today lies the Appalachian Trail parallel to Skyline Drive and in 1937, the sign atop Mt. Katahdin materialized.

This book is the story of the fathers of the Appalachian Trail and how, like many parents, both envisioned different end goals for their visions. For the history buffs among us, it is a great read and detailed description of the 2,000-plus-mile footpath that runs from Georgia to Maine; an opportunity to learn about the history and hardships that went into the trail’s creation.

About the Author: 

Writer, adventurer, and photographer Jeff Ryan has blazed many trails including, but not limited to, the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Long Trail. He is the author of Appalachian Odyssey, a story of the 28-year journey of two friends and their trek along the AT.

Check out the book here

Disclosure: This book was donated for the sole purpose of this review by our friends at The Appalachian Mountain Club

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