Winter Reading

December is almost here and it’s a great time to do some serious reading and research about the Appalachian Trail. I would like to mention a few good books here that I have read and a few more that I intend to read this winter.

The Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher – I first read an earlier edition of this book in the late 80’s when I was living in Southern California and spending a lot of time hiking in the Anza-Borrego Desert and Joshua Tree. I enjoy Fletcher’s writing style, attention to detail and wry British humor. I decided to re-read the book recently so I checked it out a couple of weeks ago and finished it last night. Some of what he writes about is geared towards hiking in the Western U.S. but overall it is well worth the time invested for anyone interested in backpacking.

Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis – This book was recommended to me by a mother and son who I met near my home in Virginia. They were hitchhiking from a resupply stop back to the trail, so I gave them a ride. I do this fairly regularly from April to September, when thru-hikers are coming through the area, and always like to ask them a lot of questions about the hike. The son recommended this book to me and said that it was the most important AT book to read because it deals with the psychological and emotional challenges of the trail. Not only did I read the book, I downloaded the eBook version and put it on my phone so I’ll have it handy for reference.

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller. This is an excellent personal account of a 2003 thru-hike in which the author shares his thoughts and emotions while blending in a lot of great practical information about hiking the trail. He has one of the best philosophies about addressing the question of “Why Hike the AT?” To paraphrase, he simply says that there are many reasons to start a thru-hike but the best reason for finishing the hike is the fact that you have started one. I like the simplicity and determination in that – don’t give up, don’t quit. Miller now publishes what is generally considered the best guide to hiking the Appalachian Trail. I have already contacted him about purchasing the 2013 version which will be shipped in January.

How to Hike the A.T. by Michele Ray – As the subtitle indicates, this book covers “The Nitty-Gritty Details of a Long-Distance Trek”. This how-to guide is extremely well organized and after an initial read-through can serve as a handy reference for information on specific issues as they come up during the planning stage of the hike. A friend gave me this book and it was one of the first AT books I read – it is definitely one of my favorites.

My winter reading list includes:

Warrior of the Light: A Manual by Paulo Coehlo – I read The Alchemist by Coelho prior to hiking El Camino de Santiago and it was inspiring. Warrior of the Light is a companion to The Alchemist and is said to follow the same path of encouraging us to “live our dreams, embrace the uncertainty of life and rise to our own unique destiny”. Coehlo’s books are meant to be thought-provoking, so they’re not fast reads but are definitely worth the time and effort.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau – I have known about this book since elementary school and have written a number of Thoreau’s quotes in my journal but I have never actually read the book. (Shame on me!) As you probably know, Thoreau retreated to a small cabin in the woods to explore a simple and self-sufficient life. Sounds appropriate for a long-distance backpacker.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. I first learned of Shackleton about fifteen years ago when I visited the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. and saw a wonderful exhibit about the Shackleton voyage. The expedition was a failure in terms of reaching its objective, crossing Antarctica over land, but it is a valuable case study in leadership as the expedition quickly turned into a battle for survival. The hardship endured by the crew and Shackleton’s brilliant leadership provide good lessons for anyone pursuing a challenging goal.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. My wife read this one recently and it’s on Oprah’s Book Club reading list, so what more can I say? Okay – a little more…it’s sort of a classic “hit the trail when life falls apart” story. After a series of personal tragedies, Strayed, who had no backpacking experience, decided to walk the PCT. It is said to be very inspiring and I’m looking for a heavy dose of inspiration so I plan to read it before I hit the trail in April.

That’s it for my reading list but I will probably add to it as I approach D-Day (April 1st). I also plan to take a book with me on the trail and after finishing it swap it out in a trail town for a new read. Many experienced hikers advise against carrying the extra weight of a book but I love to read and it seems to be a fair trade-off. Let me know if you have any favorite books that I can add to my list.

I also published this article on my personal blog site The Man in My Shoes.

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