Turn the Page: Ten Books that Inspired Me to Thru-Hike
We’re getting close to the point where we know when we are going to start our hikes, but we are in the interminable waiting stage. Those not lucky to live in a warmer area have to confine their training to wearing their backpack in the gym and getting looked at like lepers. Besides working our butts off to save money, we need other ways to occupy our time that still work toward the goal. Curling up with a good book about hiking and adventure as it gets cooler seems the perfect idea.
First: The Ground Rules
We will not be including a few titles in this list because they are so ubiquitous and essential that I would be amazed if every thru-hiker didn’t already know about them. Both of Zach Davis’ wonderful books (Appalachian Trials, Pacific Crest Trials) are must-reads. And it would be hard to find someone that is considering a long trail that has not been influenced by Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Bryson’s book for showing us the humor and absurdity of such an endeavor. And Wild for showing us the healing power of nature. So I get that is a massive cheat to sneak in four extra titles, but I just didn’t want those books that everyone knows about to dominate the list. I wanted to take a deeper dive.
The links for each book are to reviews on the web that I felt did a good job of describing the books. I wasn’t going to link to Amazon or some other seller as they surely don’t need any more of a starving thru-hiker’s money. You’re more than welcome to beg, borrow, or whatever to get copies of these. Older titles like Fletcher’s, Abbey’s and Ryback’s are actually probably easier to find used. If you can find an author’s own website, then try to get them there as they will probably get a bigger chunk of the change.
On to the Books (In no Particular Order)
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer: This is the book that started it all for me. We can all identify a little bit with Chris McCandless and the desire to leave civilization and the preoccupation with money behind. He was trying to get to something fundamental about what it means to be human. It’s about solitude, but also about the power of human connection. Into the Wild may ultimately be tragic (spoiler!) but that is not the point. It’s about the journey. You’d actually be well-served reading any of Krakauer’s books.
Finding Everett Ruess by David Roberts: Though the journeys we take are ultimately our own, it is important to realize how dependent we are on others, especially our families. Ruess was a tragic example of someone who, through a toxic mix of independence and entitlement, came to a sad end on his trek.
The Thousand-Mile Summer: In Desert and High Sierra by Colin Fletcher: I don’t know if a lot of the younger generation today know about Colin Fletcher, but he really is the father of modern backpacking in America. There was no rulebook when he started, so he made it up as he went along.
127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston: A not-so-gentle reminder of the importance of safety, of companions, and of letting someone know where you are! Sometimes in our adventures, we are faced with tough decisions. Faced with the options Ralston had, could you have made the same decision he did?
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey: Not politically correct, but a great writer and one of the most important voices for the advocacy of wilderness.
The Last Season by Eric Blehm: When we are traversing national parks and forests, we may not always think about all the work done by trail groups and backcountry rangers to keep them open. Randy Morgenson was one of these dedicated rangers. His love of outdoors made him good at his job, but often at the expense of his personal life. This is the story of his disappearance.
Backpacker Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike by Liz Thomas: This is about as comprehensive a breakdown of what it takes to plan a thru-hike as you can get. I’ve exhaustively gone through this several times. Liz does a really good job and speaks from experience.
The High Adventure of Eric Ryback, Canada to Mexico on Foot by Eric Ryback: It may be arguable whether he was the first and even whether he finished, but this book is still a great account of a young kid with a heavy pack who hiked an unfinished trail with no other hikers and a nonexistent support network.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery: I know some of you really love your gear (especially how much it weighs) and love telling others but you really need to step back occasionally and think about why we are hiking. It’s not about the gear and it’s not about making others feel inadequate. Read this book and you will realize just how silly our gear obsession can be. Grandma Gatewood hiked the AT three times in sneakers and a pack that was a glorified hobo kit.
The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America’s Wilderness Trail: Great pictures and words, with a lot of history. And it’s co-written by one of the most famous trail angels ever, Barney “Scout” Mann, of “Scout and Frodo” fame.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather one hiking enthusiast’s take on a few titles that influenced him. What books have you read that inspired you to hike?
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