From Springer Mountain Georgia to Mt. Katahdin Maine

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Trail of Two Tales

This is a post from my cranky conservative blog, "Howlings From Georgia," that I wrote after reading two wonderful books about hikes on the Appalachian Trail.

My oldest daughter has announced on her blog her intention to hike the Appalachian Trail this spring and summer.  Being as obsessive as we are compulsive, Missy and I began reading about hikes on the AT.  We read "Becoming Odyssa" by a young lady named Jennifer Pharr Davis who not only completed the trail but went back two more times setting the women’s speed record and then the overall speed record.  Her book was a fascinating read. My daughter has met Jenn, and I read the book she had autographed for our younger daughter.  I then dove into another account of the trail called “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson.  This was about one hundred ten degree different from Jenn’s account.  I loved both books for different reasons. 

Jenn’s story was of a young girl becoming strong and finding her calling.  Her voice isn’t fully developed but the story is enthralling nevertheless.  Bryson’s account is told by a very experienced writer and story-teller with all the polish you would expect of somebody who knows his craft.  Bryson’s story is spit-out-your-drink-funny as you read, I mean this guy is bust-your-gut-funny at times.  But Bryson has the jaded quality that comes with age, and that contrasted with Jenn’s total embrace of the experience.  I identified with Bryson in so many ways, and I yearned for Jenn’s unbridled enthusiasm.  Both of these books spoke to me in very different ways.
The fascinating thing is that, in two completely different accounts of the trail, common themes emerge.  The trail is hard; it is arduous because it is drudgery interrupted by breathtaking moments.  The trail is communal, that is to say everyone undergoing this crucible becomes part of a family and culture.   This encompasses the “trail magic” and the support by the people in the towns along the trail; the common experience binds all the hikers.  The trail changes you.  You are different when you come off the trail.  You get really dirty and stinky, and both writers don’t try to sugar coat that fact.  So both writers wrote about how important time off the trail was to recharge and reload themselves for the next push on the trail.
Bryson tells history and background as a veteran writer can do, but Jenn shares the spiritual growth she experienced on the trail.  I recommend both stories, especially because they are two very different experiences of the same trail.

1 comment:

  1. So, I realize this isn't a book review, but while we are waiting and possibly still worrying about Macon and Monica's great escape - and since this is a blog - and since I have also just recently read these books why not have a little fun...

    Jen's book is hands down fabulous, a page turner in every regard, trail insight, compassion, humility, the good, the bad, the sad, and the ugly. From Butt Rash to Gator Pee to Grandad to the way she so eloquently shares her faith while not forcing it on the reader - is fabulous. I noted several pages of tips and have recommended the book to hiker and non-hiker friends alike. I felt that Jen completely gave herself up to...the trail...her belief system...and her goal. The set of characters was genuine, eclectic and...okay enough...I'm getting sick of rambling - it's great, a must read as they say.

    Alternatively, as Ty mentions, Byrson's book is an entirely different perspective. I cannot say that I disliked the book, because I did not. But I don't feel that Bryson ever completely surrendered to the trail. Yes, he admits that it's hard, but whether or not he ever 'accepted' that fact himself is in my opinion debatable. While I appreciate the dose of reality and respect people that are, in my own words 'appropriately jaded', Bryson is more than jaded he's overly critical - and I guess I'm throwing myself into that mix - which is admittedly dangerous given I have not hiked a single inch of the AT. That said, I bought the damn book, and after reading it did not appreciate his distaste for the south - and virtually every other trail town he encountered while describing his own home town of Hanover as being near perfect. At one point he quotes a native Georgian's negative assessment of north Georgia as if to sidestep blame for his critique or somehow demonstrate that he must be in the majority. I was irritated when after all this he left the trail before making it out of the smokies and onto the harder states where towns according to other research are less frequent and less friendly. He returns to 'car hike' the trail spottily and only introduces characters, for the most part, to belittle them. His witty remarks are sometimes funny, but primarily in response to his own expectations and thoughts as opposed to external stimuli. It seems clear he set out first and foremost to write a book - not hike the AT. And for the most part, that is what he did.