I like wandering through the woods and doing some light hiking, but I have absolutely no desire to camp out anywhere that doesn’t involve a cabin, a bed, and a hot shower. So it may surprise people that I thoroughly enjoyed a memoir about hiking the Appalachian Trail. But I did!
Appalachian Odyssey is the memoir of Jeffrey Ryan who, with his friend, Wayne, section hiked the Appalachian Trail over the course of 28 years. For those unfamiliar, the AT is a total of about 2500 miles and stretches from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine. While Ryan had previously through-hiked (completing the trail in one effort over several months) the Pacific Crest Trail, he and Wayne took long weekends and a few weeks at a time to hike the AT in sections.
Each phase of the book correlates to the section of trail hiked, with maps showing the ascent and descent and camp sites, and I found that interesting because it provided a good perspective on how important planning the number of miles per day would be. There are plenty of pictures of the scenery, but what I enjoyed most was the clear enthusiasm Ryan has for hiking and being out in nature. Even at the frustrating times, when the weather was atrocious and his body was rebelling and his mind was telling him to give up the trail, Ryan’s love of the trail comes through.
Not everything goes smoothly on the trail. The weather doesn’t always cooperate, and sometimes nature gets the better of you (I learned how destructive porcupines can be to vehicles in this book) but sometimes, everything goes just right. It’s the authenticity of the good and the bad that made me enjoy the book. And unlike Wild, I have respect for Ryan and his story. He takes care to talk about the importance of being prepared for a big hike, with the right equipment and preparation. This isn’t something you just “wing” and hope that strangers will help you out when you need it. He’s a life-long hiker who plans to have the right gear, food, and supplies. Sure things don’t work out perfectly all the time, but it isn’t due to carelessness.
At the same time, when Ryan wrote about the scenery he encountered, the restorative, simple times he and Wayne just hung out at a camp site, or the euphoria he felt on the trail, I felt it, too. Because of this book, I have a new appreciation for hikers/campers. I understand more about the pace on the trail and the respect of your companions and the trails themselves. I learned some new pieces of trail etiquette, and a lot about the importance of the right equipment. I can certainly begin to understand how something like hiking the AT appeals to some people.
While Appalachian Odyssey didn’t make me want to take up section hiking the Appalachian Trail, it did make me want to get out and explore more in day hikes. To take more time to remember how restorative time in nature can be, and to take time out to appreciate this glorious world around us.
I hope you’ll do yourself a favor and check out this one.