‘Tis the Season for Vicarious Expeditions

In August of last year I began toying with the idea of supplementing my running with some hiking and backpacking. I’ve always loved the quiet solitude of trail running, much more so than risking my life at the hands of distracted drivers on the roads of this great nation. And the thought of “slowing down to enjoy the view” while traversing said solitude really appealed to me.

About that time Cheryl Strayed’s book “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” kept popping up in my face. Amazon offered me a good deal on the Kindle version so I bought it. And Amazon, as they are wont to do, kept peppering me with other suggested hiking-based reads, so on Labor Day weekend I grabbed David Miller’s popular “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.” While “Wild” was readable (I’ll forgo a full review; the TL:DR version? Meh), it was Miller’s book that truly lit the fire. A handful of other hiking books kept the coals smoldering during the long winter that followed while I fidgeted, anxious to begin my transition to hiking in the spring.

Since devouring Miller’s tome (twice) I’ve read an additional twenty books and countless journals centered around hiking the three long trails here in the United States. While I can’t see myself ever attempting a thru-hike of any of them, I’ve managed to gain some familiarity with each of the Big Three thanks to vicariously hiking along with an incredibly diverse group of characters. From the epic AT hikes of Emma Gatewood to Keith Foskett’s escapades, these books have allowed me the joy of expedition-by-proxy, and given me deep and honest glimpses into the mindset of the long distance backpacker.

As Baxter State Park (and by extension Katahdin) closes for the season this weekend and winter looms, I’ll turn once again to intrepid tales of ordinary people conquering vast miles of rugged wilderness in pursuit of their personal dreams. And I’ll use those stories to keep my hiking desires burning until next spring, when I’ll load up my backpack and head out once again for purposeful doses of trial-and-error on my favorite long trail.

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