Author: Cody James Howell PhD
Title: Sauntering Thru: Lessons in Ambition, Minimalism, and Love on the Appalachian Trail
Genre: Travel / Adventure Memoir / Life Lessons / Nature Nonfiction
This nonfiction account provides a personal look at traveling the entire Appalachian Trail, going by foot from Georgia to Maine over a period of over four months. The author shares the details of where he stayed and what he learned along the way, from practical lessons in gear and accommodations to philosophic lessons in life and minimalism.
Though the title discusses love, the book reads more like a personalized guidebook than a romance, to where readers who are primarily interested in thru-hiking or the Appalachian Trail itself needn’t fear being distracted or having to wade through countless passages of “mush.” While there are glimpses into relationships on the trail—as the author found his future wife on the second day into his journey—personal details are kept to a minimum, allowing the couple privacy and some distance from the reader.
The focus of the book is primarily on the joys and struggles of thru-hiking and what the Appalachian Trail can offer hikers. The author shares the statistics and details about what he experienced in a very straight-forward way, providing readers a chance to understand what each day involved without belaboring the story or taking the place of a thru-hike itself.
The last quarter of the book is designed to help others prepare, offering both mental and physical suggestions for would-be enthusiasts. The author discusses the issues that successful thru-hikers can face when they return to the “real world” after the hike is over, suggesting more study and work to help hikers maintain their new-found perspective would help, as currently, the re-integration can be hard on them and on those around them who don’t understand what they’re dealing with and why the adjustment can be so difficult.
The author’s tone is honest and fair, noting his own reasons for going on a thru-hike while explaining that others won’t necessarily have the same goals, feelings, or ambitions. He recounts his journey while noting what other experiences are available on the trail, yet he saves the actual delights of the Appalachian Trail for those who would hike it, to where few views or vistas are described with any kind of concrete detail.
The book could use a little more editorial polish in places, as comma splices were sprinkled through the account, and there were times when the author seemed to expect readers to know enough about hiking to understand what he’s discussing or referring to, making this more of an intermediate account than a beginner’s guide.
Perfect for anyone who has thought about taking a thru-hike or has done some hiking before, this story is engaging, encouraging, and thoughtful. Bringing his scientific mindset and training to bear on how to help his fellow thru-hikers, the author shares hope and practical suggestions to both those who have walked before and those who would come after him. The author’s story can open a new world of possibilities to readers while sharing how others can hike their own hike and equally avail themselves of the delights found on the trail.
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