4.5 stars. Phill Grounds left his day-to-day life behind in 2011 to hike from Georgia to Maine, and he tells his story in Stepping Wild: Hiking the Appalachian Trail with Mingo. He recounts the joys and difficulties of well over 2,000 miles worth of steps along the trail, as all-too-common momentary misery of rain, sore feet, colds, hunger, bugs, and the ilk became a life-changing trip through the beauty and challenge of nature.
Grounds’ narrative is direct yet expressive, able to easily put me in his well-worn shoes and describe what he experienced and thought. His informal prose conveys both detail and a sense of the grandeur and challenge of the AT. I also appreciated his no-nonsense personality when confronting people doing stupid things along the trail; etiquette and rules exist both for the safety and consideration of those enjoying the great outdoors and the preservation of the environment. His blunt retired police officer personality doesn’t disguise his love for his trail friends and his wife Deb, though!
Stepping Wild offers a treasure trove of information for hikers and backpackers. Grounds is brutally honest about his own mistakes and assumptions, and anyone planning an AT hike will benefit greatly from reading about his experience. More importantly, I gained a sense of the emotional and mental expenditure of taking a long trail. One point that I’ll do my best to remember is his discussion of how the moment tended to set his outlook: when he was miserable, he felt like every remaining step was going to be an ordeal and when he had a good day, everything left seemed easy. I also admired that was out there doing the hike for himself; “hike your own hike” is a frequent hiker saying, but I haven’t read a hiking memoir that brought it home quite like his.
Throughout Grounds’ story is an ongoing sense of the support necessary to hike the AT. Deb’s assistance and trips to meet him were invaluable. His trail friends encouraged and uplifted him, and it’s easy to see how deep bonds can form quickly between thru-hikers. The numerous “trail angels” lent a helping hand, a ride into town, or a cold beer at the end of a long day. And the support of those in hiker-friendly communities contrasted greatly with those who looked down on the disheveled, stinky backpackers.
I wholeheartedly recommend Stepping Wild to outdoor enthusiasts; it’s an easy and pleasant read with a lot to offer anyone who dreams of trails.
Thanks to Phill “Mingo” Grounds for sending me a copy of his book in return for an honest review!