4 stars. Anna “Bug” Herby’s story of her 2014 PCT thru-hike in A Walk With Mud: A Story of Two Friends Hiking from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail is equal parts hiking story and tale of her slowly imploding relationship with her boyfriend and hiking partner “Mud”.
Rather than starting from the Mexican border in April or May and heading north (north-bounders or “NoBos” in trail lingo), Bug and Mud’s grad school completion dictated a south-bound hike, leaving the Canadian border in July. Bug’s clear writing traces their route through the snowy passes of Washington, the volcanic landscape of Oregon, around a forest fire ravaged area to the breathtaking High Sierra country of California, and finishing in the desert.
I think Bug did as good a job of any PCT author at expressing love for the trail and the mountains of the west. She never glosses over the challenges, but she doesn’t revel in them for self-aggrandizement or devolve into “misery porn” that some trail journals do. I would have liked to read more about her feel for the land she traveled over, as well as a little more logistics about her hike.
It’s quickly obvious that Bug and Mud want different things both out of their PCT hike and out of life. The number of times that healing for their relationship was within the reach of either of them but they responded poorly is staggering. I was saddened because it was obvious that they both cared about each other, but neither one could express their own needs. Many passages boiled down to that they would approach the trail with different mindsets, fail to communicate those mindsets, and then wind up feeling hurt and alone. There are also some nice moments where they supported each other, having the right words or a hug to make the other feel better–they both strike me as good people, even if they couldn’t make their relationship work. Instead of the shared challenge of the trail bringing them together, it felt like their hike was one of two solo hikers who shared a tent along 2,600+ miles of bittersweet moments.
At its best, A Walk With Mud is a beautiful, loving look at some of the gorgeous scenery of the Cascades and the Sierras. Mixed in is a tale of a fumbling, failing relationship between two people who discover that caring about each other and sharing activities isn’t enough. The “older and wiser” tone of the narration and the hopeful epilogue underscores that their PCT experience wasn’t lost, and I was left hoping that both Bug and Mud find happiness.