Book Review – Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike

31858255Thru-hiker extraordinaire Liz Thomas shares her wealth of hard-earned experience in Backpacker Magazine’s Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike. She covers the subject thoroughly, from why thru-hiking is appealing to an overview of several long trails to mental and physical readiness to logistics to nutrition to equipment.

One of the strengths of this book is how much Thomas emphasizes the “hike your own hike” philosophy. Each thru-hiker has his or her own reasons for hiking, as well as an individual approach to the trail. What is right for one hiker is not the right choice for another. This book highlights alternatives that will benefit different types of hikers instead of a “one-size-fits-all” method.

The sections on budgeting and scheduling are practical, presenting useful strategies for breaking down the daunting job of planning a thru-hike into manageable tasks. I benefited most from her tips on preparing for the physical and mental challenges along the trail–lots of useful pointers here, such as practicing packing and unpacking as part of the daily exercise regimen and how to communicate clearly with a resupply contact back home.

Rather than being intended for the beginning backpacker, Long Trails assumes some familiarity with backpacking and seeks to bridge the gap from shorter trail experience to thru-hiker. The information is focused on long trails rather than a weeklong trip.

The lush photography makes for both a beautiful and well-presented book. The pictures illustrate concepts nicely and show some of the wonderful scenery along the trail. I also appreciated Thomas’ cheerful, friendly tone; she comes across as very down-to-earth.

Several “asides” of paragraph-to-page length recount other hikers’ experiences. These frequently amplify Thomas’ points, and sometimes present alternative opinions and methods. A lengthy section examines different hiker’s gear lists piece-by-piece, showing multiple individual approaches to equipment.

Long Trails is vital reading for anyone interested in a longer trail–say, any trail where a resupply is necessary. Whether you’re headed for a more modest challenge or setting out on the Continental Divide Trail, this book will help you get there.

Book Review – A Walk With Mud: A Story of Two Friends Hiking from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail

294967094 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.