My oldest child, my daughter has announced on her blog her intention to hike the Appalachian Trail this spring and summer. So being as obsessive as we are compulsive Missy and I began reading about hikes on the AT. We read “Becoming Odyssa” by a young lady named Jennifer Pharr Davis who not only completed the trail but went back two more times setting the women’s speed record and then the overall speed record. Her book was a fascinating read, and my daughter has met Jenn and I read the book she had autographed for our younger daughter. I then dove into another account of the trail called “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. This was about one hundred ten degree different from Jenn’s account. I loved both books for different reasons. Jenn’s story was of a young girl becoming strong and finding her calling. Her voice isn’t fully developed but the story is enthralling nevertheless. Bryson’s account is told by a very experienced writer and story-teller with all the polish you would expect of somebody who knows their craft. Bryson’s story is spit out your drink funny as you read, I mean this guy is bust your gut funny at times. But Bryson has the jaded quality that comes with age, and that contrasted with Jenn’s total embrace of the experience. I identified with Bryson in so many ways, and I yearned for Jenn’s unbridled enthusiasm. Both of these books spoke to me in very different ways.
The fascinating thing is that in two completely different accounts of the trail common themes emerge. The trail is hard, it is arduous because it is drudgery interrupted by breathtaking moments. The trail is communal, that is to say everyone undergoing this crucible becomes part of a family and culture. This encompasses the “trail magic” and the support by the people in the towns along the trail, the common experience binds all the hikers. The trail changes you. You are different when you come off the trail. You get really dirty and stinky, and both writers don’t try to sugar coat that fact. So both writers wrote about how important time off the trail was to recharge and reload themselves for the next push on the trail.
Bryson tells history, and background as a veteran writer can do, but Jenn shares spiritual growth she experienced on the trail. I recommend both stories, especially because they are two very different experiences of the same trail.