Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two Books and a Video

I wanted to take a moment to follow-up on three items I briefly mentioned on my recent Trail Days blog. I would categorize these under the "Education" topic, meaning two are books and the other is a video. I get quite a bit of enjoyment reading or watching videos about backpacking our outdoor adventures especially during times when I can't push away from my desk long enough to hit the trail. In the event that you're in the same boat, here are a couple of reviews.

First, I finished Gene Espy's Appalachian Trail (AT) book aptly titled, "The Trail of My Life" (available at for $19.95). The book was very tame and I had no problem envisioning someone like my grandfather writing it. It was honest, clean, informational, and to the point - something nowadays often lost in our fast-paced and in-your-face society. Espy, the second thru-hiker of the AT, talked about his education, family, religion, values and experiences which enabled him to be better prepared to hike the AT and experiences thereafter. He talked extensively about the generosity of trail angels, which at that time were just good humanitarians often with no knowledge of the trail, and about the overgrowth and difficulty managing a trail which was frequently unmarked, the lack the shelters we now know, and described the trail with a lot more snakes than what most would experience now. I was surprised to hear that he didn't light a single fire during his entire trip and often kept a bowl of pudding right next to him as he slept nearly every night. It was equally interesting to learn about "the Government Trail" (as it was known back then) as it was to reminisce about a past generation.

Second, I finished Bill Walker's book on the Pacific Crest Trail, titled "Skywalker --Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail" (available at for $9.95 in paperback or $4.95 on Kindle). I had read "Skywalker: Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail" a couple years ago and thought it was humorous and well written. I was drawn to him both because of his self-effacing style, lack of prolonged backpacking experience, and because I felt we shared a similar plight (I'm 6'5" and he's 6'11"). Walker was an English teacher for a stretch and quite honestly his ease with the language is fairly apparent. His style is very clean and if most readers are like me, it's easy to burn through pages at a decent speed because his stories are compelling and written in a manner that paints a pretty compelling picture. In my opinion, his PCT book wasn't quite as good as his AT book principally because I felt he was taking a little too much liberty as a former English teacher by introducing several very uncommon words to describe common things that could have been more easily expressed without the need for the thesaurus. Oddly enough I think it expressed a bit more of his human side too as it was pretty clear that he thought the PCT was challenging, both because of it's lack of water, length, wide temperature swings and weather conditions. I asked him at Trail Days if he was going to complete the Continental Divide Trail to gain notoriety as a Triple Crowner and he quite quickly said no, citing challenges from the PCT and his Yogi Guide Book which discouraged him. I believe he is going to focus more on his writing with a book about height and others in the future. Regardless, he has a lot to be proud of.

Lastly, I watched the DVD Six Million Steps (available at for $19.99). What was interesting about the video was that it was filmed at the same time Walker (above) was on the PCT which means the video introduced a couple of characters visually which was helpful in the telling of the journey. This video was a lot more polished than others about backpacking and it was pretty clear that the intent of the filmmaker was to try to make a legitimate and finely tuned film versus piecing together lesser quality videos taken from digital cameras which both lack stability from a tripod and more robust sound and video features. I think it offered a fair representation of the PCT, but after reading more detailed descriptions in Walker's book, it was pretty clear that there was a lot more to the PCT than what the video was able to cover in a reasonable amount of time. It's like looking at a postcard and incorrectly believing that one could understand what it was like.

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