Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"I Hike"

I enjoy reading books about backpacking.  Whether they are about experiences or technique, and as long as the material isn’t something I’ve heard a couple dozen times already, usually I buy it.  I think in a simple way, I enjoy sharing experiences that I likely may never experience on my own. 

I first heard of Lawton "Disco" Grinter when I stumbled across The Walkumentary a few years ago  It’s a great movie on hiking the Continental Divide Trail (DVD).  I think one of the things that drew me to the movie was the fact that it was well organized and didn’t come off as a bunch of spliced together still photos or bad videography when in reality it probably contained both.  It was just more polished than others who made similar efforts. I watch this video at least annually principally because I like the personalities, photography and personally think it’s the best backpacking video on the market.  It also motivates me to hit the trail.  For those you haven’t seen it, I strongly encourage you to take a look.  After all – it’s free for download or a mere $5 for purchase. 

After watching The Walkumentary, I reached out to Lawton to answer a question that I honestly didn’t really care about but was intrigued about at the time.  Considering all the topics I could have asked, apparently my little mind merely wanted to know if he and his hiking partner (P.O.D. – Princess of Darkness) were romantically involved.  I guess I felt like the story was never adequately explained in the video despite sharing a tent, the obvious inside jokes, and the general exchanges that goes along with being a happy couple.  Lawton said the answer was that they were dating, and according to the book, they are now married living in Denver with P.O.D. working as a teacher and Lawton as a full-time forester.  Lawton graduated with a Masters Degree from Virginia Tech.  Being from Virginia and having worked on my own Masters at Virginia Tech (I never finished), I guess I felt a bit of a kindred spirit (and jealousy that he was able to progress in his backpacking and professional career more than I have been able to accomplish).  Lawton is also taller than average (he’s 6’2” and I’m 6’5”) and embraced the “lightweight” side of backpacking which is obviously another commonality.  As a Triple Crowner, I figured most things he had to say about backpacking were probably worth listening to – that – and he had an honest humor about him.

Lawton put what could easily be described as the greatest hits from his backpacking experiences into a new book called “I Hike”.  It is available several places.  If you want an autographed copy for no additional charge, go to Gossamer Gear.   Lawton is a GG Trail Ambassador and carried a minimalist pack on his adventures.  You can also get a copy of his book at or Barnes and Nobels.

This weekend I read it cover to cover.  This should speak highly of the book because I wouldn’t describe myself as a “reader”.  Consequently, if whatever I’m reading doesn’t flow well, I normally get distracted from the content and focus instead on composition which makes reading in mass undesired.  On Saturday I was supposed to run in my first 5k since tearing my meniscus over a year ago which required surgery, my first run of any kind since this time.  Unfortunately, as happens more often than I’d like, my diabetes decided to remind me that I’m on a different playing field than many others and there was no chance I would run (or walk) the race.  First, I was up all night Friday with hourly trips to the bathroom pondering how it was possible to pee so much.  All of Saturday was spent feeling like I was in a coma where I couldn't simply sleep it off.  Saturday night was similar, and Sunday was only a little better.  This is what happens when glucose (energy) gets stuck in a body and can’t be processed correctly causing it to be 3 times more, or less, of what it should be in a “normal” person.  To me, if feels like a build-up of toxins and my whole body hurts much like the feeling after running a marathon.  The act of moving, no matter how small (a walk from the bedroom to the bathroom) is not just challenging, but painful.  Needless to say, I was pretty incapacitated and decided to read.

Lawton writes very well.  According to the book, the grammar was largely a reflection of the influence of his mother, a Librarian.  In fact, his grasp of solid writing jumped out at me as I reflected on a youthful generation where broken English thumbed out on an iPhone is becoming all too common and an actual understanding of basic English is slowly evaporating.  Just this week I had to explain to a youthful college-degree toting coworker that St. Louis was the destination of a meeting as to clear up her confusion voiced widely in a business e-mail to several where she wondered aloud about the identity of St. Luis, apparently a quite religious Puerto Rican with an exciting nightlife worthy of being visited by business persons.  Everything in the book flows nicely and Lawton paints a nice picture.  Bill Bryson is a little more illustrative, but I’d say Lawton was on par with Bill “Skywalker” Walker who consequently had a Masters in English and taught it for many years as best I can recall.  While Bryson continues to hold the unchallenged top spot in outdoor adventure books when it comes to hiking and related humor, I think Walker and Lawton definitely have something to contribute.

Lawton’s book is a collection of stories and observations from his time spent on the CDT, PCT and AT in addition to other shorter journey's.  I would argue that there is a lesson in each, whether it be about making smart decisions, recognizing limitations, respecting weather, understanding gear, being moved by the loss of a friend and helping prevent the loss of another, accepting lower mileage days in the face of adversity, the positives and negatives of Trail Magic, the positives and negatives of a good map and technology, etc.  These stories cover the real possibility of getting hypothermia or Giardia and the discomfort and variety of bugs and relentless bears.  There are several great comical sections of the book which I think Lawton handles with ease.  One of my favorites is a story about a Great Blue Heron being struck by a car whose occupants lack of reaction seemed to imply that hitting a 4 foot long rare bird was normal in that area (Lawton was in the backseat merely trying to hitch a ride).  Hands down, my favorite character from “I Hike” or “The Walkumentary”, and I trust this is of no surprise to anyone who is familiar, is a German engineer named Speedo.  If Lawton valued making money from his writing and videos, I would tell him that he has a virtual cash cow in all things Speedo and should strongly consider a greatest hits version of his escapades, and well, all things Durf and how American soap is not adequate for everything.  You’ll need to read the book to understand that reference.

So, get the book whether for the enjoyment of the stories, the experience of someone tested, or to support a fellow hiker.

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