Paul Stutzman writes a memoir to tell the story of his wife's dying of cancer and his decision to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. His mission? To remPaul Stutzman writes a memoir to tell the story of his wife's dying of cancer and his decision to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. His mission? To remind the people he meets to not take the people they love for granted. Along the A.T. he learns a lot about hiking, exorcises his inner demons, and meets a raft of new friends. The reader gets a dose of Stutzman's life (from childhood onward) and philosophy at the same time.
I'm not really sure how to rate this. It's not an informative book per se, designed for an aspiring thru-hiker. It's really just a deeply personal story of one man's catharsis after the death of his wife, and after a Conservative Mennonite upbringing which he gradually realizes was -- at times -- more restrictive than was Biblically required. (An example: at one point he drinks a beer for the first time in his life, after concluding that while it may generally be a good idea not to drink, it would be overreading scripture to say drinking is categorically prohibited.) It strikes me as the sort of story where either you like it, or you don't.
So, um. How about a four, because this touched the right chords to be appealing to me personally, but not to the extent of making it a long-term favorite? Your mileage may vary.
(Disclosure: I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2008 just as Stutzman did, although I went north to south, the opposite direction from him. [There's a huge difference between the two directions. South to north is more popular, hence more social; north to south is more solitary, although it's probably more tightly knit as you get to know the fewer people a bit better. And you can moderate your pace for whatever crowd you wish to join or avoid. North to south is slightly more hardcore because the hard parts come first with no slow buildup. South to north has a deadline; north to south deadlines are dictated by little more than personal comfort.] I have the faintest recollection of exchanging trail names while passing him descending Franconia Ridge. Past that I have some recollection of seeing his entries in some shelter journals, although I read so many journals [basically I read every one in every shelter I stopped in, even during the day] I can't remember a thing he wrote. Part of the appeal of this book was definitely in reading about places he visited, then thinking about my experiences at those places.)...more