Books I’ve Read: AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

Smokey Mountains

Smokey Mountains

Although I have only read a couple, I would imagine there are plenty of books written by thru-hikers about the Appalachian Trail. The Trail, which is just under 2,200 miles long, winds through 14 states between Springer Mountain, Georgia, and Katahdin, Maine. An estimated 2,000 hikers try to thru-hike each year — about 25 percent make it.

David Miller, who adopts the trail name AWOL, is one of the few in 2003 that made it all the way from Georgia to Maine.

In the book, Miller writes about his experience in such an easy-going manner that two things happen. One, you feel like you know him and secondly, you become immersed in the trail as if you were there with him. He does not sugar-coat the difficulties or shy away from the occassional controverial or confrontational event along his path. With Miller as your eyes, you see bear, moose and even cringe at the thought of almost, possibly stepping on a rattle snake. You even smile with him in amusement at the thought that pepper-spray would deter a bear.

Part of the appeal of the book, is Miller is just an ‘average’ every day worker, stuck in a cubicle, pondering if this is all there is. At 41, Miller admits life is fine, he is not having a mid-life crisis, he has a great family (a couple of daughters and wife Juli) — he just feels he is being pulled to the trail. Although he is a lifelong resident of Florida, he had hiked parts of the trail as a kid with his father — and Miller reveals late in the book that his brother was a thru-hiker. He admits, he was simply at a point in life where he knew if he was ever going to do it — the time was now.

Miller introduces the reader to some of the more colorful hikers he meets along the way and a few, like Tipperary and Kiwi, men in their 60s from Ireland and New Zealand, respectively, you could see yourself enjoying their company in a night of euchre playing. He even encounters one hiker, who ends up in police custody, that although you would not fear the hiker (who adopts several Trail names), you would, like Miller keep a cautious distance.

The book ends, as expected on the climb up Mount Katahdin in Maine where Miller is joined by his wife, brother-in-law Mike and the Miller’s 9-year-old daughter Jessie. ‘Watching’ as his daughter climbs that final peak with her father exemplifies what the reader has already figure out.

This is a good man who just needed a little walk in the woods.

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