Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Required Reading: Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis

Over the years since I discovered the dream of a thru-hike (1989), I have read a good bit about the AT.  There have been books, blogs and journals, and countless articles.  I've met thru-hikers when I have been out on day hikes or on some weekend backpacking trips, and I have dreamed wistfully of the day when I could be the one telling the story of MY thru-hike!

Now, as Muskrat and I have decided to thru-hike, set a projected start date of March 15, 2015 and are delving into the actual preparation for the actual hike, we have been seeking out things to read that are more than a gear list or a step by step account of someone else's thru-hike.  Don't get me wrong, we LOVE Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods.  It's inspiring, entertaining, and full of history and ecology lessons that gave me even more respect and reverence for the trail than I already had.  David "AWOL" Miller's AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, as I mentioned in a previous post, was short on introspection and emotion, but still an incredible account of his 5 million step journey from Springer to Katahdin, and we are eagerly awaiting the release of his The AT Guide NOBO 2015.

On one of our many Google searches for AT planning resources, we stumbled upon thru-hiker REQUIRED READING!!  Zach Davis aka "The Good Badger" is a 2011 NOBO thru-hiker who penned the book Appalachian Trials about mental preparation for a 2,181 mile journey on foot.

I can tell you that if this book isn't on your pre-hike reading list, it needs to be.  Muskrat and I have each undertaken our fair share of mentally and physically challenging feats in our lives.  I've successfully completed four Ironman triathlons, and Muskrat has participated in countless randonneuring (self-supported bicycle rides) of distances ranging from 125 to 400 miles, and he was a member of the 2011 four man team that won the non-stop, 860 mile Race Across the West from Oceanside, California to Durango, Colorado.  We both know from experience that even if your body is trained and your gear is perfect, that the mental game can make or break your event.

Davis' book addresses the mental challenges that you'll undoubtedly encounter on the trail, from the low points where you'll wonder why this seemed like a good idea at all, to the end of the honeymoon phase, to the social pressures on and off the trail, the unexpected and potentially catastrophic events (illness, injury, off-trail drama) to the best advice I have heard about pacing, gear choices, nutrition, and reintegration into life after the trail.  In less than 100 pages, Davis manages to spill more universal truth out of his pen than you could learn at a 30 day yoga retreat.

He touches on the benefits of making lists about why you're embarking on your journey, the consequences of quitting and the rewards of staying the course.  He delves into the ways meditation can help you overcome challenges, and offers up some techniques for those unfamiliar with it.  As someone who made a stunning comeback from an incurable and debilitating disease, I can tell you that Davis is SPOT ON when he writes of the strength of character and confidence you gain by persevering through the tough times, and the methods he recommends for doing it.

At the risk of going on and on, and telling you so much that you'll make the mistake of not actually buying and reading this book, I will leave you with this.  It's the best resource I have read so far on preparing for a thru-hike.  There were several times I actually cheered out loud in agreement with something Davis totally nailed.  This book facilitated several discussions between Muskrat and myself about our individual expectations, ideas and goals for this shared trip.  Some of this was stuff we may have neglected to talk about without the benefit of the book, so Appalachian Trials may have saved us some marital trials along the trail, since it's always easier to get on the same page and discuss things when you're sitting on your comfy couch than it is to do so when you're sweaty, hungry, smelly and tired!

Seriously, whether you're NOBO, SOBO, flip-flopping or even facing some non-backpacking related challenge, this is a fantastic resource and the best $11.69 ($8.99 for kindle) you could spend!

Also check out his website, which is also chock full of resources for all things AT!

©2014 Jennifer Magnuson, All Rights Reserved, Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

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