Book: On the Beaten Path


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Peak to Peak Trail and Wilderness Links
Peak to Peak Trail and Wilderness Links


On the Beaten Path : An Appalachian Pilgrimage
by Robert Alden Rubin

In case you haven't notice from the majority of my book reviews, I have an obsession with the Appalachian Trail and the subject of thru-hiking it. So I had to get this book as soon as I saw it on the bookstore shelf. What makes this book better than most I have read is that the author is actually a writer with a developed writing style and a successful thru-hiker.

It is like many stories I've read about thru-hikers, a person with a dream to hike the Appalachian Trail quits his job and hits the trail. But unlike many, he also talks about the hardship and emotion of leaving someone behind, and the feelings of guilt about hiking the trail. He talks about the unfinished business he left behind, and he never attempts to sugar coat any of it. He is open and honest about his switching between the life of a thru-hiker named the Rhyming Worm and his real life with his wife on the many occasions he goes off trail to spend time with her.

Covering the book from beginning to end, Robert Rubin quits his job in the publishing business after it gets old and is no longer fun - he just isn't motivated to do it anymore. He sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail despite being overweight and out of shape. Along the way he experiences cold, hunger, excess weight, pushing himself too hard, loneliness, heat, injuries, and everything else you would expect from a thru-hike. But he continues to journey in what appears to be a pilgrimage to rejuvenate himself. This hits on the theme of the title - the thru-hike experience has become a modern American pilgrimage for many who discover it. That hiking it isn't necessarily a stunt; it's a purifying way of life - simple goals, simple living, and simple pleasures. In the end he finishes his hike and ends up as the senior editor of the Appalachian Trail Conference.

Another point I would like to hit, is that most of the stories I have read up until now sound exactly like a day to day journal (actually most are I guess) or a narrative about the person's hike. But Robert Rubin does a good job of giving you a story to read about his thru hike. I couldn't put this book down - reading it cover to cover the first time. And it was so engrossing I re-read it a couple of more times.

Overall I would highly recommend this book. I think those contemplating a thru-hike will be inspired by it, and maybe even family member of people contemplating a thru-hike can better understand the hikers' motivation and hardships by reading this book.

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Robert Alden Rubin