Book: Walking With Spring


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Walking with Spring
by Earl V. Shaffer

Here is a book I highly recommend for any hiker, especially someone planning to hike the Appalachian Trail. I wouldn't just recommend this book to thru-hikers, but any hiker.  It is a book that shows how different hiking has become from the past, but at the same time how hiking is still exactly the same.

The story is a true one about the legendary Earl V. Schaffer, the first person to ever hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one long hiking trip. It is written by Mr. Schaffer from his memories and from notes he made in his journal while on his historical 1948 hike. It includes black and white photos taken during that trip, some of familiar places to AT hikers, and some of places that don't exist on the AT anymore. Reading this book is a window back in time to how the AT used to be, and how some of the changes came to be from Earl's own firsthand knowledge as a trail blazer for the AT during the years of saving the trail after WWII and his thru hike. Saving it from neglect, logging, and encroachment that almost destroyed the trail and certainly made it hard for Earl to navigate during his "Long Cruise".

But it isn't just a journal of trail conditions, trip destinations, or facts about the trail. Occasionally we are allowed a peak into the mind of the hiker when he talks about his feelings about life, nature, the trail, and the war. It makes for interesting reading for anyone interested in what motivates a person to take a long walk. And it also documents the thoughts and attitudes of people in that era towards bears, snakes, moose, and other wildlife.

It shows the difference is past hiker's equipment: wearing long pants and shirts, bringing wool blankets, using canvas rucksacks, cutting trees with hatchets, and cooking on fires. But it also shows how much things are the same: hiker hunger, the need to shed pack weight, and the love/hate relationship with things like the weather.

Overall it isn't great literature. It isn't poetic prose on every page about the wonders of nature (although there is a quite a bit of poetry in it). Sometimes reading the book, you jump from thought to thought without any transition. Sometimes this leaves you a little lost or seems a little disconcerted. But, it is not meant to be that. It is a document about the first thru-hike, plain and simple. Even though I mention this, it is still a book I couldn't put down.

Read it!

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Earl Schaffer