I finished On the Beaten Path by Robert Alden Rubin, recently and have to say it's one of the most lyrical books on the AT experience I've ever read. I love Rubin's writing, as I should, since he was an editor before hitting the trail and made the journey after becoming disillusioned with his job, along with the difficulties editors face, which I know first hand as an editor at Shadow Archer Press. Slogging through lots of stories to find the gems and then once you do so, the pain of writing rejection letters, and even having to reject good writing simply because there's no room.
Rubin's descriptions are poetic and vibrant, his approaches change as he is transformed by the trip and the spiritual nature, not in any heavy handed way, more the way one feels when they stand at a summit in awe of the vision stretched out before, above and below them. He can translate this into words and therefore into our minds and hearts. This is a book I'll read over and over. It is an end-to- end, shelter by shelter NOBO relating of the trek, which at this point in educating myself about the trail, I enjoy. It makes it easier for me to look up sections as Loner goes through each particular area so I can imagine what he's seeing.
The human story is just as vivid as the nature and travel experience. Rubin honestly accounts the confusion and unsettled discomfort he feels and which drives him to the trail, despite the fact it is a hardship on his wife. We are allowed to come to an understanding, as he does, of how each hiker is transformed by the experience and via a ripple effect so are those in their lives. This remarkable weaving of many perspectives of the Trail helps us understands why some people "need" to make this journey. Some may see it as an escapist act, but in the larger vision, it is not a running away from the world but a running towards the true north authentic self.I agree with Bryson in looking at the attempted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail as a sort of pilgrimage, something each culture needs as a sort of initiation, a coming to terms of what's important and how one must be transformed, an act which minds like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell considered imperative to the growth of each person.
While not as irreverent as Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods", Rubin's book still has its funny bits, and while not as detailed as David Miller's book AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, with it's organized info, I found On the Beaten Path less dry for a non hiker who is looking more for a story than for a tool to use to plan a hike.
So far, I think Rubin's book is my favorite on the Appalachian Trail, a profound story on both an inner and outer level, of what he calls a pilgrimage. Rubin masterfully blends the powerful encounters of human nature and Mother Nature into a vivid portrayal of this monumental task.
As an added side note, I've read that many thru hikers become involved with the AT in some capacity, working as trial maintainers, or ridge runners, working at hostels, outfitters or restaurants in trail towns or becoming ridge runners. But in a fitting way, Robert Alden Rubin, after finishing his thru hike and some deep thinking became a Senior Editor at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and now he and his wife live near Haper's Ferry. How lucky for us.
As Far As the Eye Can See by David Brill, and Just Passin' Thru by Winton Porter, two very different books, both equally enjoyable, memorable in how they both illustrate the trail as well as the out of step with the world but in step with their inner desires types of people who take on this monumental trek.
AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by, David Miller, In Beauty May She Walk, by Leslie Mass.