Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Just Passin' Thru book review

I have to say that Just Passin' Thru: A Vintage Store, the Appalachian Trail, and a Cast of Unforgettable Characters by Winton Porter is in my top five books on the Appalachian Trail - speaking from a family member as opposed to a thru-hiker. This non-fiction collection of stories about real people, is a find not only because I scored an autographed copy on the used Amazon section, but also because it gives you a cross-section of the types of people who want to hike the trail and the people who help them along the way in the service industries such as hostels and rescuers.  
Author Winton Porter knows of what he speaks - he's been written up in Backpacker Magazine, been featured in You Tube videos and has been awarded the  Georgia Author of the Year. And ...  afterall he is the owner of Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi, the first way station on the trail after Springer in Neel's Gap, Georgia, near Blood Mountain as well as an avid hiker.  His story of how he came to own Mountain Crossings is interesting right off the start, due to the sacrifices and the loyalty of his family when he followed his dream to purchase the buildings built by the  Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940. 
 Loner visited Mountain Crossings the October previous to leaving in April 2012 to do a test hike of his gear and to get a shake down.  He was pretty much on the mark but also took advantage of every suggestion they made before setting off on his thru-hike.  He also said the people were great.  I highly recommend this book to family, friends and support folks so that they will encourage their hiker to stop in here of if they have a chance visit before they purchase their gear.  I'd also advise them to take the advice of the experts during their shake down. No hiker should be embarrassed because everyone is new to this at first. All they have to do listen and they'll benefit from the years of shared experie3nce housed in this building.  I'm glad Loner went there on his own and told me about it - because due to the fact that he listened and learned, he saved me a lot more worry than I would have had otherwise.
The hub of Mountain Crossings is the store where hikers don't just come to restock, but for the first timers, its the opportunity to get a shake down where the highly knowledgeable Porter (who previously worked for REI) and his staff provide a service which has saved lives.  One of the Mountain Crossings staff asks the hike to lay out the contents of their backpack and then the decisions on equipment and needs are made, eventually getting the pack weight down. The shake down also includes suggestions on whether a piece of gear will take them through the cold, keep them dry or keep them hydrated. The staff is known for getting a hiker's pack weight down to manageable proportions so they don't give up and get off the trail from exhaustion. 
Aside from the gear talk, the true stories in Just 0Passin Thru are gifts until themselves. They run the gamut from frightening and sad to hilarious, with one thing in common - these little  of life on the Appalachian Trail are nothing like what you'd ever expect, even considering where they take place. 
Which brings me to another reason why the store is the hub - the people, not just counting the friendly, invested staff, but also the previous thru-hikers who always stop in as they pass by on their treks, some of them the 3rd or 4th thru, and some who come to stay a while.  The ones who enjoy taking on jobs just out of their passion for the trail and their eagerness to see everyone who makes the attempt actually get to pose at the sign atop Katadhin. 
And boy, are they characters, from  Billy Bumblefoot who sets off on searches for lost hikers at a moment's notice, or watches the hikers trailing in from a lawn chair set atop the Mountain Crossings roof line, to Pirate who lives under the stairs in the basement and volunteers to take care of the hostel. 
As hikers come up the trail to the stone buildings, they notice how the AT goes under a roof joining the store and the hostel. This is the only only location on the trail covered by a roof . And as each hiker walks up the stairs to the welcome sight of the shop's door in need everything from the rescue of friend back on the trail, to just hot chocolate and a snicker bar or two, they discover the best thing they find are the smiling faces of folks who have or will be sharing the same experiences.  

1 comment:

  1. Nice sentiments Gail. I recall when I started out on my thru-hike walking down the mountain and into their store. It was a transition from wilderness to civilization in a few steps. Pizza, soda pop, ice cream and electric lights were there at my fingertips. True, my headlamp light was at my fingertips, but it didn't fill the whole area with light and it would die as the batteries bled dry.

    Mountain Crossing is perfectly situated, a life-raft reached after days adrift in the woods. I was ready to be rescued. As I note in my book, I stayed there overnight with a friend, and stuffed my face. Junk food never tasted so good. I plead guilty.

    I enjoyed Winton's book, it was a very different take on a story that has been told in many books. I never tire of reading trail books. They are what inspired me to set off on my thru-hike. I can't get enough of them. Thanks for reminding me about how much I enjoyed this one.

    Dennis “K1” Blanchard
    Author of: Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail