This is the sequel to Southbound, The Barefoot Sisters’ account of their southbound Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I didn’t like this one quite as much as I liked the first book, but this one was still enjoyable.
A couple of things I really enjoyed about this book:
1) This thru-hike took place in 2001. I know about more 2001 thru-hikes than I do about hikes from any other years. My friend’s mom and her husband thru-hiked the AT in 2001, and TREK – A Journey on the Appalachian Trail, a documentary I watched and quite enjoyed this past year, follows a group of friends on a 2001 thru-hike. Making the trip seem in a way even more familiar, I also discovered that Isis graduated high school the same year as I did, so I was able to draw parallels between what her 2001 was like and what mine was. While they were hiking through Virginia, I was starting an editing job at a major corporation one state away. While they were walking through the mountains, I was training for a marathon I never ran. It’s possible that I might have been in Asheville, North Carolina, at the same time they were visiting there. And then of course there was the way they learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, which is a story that each of us alive at that time shares. Reading about their shock, fear, and confusion reawakened the shock, fear, and confusion that I felt that morning. In a lot of ways, this thru-hike felt closer to me than their southbound hike, which was both enjoyable and a bit uncomfortable since there still is a huge amount of doubt about whether I will ever actually thru-hike the AT. But then, I like a bit of discomfort; it keeps me from becoming complacent.
2) A few times they touched upon the privilege that allows people to take six months off to take a long walk. The clearest example I found was on page 125 when jackrabbit talks about what she considers the rather obnoxious attitude of a business owner nearby the trail who seemed to assume that hikers would steal from his business just because they were hkers. Another hiker, Fiddler, recognizes the demographics of the majority of thru-hikers and suggests that maybe this is a good experience for hikers. “Look at us,” he says. “How many white, middle-class Americans know what discrimination feels like? Maybe if we realize what it’s like to be followed by stares and whispers, we’ll be less likely to do it to somebody else.” This is something I’ve been having some trouble with when thinking about planning a thru-hike: while I’m trying to be aware of privilege and ways that I can let go of my unearned privilege, here I am planning an activity that depends very much on the privilege that allows me to save up the money for a long-distance hike and feel reasonably confident that I will be greeted along the trail with the same goodwill that the Letcher sisters describe. The idea that I might learn something valuable along the way is a comfort, I suppose, albeit not much of one, but I do appreciate that they at least touched upon the issue of privilege.
It was nice that the sisters got their easy (compared to their southbound hike), fun thru-hike, but it felt like there was a little something—perhaps tension?—missing from this one. This easier hike up the better-traveled northbound route seemed less significant in a way. There was little doubt the sisters would make it to Katahdin, there was less detail about their travels and it was more difficult for me to follow where they were on the trail, and there were more spring-break-like side trips. It just seemed more like a party this time around and less like a pilgrimage. I don’t know that there’s necessarily anything wrong with this, it just wasn’t as satisfying to me as their account of their first trip was.
- Southbound by Lucy and Susan Letcher (imperfecthappiness.wordpress.com)
- Reasons hikers and backpackers leave the Appalachian Trail (writer77.wordpress.com)