WINTER IS A GREAT TIME TO SNUGGLE IN WITH A GOOD book until the weather warms. Tod Jones, an avid A.T. section hiker and reader, recommends four Trail memoirs that are certain to inspire. Jones taught English composition and literature for 20 years at the University of Maryland College Park. He turned to reading Trail memoirs four years ago when he and his wife, Karen, started hiking the A.T. Since then, they have logged 930 miles. Jones says reading memoirs has been inspiring and informative. He underscores the point that hiking the A.T is, without question, a very personal experience that is uniquely shared in each book.
Walking with Spring; the First Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail
By Earl V. Shaffer
Earl Shaffer details his thru-hike in 1948 after World War II and the death of his hiking partner who had been killed in Iwo Jima. Shaffer wrote his book years later from notes he had taken on the Trail. If you are looking for an account that traces the author’s emotional or psychological journey, this memoir is not for you. What is rather unique in the book is that the author liberally intersperses his narrative with naturalistic and historical information.
AWOL on the Appalachian Trail
By David Miller
In 2003, David Miller was determined to hike the A.T. When his request to take a leave of absence from his computer programming job was turned down, Miller went absent without leave: AWOL. His account of his six-month thru-hike does more than tell a story, although that he does. Miller takes his readers along his journey, introducing them to life on the Trail. The resulting book is both descriptive and informative. It is an introduction to the lifestyle, including the hardships and rewards, as well as the social experience of an A.T. thru-hiker.
As Far as the Eye Can See: Reflections of an Appalachian Trail Hiker
By David Brill
David Brill recounts his five-month northbound thru-hike in 1979 and does a masterful job of chronological reporting — and manages to arrange his narrative into thematic chapters. In his first chapter titled “Fear,” the author narrates the terrifying mountain storm that Brill experienced on his first night in the Georgia wilderness, the fears and anxieties that emerged in the process of preparing for his A.T. journey, and the self-doubt that troubled him during the first leg of his immense undertaking. There is an unmistakable nostalgia in these pages. Brill looks back upon his A.T. hike as not only a formative experience, but as a period of self-reliance, of magical camaraderie, and unique freedom from the constraints of societal expectations and material possessions.
Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail
By Jennifer Pharr Davis
Jennifer Pharr Davis, who achieved a 2008 (unofficial) women’s speed record for hiking the A.T. in 57 days, recounts her first thru-hike three years earlier — an experience she says defined her more than achieving her speed record. This book is predominantly about Davis’ unique and sometimes unusual experiences, and her interactions with, and reactions to people, places, and things. A couple of characters in her book are especially memorable — namely Moot and Mooch. Her accounts are often humorous and, ultimately, likeable.

Tod Jones has reviewed more than two dozen Appalachian Trail memoirs on his blog “Weekend Jots”:

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