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AWOL on the Appalachian Trail
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 24, 2010
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail takes a big commitment of time and money, but even more, a commitment of will. Even the fittest of hikers is sure to be challenged by the arduous trek. The Trail runs 2,172 miles through fourteen states, from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The Trail is deliberately routed over mountaintops, so that the total gain and loss of elevation, as author David Miller tells us in AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, is equivalent to climbing up and down Mount Everest sixteen times. The majority of people attempting a thru-hike (that is, completing the trail in one year) start in Georgia while Mount Katahdin is still wrapped in snow, and follow the season northeast. The northern terminus is in Baxter State Park, which closes for the season on October 15 and marks a deadline for the season's hiking.

Miller thru-hiked in 2003. He was at a point of dissatisfaction with his "cubicle-farm" career and searching for a personal challenge. His wife was supportive of his intentions, so after a year of preparation, he hit the Trail in Georgia. During his 146-day hike he composed entries for an on-line journal and emailed a newspaper article every two weeks. This book, now in re-release, is the story of his adventure. It's usual for thru-hikers to use a "trail name," and AWOL is the name Miller chose.

"AWOL on the Appalachian Trail" is written in a journal style. Detailed notes about terrain, wildlife, other hikers sharing the Trail, and Miller's own experiences are the backbone of the book; he touches only briefly on the history and management of the Trail. His is the kind of story you'd want to read before hiking it yourself as an adjunct to the guidebooks, or (if thru-hiking is not for you) out of sheer interest in this great adventure. Miller fared pretty well on the Trail, though he had trouble with his feet and had to take a several-day "layover" while an infected blister healed. Like other hikers, he made fairly liberal use of towns near the Trail, stopping to eat, re-stock, visit outfitters to replace gear, email his writings, and often spend a night in a hostel, lodging house or motel.

It's not until late in the book that Miller elaborates on the deeper reasons behind his decision to hike, and what the adventure means to him as he looks back on it. I would have preferred more of this "context" but that's the author's choice and my enjoyment was not impaired because of it.

It's commonly acknowledged that the toughest part of the Trail is in New Hampshire and Maine. My interest quickened during this part of Miller's narrative, as he covered terrain and towns that I know. In New Hampshire the Trail climbs 17 mountains over 4,000 feet, all part of the White Mountains National Park and surprisingly accessible to skiers and hikers. The Trail crosses into Maine and traverses its "toughest mile" in the Mahoosuc Range, through to Grafton Notch. This area, now a State Park, is a playground for people in the area. As children, sliding down the slick racing flumes in our bathing suits and dropping over waterfalls into icy deep pools (how did our parents let us do that?) we had no idea of the massive grandeur just over the ridge.

Miller loved the 280 miles in Maine best. He described towns that I know well--Andover, Rangeley, Millinockett--and finished his hike by climbing Mount Katahdin with his family. He writes, "Mount Katahdin is the most picturesque mountain on the trail. It presents itself wonderfully from a distance. The views from the trail on the mountain itself are enthrallingly diverse. The landscape before me now is beautiful in its simplicity, grandeur, and immutability. It will be equally beautiful in the winter and in the summer. It will look the same next year and one hundred years from now." I hope that's true--and it depends on our love of these places and our will to preserve them. This is a book that may inspire you to see some beautiful wild places for yourself and to feel an investment in their preservation.

Linda Bulger, 2010
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is a chronicle of author David Miller's trek along the 2,172 entirety of said trail. At times the monotony of a hike will make it seem longer than it actually is. I felt the same way about this book.

I've read a decent amount of hiking literature and typically find it written one of two ways: either technically or with some naked introspection. Angular trail guides aside, technical writers of the genre periodically inject the psychological side effects of their travels into their writings, but it's often random and of little value to the reader. I felt that Miller's effort was in this latter vicinity, falling short of profound while housing an exhausting amount of detail.

Still, this may not necessarily be a bad thing depending on what you're looking for, here.

It's my opinion that this book would be most appreciated by those that have either thru-hiked the AT or are planning on doing so. AWOL, at its core, is a comprehensive log detailing the journey from point A to B. The result is a nearly mechanical abbreviation of the author's experience, which I believe would be an indisputably worthy reference guide for those planning the same trip. Likewise, those that have hiked the trail would probably find the story a sentimental recollection of their own similar experiences. For these reasons, I believe the book could be a win.

Unfortunately for me, however, the read quickly felt repetitive and it wore me out. The descriptions of the surroundings are far from vivid and that left me wanting:

"After I cross the road, I see a stream off the trail to my left. The stream is moving slowly, bending around a flat piece of ground. The gap between the trail and the stream narrows as the trail begins to incline up the mountain. I look over to the stream, also on an incline now, lively and cascading over rocks. It is late in the day, and I begin to feel cold..."

The book is packed solidly with hundreds of paragraphs just like this one. Miller occasionally scatters prose around with some success, (one of my favorites is when he compares scattering twilight crickets as, "popping black corn"), but for the most part, I found the well dry which inevitably devolved my inner reading voice from my own to that of Ben Stein. Slumber fodder.

I also grew tired of the author's nagging aches and pains, which I'm advising you of with some trepidation. The realists that have garnished this book with accolades will most likely scoff at my insolence, but the details of the blisters, sprains, sores, and snores, while not adamantly negative, did have a disheartening influence on my involvement, here. Hiking hurts. That I know. And it's not that I don't appreciate how MUCH he must have hurt, (I've never walked that long), but reading about someone else's pain only really interests me when it's severe, and this mostly, to me, peaked out at extremely uncomfortable.

In the end, I guess this one just didn't do it for me. If you're headed for the AT, I strongly recommend picking it up. You'll get some wonderful advice about tactics and gear. If you're looking for a spiritual, mind-bending account of personal, life-altering epiphanies, however, then move along. "A Walk Across America" by Peter Jenkins may be of more value.

There may be a gray area between the two sides of hiking literature but I'm not convinced that Miller has actually located it.

It is what it is.

- t -
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
A boring read. There were some funny moments, and it did present the difficulty this hike presents, it was for the most part a repetitive account. Hiked, ate, slept, and then started all over again. By the time you are half way through this book you know it is going to be the same as the first half.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: Perfect Paperback
Miller's book kept me entranced from the first chapter and I read non-stop for a couple of hours. Not only was the description of the sometimes colorful characters he ran into on his sojourns amusing and poignant but his thought process appealed to mine as it bought to mind my own thoughts while I was out there. The first three chapters were particularly appealing to me as I had been out there in the same region and it seemed, like just yesterday that I too had walked this way. When he says "Alone, cruising serenely through the woods, is a situation that nurtures emotional liberation. In the bustle of everyday life there is no time for frivolous thoughts", I recalled the stressful time that I was going through with my divorce prior to my hike and remember how the AT was my head clearing mission.

As his journey along the trail we feel the distance he has put between him and the distant outside world, and how satisfying it is to sometimes put all our worries aside, and just live for today when he confides "In suburbia the din of traffic, machines, and the voices of other people were the norm. I didn't feel harassed by noise. In the forest I appreciate the quiet and the clarity of thought that it induces. It is a welcome unanticipated benefit. I feel unstressed, fit, alert and invigorated ..." He goes on to reiterate these thoughts a little later when he adds "...I have come to recognize that most of what is memorable and pleasing about my time on the trail are ordinary moments in the outdoors......It is fulfilling to be saturated with the sights, sounds and smells..."

For those uninitiated in the AT, and for those that have hiked on it themselves, the book captivates and enthralls, and we are as excited as Miller is when he reaches his goal at Mt. Katahdin and completes his 2170 mile thru-hike from Georgia to Maine.

Mark Sadler [...]
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What I liked about the book:
1. Miller gave honest accounts, not heroic ones, about his challenges on his more than 2K mile hike. Although I probably could have done without the details on lost toenails, I enjoyed hearing about his ups and downs along the way.
2. The author provided a huge amount of detail about the trail itself. It's no wonder that people were reading his journal during the journey. Although it's been said that the trail changes over time, it seems fitting that he should have written a guide to the trail after publishing this book the first time.
3. The friendships that Miller made with folks whose names were equally as memorable as his own trail moniker made the trip seem much less solitary that it seemed at points.
4. The last quarter of the book, which takes place in the New England portion of the Appalachian Trail, is full of beautiful images of the trail and satisfying detail of the views and wildlife.
5. For hikers, it seems that this would be an ideal book to take along, if only for the recommended places to sleep/stop.
6. Finally, it was heartwarming to learn of "trail magic" and of all the folks willing to pick up a hitchhiking thru-hiker even if he's stinky and very dirty.

What wasn't my cup of tea:
1. It was hard not to read David Miller's AWOL on the Appalachian Trail without thinking of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I favor Bryson's account for a few reasons -- it's funny, the quality of writing is consistently high throughout the book, and it made me think about actually trying at least part of the hike. The writing was uneven in places where it seemed Miller was hurrying through his hike. It was spare of the type of description found in sections he enjoyed.

For the most part, I wanted to keep reading to see if Miller would make it, and I'm very glad he did. It is a hopeful book in that people can persevere despite pain, poor weather, and loneliness. I recommend it for hikers and those who wish they were.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
Finally a book that doesn't pretend that this an easy task. AWOL really describes the Appalachian Trail with emotion. It is truely a difficult task, but not an impossible one. I have hiked over 500 miles of the trail on various section hikes and practice hikes, so I speak with some degree of experience. David has taken us on a journey of beauty, fierce weather, loneliness and pain. At times I thought I should check my feet for blisters or seek shelter from the rain as he described some of the more challenging times. This is an excellent book to help the serious hiker prepare and understand what difficulties he or she will face and an exciting adventure story for those who have hobbies other than hiking. Thanks for taking me along, AWOL
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
After finishing Wild I was excited to find another book about a solo hiker. This seemed perfect especially with all of the great reviews.

So disappointed!! Writing was boring and completely uneventful...while I understand he may not have had any great epiphanies during the hike the overall story was just so lacking..from beginning to end it was boring.

I did give it 2 stars instead of one just for the fact that it was amazing of him to finish the thru hike and I'm utterly impressed with that.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
The compelling descriptions drew me into "shadow stepping" along with AWOL. He gives us a peek into his thinking, opinions, and general philosphy, which adds to the pleasure of the day-to-day adventures of hiking. Followed AWOL's progress through the FLORIDA TODAY newspaper articles, however, the book is a must read. Thank you, David for a wonderful "arm chair" hike for Georgia to Maine.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I share this author's passion for the Appalachian Trail. I also love his wit and sense of humor. My husband Tony McVay and I have only hiked short sections of this trail in Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, so we were not familiar with a lot of the cute trail jargon such as trying to 'Yogi' or 'Yogying' food, named after the cute little Yogi bear that begs for food or steals picnic baskets. Apparently there is an art to subtle begging for food from tourists or day hikers. I like to pack my backpack full of snacks specifically for thru-hikers so they never have to beg, but that's just me. I believe it improves one's Karma and I truly admire anyone who takes on this 2,172 mile hike. David Miller (a.k.a 'Awol') left his job as a software engineer in 2003 to pursue one of his passions that apparently was on his 'bucket list'. He shares the highlights of the trail as well as some of the pitfalls he encountered, several of which could have ended his quest early. Kudos to his wife and children who must've spent more than a few sleepless nights worrying about their loved one, but supported his desire to reach his goal. I also appreciate the words of wisdom and planning David shares with his readers. My husband has a thru-hike high on his bucket list so this is a useful book for him or anyone who hopes to take on the A.T., or if you'd just like a glimpse of this famous, well-loved trail through a hiker's eyes. I'd also like to suggest the National Geographic video that was recently released about the Appalachian Trail (though they pronounce it differently than we do here in the South, we won't hold that against 'em, lol). This book, along with the video, will provide great insight into this epic journey. David Miller's wonderful book has the humor of Bryson's 'A Walk in the Woods', the professionalism of an informative trail guide and the personal warmth of a fireside Memoir.
Chrissy K. McVay
 Appalachian Trail
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
I will never hike the AT, but not for lack of desire. Like the author, I'm not sure my feet could take it and I admire him for sticking it out [through five pair of shoes]. This is a wonderful story of a free-spirited man who understands the need for and purpose of an adventure, an heroic quest, and what's more has the support of his wife and family to do it. Quite honestly, I didn't think he could sustain my interest over the 2000-plus miles and 300-plus pages, but he did. Not only was I interested in him, his observations, his trail experiences, but he told shared great vignettes about the other hikers and people he met along the way. Some of those people I grew fond of, and respected them for their commitment. Others - but only a few - were of a different [ahem] nature and I won't spoil the story by describing them or David's experiences with them. They don't carry the story, for sure, but they are indeed a cross-section of humanity and I, for one, was a bit surprised to find them on the AT.

The only other book I've read on hiking the AT was Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods," and I didn't finish it, just like the author didn't finish hiking the entire AT. That was one disappointment; the other was I don't think he really took it seriously as a personal adventure quest but perhaps did it for the sake of a book contract. David Miller is no blowhard, self-promoting faux-hero. He did the hike for the hike, and to attempt to get a new perspective on his life. That it resulted in a book is to our great benefit as readers.

My favorite passage: "Thoughts are the most effective weapon in the human arsenal. On the upside, it is powerful to realize that goals are reached primarily by establishing the proper state of mind. But if allowed the perspective that our endeavors are propped upon nothing but a notion, we falter." [p. 107 of the Mariner paperback]

Bryson might well have heeded this advice.
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