On April Fool's Day 1997, 38-year-old Robert Alden Rubin leaves his puzzled wife and a burnt-out career to became a pilgrim named Rhymin' Worm on the Appalachian Trail, joining a couple thousand other "thruhikers" on the way. Through 2,160 miles of shin splints, feet turned to hamburger, muscle revolt, intestinal distress, hantavirus, freezing and broiling weather, malnutrition, missing spouses and children, bear and bull-moose encounters, and serious injuries, he and his fellow travelers--a motley subculture if ever there was one--endure, even thrive.
To the very end, Rubin is not sure why he's made this journey. But the combination of getting away from the "normal" world of work, commuting, suburbs, and capitalist culture and joining a group of outsiders in pursuit of a single goal seems to fill the space in his soul that the normal world carved out over the years. He emerges at the end of the trail, in Vermont, with an inkling of why he's on the path:
We've walked this crooked trail to mend the crazing of our lives; we reek of sweat and smoke, wear Gore-Tex shells to turn the storm away, take on new names, our talk all aches, and boots, and food; and yet we yearn to strip the armor from our hearts, to wash ourselves in mountain rain and air until, like the wild columbine and black cohosh, we can be merely what we are, until out of the stone-strewn ground we bloom again, until the weathered sign on Baxter Peak points along the path to where we've been.
On the Beaten Path is by turns somber, silly, philosophical, historical, even mundane, but mostly, it's touching. Alden's courage to rescue his life from what could have been a featureless future is inspiring, and his honesty about his shortcomings makes his inner world accessible to readers who may not share his demons. --Stefanie Durbin
From Publishers Weekly
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