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Awol on the Appalachian Trail:

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail - David         Miller Really like this great blend of detailed trail info and introspection about the experience of doing the AT. David is a middle-aged happily married man with children and a job (that he doesn't love too much). Not your typical thru-hiker, so it was interesting to hear his story. He gives a little bit of epilogue, but I only wish for more details on re-entry or changes that come about as a result of a journey such as this one. But at least there was some coverage of the topic. "When you attempt to capture the highlights without burdening yourself with the tedium, the highlights lose the foundation that elevates them to the status of "highlight." Analogies abound because a focused attitude defines thee quality of all that we do. In playing a game, dieting, or hiking the AT, you benefit most when you commit yourself to it, embrace it." p. 51"I'm no maverick. Upon leaving college I dove into the workforce, eager to have my own stuff and a job to pay for it. Parents approved, bosses gave raises, and my friends could relate. The approval, the comforts, the commitments wound themselves around me like invisible threads. When my life stayed the course, I wouldn't even feel them binding. Then I would waiver enough to sense the growing entrapment, the taming of my life in which I had been complicit. Working a 9-to-5 job took more energy than I had expected, leaving less time to pursue diverse interests. I grew to detest the statement "I am a ..." with the sentence completed by an occupational title. Self-help books emphasize "defining priorities" and "staying focused," euphemisms for specialization and stifling spontaneity. Our vision becomes so narrow that risk is trying a new brand of cereal, and adventure is watching a new sitcom. Over time I have elevated my opinion of nonconformity nearly to the level of an obligation. We should have a bias toward doing activities that we don't normally do to keep loose the moorings of society. Hiking the AT is "pointless." What life is not "pointless"? Is it not pointless to work paycheck to paycheck just to conform? Hiking the AT before joining the workforce was an opportunity not taken. Doing it in retirement would be sensible; doing it at this time in my lie is abnormal, and therein lay the appeal. I want to make my life less ordinary." p.146-147As he nears the end of the hike. "I think of what I am doing on the trail. What have I accomplished? My time on the trail has been fantastic, but there has been no epiphany. I've nearly used up my quota of time being Awol. I have to go back to the real world., earn a living, and support a family. I have no insight into how I can return and avoid the doldrums that brought me here." p. 268-269Epilogue."My daughters, especially my youngest, missed me. Being away from home for long stretches cannot be a way of life. Still, it is important for parents to continue to live their own lives. We can't sit by and say we've already made our decisions, done our striving, and dish out opinions on the doings of our children. Words alone lack authority, and we risk making them surrogates for the life we'd like to lead. We can better relate to the budding aspirations of our children if we follow dreams of our own.I missed the trail increasingly over the first few months I was back home, and then the feeling matured to a combination of fondness, loss, nostalgia, and longing. Some moments on the trail were awe-inspiring. Many days were full of picturesque moments: the path lines with blue wildflowers, areas overrun by blooming pink rhododendron and white mountain laurel, the beckoning trail weaving through trees and boulders, the smell of the firs, exposed summits showing limitless horizon of mountains, rolling fields of hay and corn with an old barn in the backdrop. My mind is saturated with these memories. They return to my conscious unsummoned, while I'm driving or sitting at my desk." p. 320"As a result of my hike, I am much more inclined to do things. I will have fewer "should have dones" even if it means incurring some "wish I hadn'ts." I have changed in smaller ways, too. I am friendlier and more patient. I worry less about money. I can get by with less. It is as pleasing to get rid of old stuff as it is to get new stuff. Excess is a burden, even when you are not carrying it on your back." p. 322"What are you doing now? Since the days of my hike, I had harbored ideas about how a guidebook might be improved. In 2008 I acted on those ideas, and the result is The A.T. Guide: A Handbook for Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Development and maintenance of the guidebook consumes too much of my time, but it keeps me in touch with the AT community. I was rehired to do the same software engineering job that I left. At times I feel stuck, in that I used my quota of time off during my prime working years. At times I feel less tethered, reassured in knowing that I can leave if I choose. I've done it before." p. 328