Imagine a 7-year-old boy asking his father if they can hike the entire length of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail together. Then imagine that the father says yes. Now think "What are they getting themselves into?"
For the author of this deeply felt book, the planned hike is an opportunity to bond with his son and be what he calls "Barbarians"--in touch with natural processes far from the comforts of home. It's also a chance for nature to do some healing in his life, too.
For the boy, it's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
They start in West Virginia and head north, through cold and wet spring weather, carrying only what they need and picking up resupply boxes along the way. The boy is entranced by the freedom, asking questions nonstop and pointing out every interesting bug, bird, and blossom they pass. But he's also stubborn, sometimes scared, and occasionally too tired to trudge on.
Dad relishes seeing the natural world through his son's eyes, but he also struggles with the responsibility of keeping the journey going forward. By the time they reach Vermont, with aching feet and frazzled nerves, their plan to take a train to Georgia and hike north to where they started is in serious jeopardy.
But the trail beckons.
Closely observed, wonderfully described, and bracingly clear-eyed, this inspiring book will appeal to nature lovers and would-be AT hikers alike. It offers a vivid evocation of both the camaraderie and dangers of trail life--as well as the difficulties of modern child-rearing and the powerful lure of an untamed natural world.
Paul Molyneaux is the author of The Doryman's Reflection and Swimming in Circles. He writes about commercial fishing for the New York Times and other publications and won a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship to study sustainable fisheries in India, Chile, and Iceland. He and his family live in Maine and Mexico.