Back when I moved to Detroit, I was dating a soon-to-be physician’s assistant going to into the field of otolaryngology (my spell check wants to keep changing it to nanotechnology). After receiving the acceptance letter, she bought multiple textbooks on the subject. No grades to achieve, no tests to pass. She didn’t have an initial passion for studying the anatomy of ears, but there was an almost-dying passion to really excel at her first job. While most people would have enjoyed the freedom within the time window between college and career-dom, daily trips to the library were her priority. I truly didn’t understand it back then, but then I played an active role in steering my career path.
I got a new job! I am getting the f@#k out of Detroit and moving westward. The twin cities is a biker dream. I’m only a 4 hour drive from home. But most importantly, the position is a technically challenging opportunity utilizing specialty lasers known as VCSELs, short for Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers. Instead of fussing over the color of push buttons, I can work in more tantalizing subjects including LIDAR and atomic clocks! And while packing up my belongings, juggling the holidays, saying farewell to my strong friend groups, all while still working full-time, I celebrated …….. by purchasing an expensive, 550 page textbook on VCSELs!
It’s a beast, and it’s eating up my typical book-reading time! Hence, the lack of entries over the last couple months…….
This is NOT a review of that textbook. And you know what…. I don’t really think I will review it even when I do finish it. This entry is intended for a more lighthearted book: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. If this seems to ring a bell 1) Bill also wrote A Brief History of Nearly Everything which I reviewed but did not finish and 2) I have been wanting to review for a bit in my continuing pursuit of more long distance hiking insights.
This is about the Appalachian Trail (AT). How two men, both older and quite out-of-shape, tackle a 2,000+ mile trail (of which Bill only did ~800 miles). They tackle excess backpacking weight. The trudge through snow and swamps. There are encounters with a wide variation of individuals on and off the trail. Snickers become staple meal items along their hike. And of course, they discuss the after-effects of being removed from civilization. How one recovers the appreciation of a warm shower and a soft bed, despite their condition.
As Bill mentions, “I was beginning to appreciate that the central feature of life on the Appalachian Trail is deprivation, that the whole point of the experience is to remove yourself so thoroughly from the conveniences of everyday life that the most ordinary things …. fill you with wonder and gratitude.” (Page 55)
In addition, you don’t need to hike the entire stretch of the AT to feel accomplished. <10% finish the hike on a yearly basis. Rather, the AT exists as a tool for one to gain a life-changing experience. It’s not about the miles; it’s more than a number. Whether it is to take a break from society, lose some excess weight, or just slow down and appreciate how beautiful and vast the wilderness truly is…..that’s when you have hiked the Appalachian Trail.
Last August, I backpacked portions of Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful subset of the AT. I hiked summits, swam in waterfalls, and wound up in beautiful, yet mysterious campsites. And most importantly, I did it alone. It was a pursuit to strengthen my independence and disconnect myself from society. I have learned that I need to be less dependent on my impact on others and their approval of me. Maybe it was how I was raised? Or maybe I was trying to prove a point after my failed marriage; that I am still worth something to those around me? Regardless, the experience was amazing, and I have improved. However, 5 nights was not enough…… stupid Hurricane!
Back to the book. You can tell there’s a modest shift halfway through the novel. This occurs after Bill stops hiking with his friend Katz after Shenandoah. While the book’s first half is more spiritual and personally insightful, along with a multitude of laughs from shared experiences and qualms between friends, the second half is more “historical.” Multiple chapters start out with a fact (a story, medical conditions, geographical knowledge) that leads to a small story on how a specific part of the trail unfolded. It became less of a seamless story and more of a rough stitch-together of personal experiences with “enticing” introductions. The last few chapters bring back the original flow of writing that Bill originally started the book with when he reunites with Katz in Maine (which they also did not finish).
But in one of these “detached chapters,” Bill brings up an interesting topic on the harmonious coexistence of human presence and tranquil wilderness. Where we tend to isolate the two beings from each other using territorial lines and fences, there was an earlier age where the AT ran side-by-side with farmlands and small towns. This has slowly disappeared not just from natural shifts in economics, but it also includes some disturbing stories of reckless human behavior stemming from politics and industrial advancement.
Still, despite everything going on in my life, I still finished the book in less than a month of receiving it as a Christmas present. A pleasant read, indeed.
Not going to lie, if I didn’t get this job at Vixar, I was planning on quitting my current role the following fall to do some traveling. Not the AT to be precise, but multiple locations over a year-long time-span. I would have went New Zealand in the Winter, traveled around the Southwest Horseshoe trails in the spring, experienced Iceland in the Summer (when it would be bearable….hopefully more than Norway in August), and backpacked the Colorado trail in the early months of Fall. I was investing in backpacking equipment, and reading these book for insight. But that will have to wait. A new, exciting chapter in my life is about to unfold, hopefully filled with unexpected and positive experiences!
I may be “cold and alone,” but I sure as hell going to keep life interesting!