Thru-hiking season is upon us and if you’re not setting out on your own adventure this year, you can still live vicariously through past hikers who have documented their journeys. You can be transported to the rugged Sierra Nevadas or ride the rollercoaster on the AT. I have yet to listen to an account of the CDT, but you can bet it’s on my list of to-listens for this year!
Most hikers and even non-hikers are aware of what I like to call the main two, Wild by Cheryl Strayed and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. The most fascinating thing about these two authors/ hikers is that neither of them hiked their respective trails in completion. So why are their stories so well-known? Because they had a story to tell.
Their accounts are not just the monotonous day-to-day of hiking. They take you on the experience with them through powerful storytelling and interesting characters that build the layers of their adventure. Readers, or listeners in my case, want the details, the experiences, the emotional journey of thru-hiking. They want to understand the how and the why and see the trail through the author’s eyes.
These three lesser-known thru-hiking memoirs I’m sharing here do a tremendous job of storytelling, making them well worth listening to, or reading if you prefer that method. Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my recommendations ….
Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart
An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Carrot Quinn
I was initially drawn to this book by its title. What did it mean? The second thing that drew me in was the author’s name, Carrot. I’d never heard that name before.
Quinn originally set out on her journey to squash her feared addiction to the internet and the inability to connect with others because the city made her feel numb. She had never thru-hiked before deciding to step foot on the PCT.
Her journey is full of ups and downs, and she is very candid about all of them. This was one of my favorite things about this book, it was very raw and real. She doesn’t gloss over issues, but instead chooses to put them right up to your face.
Quinn did not narrate her own audiobook, instead having Erin Spencer do the job, and she does a wonderful job bringing Quinn and her journey to life. While I always love hearing the author narrate their own adventure, sometimes it’s the better choice to hire someone else.
The Trail Provides
A Boy’s Memoir of Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
by David Smart
Who doesn’t love a good story about a corporate robot leaving that lifestyle for one of freedom and adventure? I mean, it’s the Hallmark of most Christmas movies, so audiences must love it.
Smart quits the corporate rat race and is desperate for a change of pace. Lucky for him, one of his old fraternity brothers, Bradley, is about to attempt a thru-hike on the PCT and invites him along. There’s only one catch—Bradley wants to hike the entire trail barefoot.
Smart and Bradley are both rather inexperienced and their desire to hike barefoot only contributes to that fact. Smart has only mere weeks to prepare for their six-month journey into the wild and must rely heavily on Bradley’s advice and game-plan. But tensions quickly grow between the two.
On the trail, there is nowhere to run from your problems, no modern world distractions that can take you away for a little bit. You must face them, head-on. This book is full of that, but never fear, the trail provides.
Smart chose to narrate his own book and his reading style took me a while to get used to, but eventually the adventure picked up and I was able to get into it. Some listeners have claimed bumping up the speed to 1.4 makes it more bearable, because Smart speaks rather slowly, but I chose to stick with the standard speed.
Where’s the Next Shelter?
By Gary Sizer
I stumbled upon this gem completely by accident. I was simply looking for another memoir and this one seemed to drop into my lap. I’m so glad it did.
Sizer is a seasoned backpacker and former marine in his 40s when he sets out on his AT thru-hike. He feels a bit out of place among the retirees and post-grad students as he sits smack in the middle of his prime career years — that he just put on hold for six months. Sizer strays from the typical model for thru-hiking memoirs, focusing on the adventure itself and the people he walked with, instead of the mountains he climbed and food he ate.
The people he hiked with make this story fun and compelling. Sizer was incredibly lucky to befriend two amazing sidekicks who make you question if you’re still reading a memoir because they make up the perfect trio. I had trouble pressing pause because the story was so riveting, and the hilarity had me laughing out loud.
Sizer narrates his own book, which at first, I wasn’t sure was the right choice. It takes him a bit to find his groove as an audiobook performer. But once he does, it starts to get really good. Stick with it and I promise, you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
I was not able to find any of these three books through my local library, but they were well-worth the investment.
I listen to audiobooks pretty much any time I’m doing anything, cleaning, cooking, and of course when I’m solo hiking. There is something magical about listening to a hiking book while out in nature. So, before you set out on your next hiking or backpacking adventure, grab or download one of these titles to keep you company on your journey.
What other lesser-known thru-hiking memoirs do you love and recommend? Leave a comment below ↓