First, imagine being 6 feet, 11 inches tall.
You live your life above most people and some tree lines. People ask you "How's the weather up there?"
Maybe you can even get some classic one-liners, such as:
"You're so tall that the giraffes got jealous!"
"You're so tall that even in the summer time you still have snow on your head!"
That last one might actually be a little more relevant to the book I'm reviewing. See, Bill Walker is 6-11. But the difference is, he set out to hike the Appalachian Trail, a trail that runs more than 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. A novice hiker at the start, Walker, whose trail name is Skywalker based on his height and his last name, learns so much on this trail during his hike. He's funny, witty and, at times, puts himself in situations that you can't help but feel a bit sorry for him.
After all, it isn't easy doing something like this in the first place. But being 6-11 and barely 220 pounds makes it even harder.
Skywalker -- Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail is his story about his hike.
Bill's quest takes him through all sorts of weather and tribulations -- including trying to stay warm or even fit into tents and set up tarps. It shows the hard side of the trail, but it also shows the light side. His interactions and descriptions of the people he meets on the trail are excellent and well-done. He holds no punches, either, which I liked. More on that later.
This book is a perfect book about the trail. History, personal stories and description make this a fine read.
Now for my thoughts...
This book was a page-turner. I finished it in three days as it's the perfect size to kind of go through it at a decent pace and really keep up with everything. Walker never lost me. In some of the other AT books I've read, there are parts where I found myself skimming. Not with this book. I smiled for most of it and never lost my bearing of where I was with it.
One cool thing? Walker gives cliff hangers. Seriously. I never expected this. But he starts off with talking about a few of the people he met and makes mention that the reader will find out more later, but then goes off elsewhere. As I read, I found myself wondering what happened. Especially when he meets some of the others etc. In the end, he tells the reader the endings to those cliff hangers. A very good and interesting way to write part of this book.
Humor. This was the best part for me. The reality of a thru-hike is this -- you are on the trail for upwards of six months, covering more than 2,200 miles. If you can't laugh, then it's going to be a long hike. Even when things go crappy, you have to find a way to smile. Walker did that and he portrayed that in his writing. He told funny and humorous stories. He told of the awful things that happened and found a way to make it funny.
Most of all, he made me, the reader, care. He described the people he met and really developed them as characters for the book. Being he was with many of the same people over and over, it was good to develop them. The funny part is that even though this was real life, I found myself reading part of it like fiction. There were certain people/characters I really liked. There were certain ones I really disliked. And there were others who I wondered about. But I felt like Skywalker took me on the trail with him and that is something that I haven't gotten out of every AT book I've read. This book really is one of the better ones that I've read about the AT.
There's always a little bad to books, but I am hard-pressed to find any with this.
If you are reading on the Kindle, as I was, there are some formatting issues. So that was a little odd, but I'm not sure that should take away from the quality of the book and it shouldn't come down on the author.
My only true complaint is there were some of the stories that I would have liked to have seen expanded and a couple that I would have liked to have seen shortened. I think that comes with a book like this because there is so much that happens over the course of a 6-month hike like this. And I'm sure Walker had his reasons for making some shorter and some longer. Just personal interest would have liked certain ones to have been switched in regard to length.
An excellent read. This book is right up there with Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" as my favorite reads on the Appalachian Trail. Walker is a likeable person and his thoughts are insightful, honest and real. He brings you close to the AT and really gives hope to "armchair" hikers that a hike like this can be made by people of all shapes, sizes and lifestyle. This man was not a hiker. He's a tall, skinny fellow who hiked more than 2,200 miles over all sorts of terrain. He had to "beef up" to get to 220 pounds and by the end, he was at least 40 pounds lighter. He battles equipment, nature, his fear of bears, people and everything else along this memorable trip. And in the end, he stands atop Mount Katahdin in Maine.
He overcame a lot. And though the outcome is quite obvious (how many people write about failed thru-hikes?), I still found myself rooting for him the whole book.
The book took me about three days to read. It flows well and reads fast. It's very enjoyable.