This summer I’ve been reading several books about thru hikes on the Appalachian Trail. Two of these books have become my new favorites. Walkin’ On The Happy Side Of Misery by J. R. “Model T” Tate - A 4 time thru-hiker and Ten Million Steps: The Nimblewill Nomad’s epic 10-month trek from the Florida Key to Quebec by M. J. Eberhart. This is the story of walking the entire Appalachian mountain range from Florida to the far north of Quebec, Canada; a.k.a. The Eastern Continental Trail. Both of these men have incredible hiking experience and a true talent for writing. The differences and similarities between the two men make both books more interesting when read one after the other. You would expect books about such long journeys to be long, and they are; Walkin’ On The Happy Side Of Misery is 554 pages and Ten Million Steps is 528 pages. Actually i find many books about thru-hikes surprisingly short.
First; “Model T”, of the two I must say i prefer his writing stay the best. Tate is a retired Marine Corps officer and you can see the Corps is a deeply engrained part of his Self. Although some people may not appreciate it, Tate has a quirky sense of humor that made me smile all the way through the book. It is easy to identify with some of his trials and tribulations throughout the book. He comes across as a very ‘human’ kind of regular guy. Model T is not just his trail name but his alter ego. After long periods walking alone many people sometimes find that they are talking to themselves – sometimes out load. Walkin’ on the Happy Side of Misery is written in this way. At times it actually seams like you are following two people walking the trail. Model T is definitely a “people person” (as is Eberhart). As often happens to thru-hikers, he forms intimate friendships with several other hikers along the way. Tate is able to bring across the emotions and special moments of hiking the trail in a way that really makes you understand what it is like to be out there.
Ten Million Steps is written quite differently, much more in the style of a journal (as most thru-hiking books are). “Nomad” starts out his ten month trek on the Florida Trail heading north (finishing the Keys-Everglades walk at the end of the trip). This is the summer of 1998 and El Niño has flooded the trail and immediately we see that Nomad is no ordinary hiker. He is hiking in water and mud up to his knees, sometimes up to his hips, literally for miles and miles through the Everglades, having a difficult time just finding a dry spot or “island” to camp the night. As Nomad puts it; “..The most difficult, nerve-racking,and dangerous treadway that I would encounter… Dragging mud, water, and grass step after step, mile after mile…. The depth of the murk and slosh I’m pushing along climbs up and down my legs but stays below my belt as I stumble along in the dark.” Not many hikers would continue to plod along in such a frightening, sometimes terrifying swamp. This is no “regular guy”. By the time Nomad reaches the southern start of the Appalachian Trail he is in extraordinary physical condition and the AT seems like a breeze compared to the wilderness he just hiked.
Both of these books, and both of these men inspire me. To hike, to push on when the going gets really tough, to appreciate the beauty around us, to see people as they are, to let our emotions be free. These are two men that truly love to hike. Tate has a wonderful way with words - in so many ways in the book he expresses “the happy side of misery”; “The Dawn came up softly, a soothing rose-colored potion that seemed to refresh aching muscles and listless bodies and renew languid ambitions. I breathed in deeply and exhaled, welcoming the morning aloud. “Ahh! The adversities on the Trail are wondrous to behold!”.
This is video interview with Nimblewill Nomad (Eberhart) and shows his true love of the trail.
Both Tate and Eberhart have web sites;
Model T’s web site is: http://modelt.homestead.com/Index.html
Nimblewill Nomad’s web site is: http://www.nimblewillnomad.com/