From the first time you put on a pair of hiking boots, its presence was most likely known to you, gleaned from the conversation of friends; from references in books, websites and articles; from mentions in popular culture; from personal research; or all of the preceding: The Appalachian Trail, the path through the woods (a vast understatement) stretching from Maine to Georgia that is the Holy Grail of east-coast hiking, taking months to complete if taken in one continuous trek and requiring supreme poise and planning, down to details like mailing yourself supplies to be picked up at village Post Offices as you stride into town looking for your package of rice and beans and a hot shower.
But trail athletes know that the logistics, as demanding as they may be, are minor compared to the visceral, soulful connection to the primeval in ourselves we find on the Trail, as our concerns about the everyday give way to rock, tree, wind, water, beast and self, in one of the truest tests of fortitude in the outdoor world. One such athlete, who also happens to be a meticulous researcher and clear, conversational writer, is named Jeffrey Ryan. He’s a Mainer who took the AT in bits and pieces over a period of 28 years. The resulting memoir, Appalachian Odyssey, was mentioned on this page last year.
Ryan has not been idle since that book’s release. Delving deeper into the history of the AT, including digging up never-before-published records from the State of Maine Archives, he has crafted a sophomore volume called Blazing Ahead that tells the story of the two major players in the original Depression-era construction of the Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery. The two men, though partners in the massive endeavor, had disagreements (another understatement) that could have ended the project and left Maine hikers without the near-mythic trail in question. Jeff Ryan follows them all the way through World War II, vividly through the AT’s completion despite the gritty rivalry of the two frenemies.
Already tacking an Appalachian Trail badge to the top of your hiking stick, in your mind? Go to Ryan’s author talk at Thomas Memorial Library (6 Scott Dyer Rd, Cape Elizabeth) on Thursday, December 14 at 6:30 p.m. to hear the assorted sordid details, see fantastic photos from the AT, and have him sign one or both books. Hear it from one who has done it and think before you commit; you’re gonna need some time off from work.