This review of David "Awol" Miller's "The A.T. Guide: A Handbook for Hiking the Appalachian Trail" was far more complicated than I expected.
I have two daughters, Sarah and Esther. Both are smart, mothers of three perfect children and are fun and trustworthy. When they were young, I told them I felt that one of them was beautiful and the other was incredibly cute. That attempt to express love to them both was an epic failure, despite my beneficent paternal motive or the accuracy of my observation.
To my knowledge, there are two primary guides used by devoted hikers of the Appalachian Trail, thru-hikers, section-hikers and blue-sky visitors included. One is produced by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the folks who are entrusted with the care and feeding of our beloved footpath from Georgia to Maine.
My allegiance lies (lays?) with the ATC. My first friend along the AT was Julie Judkins, who is the essential cog in the Appalachian Trail Community mechanism. Twice I have been warmly welcomed at the AT headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV.
I travel the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with my "2012 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion" at hand -- its pages are as stained, bruised and worn as anyone who has ever trekked the 100-Mile Wilderness. My loyalty to personal friends, corporate allies and Protectors of our Priceless Pathway insists no other guidebook could possibly match my Companion.
Then I began hearing about David "Awol" Miller's guidebook. Awol and roughly 20 other contributors have compiled a resource that (probably) offers whatever a thru-hiker would need, except encouragement, a sip of water and a laugh around a campfire.
At the risk of starting another beautiful vs. cute conflagration, I refuse to choose one over the other, although if I were to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, Awol's A.T. Guide would (probably) be my new companion.
There is no fluff to the A.T. Guide. Apart from a few cute snippets of trivia to fill extra whitespace, it's all business. The A.T. Guide is smaller and lighter than the more beautiful Companion. To seasoned and newbie hikers, the elevation graphs plugged in over the text are more than cute, they're like having your very own Tonto to guide you through the mountainous wilderness.
The A.T. Guide has four different versions:
Ever been on an overnight hike and thought about pushing on for another hour or two as the sun is setting ... because you heard there might be a shelter ahead? Awol's Handbook for Hiking the AT gives you the distance to the three closest shelters -- ahead and behind you on the Trail. Better yet, you can see at a glance the shift in elevation either way. On a cold rainy day you'd give a backpack full of Snickers for that kind of information.
My beautiful ATC Companion is larger and has more background articles on the Trail and auxiliary topics. It's an ounce or two heavier. That makes it preferable for many hikers, I'd guess. I will always want one. It's the refined Honda Accord of guidebooks. Awol's guide is the Jeep Wrangler with knobby tires and winches and no top or radio.
Awol's guidebook could save your life in about a hundred ways. Once you see what they call the "spreads" -- two, eight-inch pages of maps that cover a total of about 40-miles of the Trail -- with terse text, exact northbound and southbound terminus mileage and an obvious graph of the elevation in both directions, you will want a copy. Bam!
My daughters have many strengths and few weaknesses, in spite of their many differences. The same is true with the ATC Companion and Awol's A.T. Guide. I want one of each.
I will leave the marketing of Awol's essential reference to him (and his clever cohorts). You can read more of their perspective of "The A.T. Guide: A Handbook for Hiking the Appalachian Trail" at their website.
At the very least, you will marvel over the amount of effort and attention to detail that comprise this excellent Appalachian Trail resource.
Tags: Attractions, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Hiking Gear, Camping Gear, News, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer
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