Monday, July 13, 2015

Hiking Through Book Review

Hiking Through
Hiking Through is a bitter, sweet, and victorious story of Paul Stutzman's new beginnings on the Appalachian Trail. He had dreamed of hiking the trail and after the death of his wife, he began that hike. As someone who has worked to continue living during the dark hours of profound grief and loss, who has questioned the presence of God, and who believes nature heals us, I found this book to be both entertaining and soothing.

One Man's Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail

Paul Stutzman was raised in an Amish and Mennonite community. He attended church regularly and lived a quietly Christian life. Paul married a "liberal" Mennonite gal named Mary, raised a family, and was successful in the restaurant business. Life rolled along as expected until Mary passed away from cancer. She lost that battle and his faith in an active God was shaken.

He chose the trail name Apostle Paul and began the 2,176 mile hike from Georgia to Maine. When asked about his trail name on that first day he replied, "Apostle Paul. I'm hiking to Damascus, hoping for an enlightening experience. Damascus, Virginia, that is. Then on to Maine."

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

I have read several AT thru-hike memoirs.  They have been decent reads. But there is something about Paul's story-telling and documentation of the trail that I found interesting.  I have a basic understanding of protecting your food supply by hanging it in the trees, trying to pack the lightest pack possible and yet have sufficient supplies, and pitching a tent in the rain. Even so, I had imagined the AT as an arduous but well-kept, longer version of other park trails.  

I was wrong.

Paul's descriptions of the wide variety of shelters, weather, and trail conditions kept me engrossed in this book.  He described fording rivers, slipping from narrow board walkways into mucky bogs, and scrabbling over house-sized boulders.  I am certain I have a more clear understanding of the AT trail after reading his descriptions.  I am more familiar with the terms blue blazing, slack-packing, and hike your own hike. 

God and Faith

I do not typically read Christian literature and at the first sign of bible thumping or attempts to save my soul from the fire and brimstone I run the other way. I have beliefs and a certain level of faith, but I have no desire to be lectured by other humans who are as flawed as I am. Typically, as soon as I understand that a book is "religious", I shut it and put it aside.

Some reviewers make statements along the lines of 'I didn't realize God was going to be a main character in this story' (paraphrased). Apostle Paul makes frequent references to his conservative up-bringing, his understanding of the church the requirements to avoid sin, and his questioning of God. After all, why does God let our loved ones suffer and die? And do nothing to stop it?  Paul looked for signs of an active God along the trail.

However, I didn't feel lectured or Bible-thumped. I felt fully as though I were watching a man find his way. And in his search I learned a thing or two.  At the one point in the book that he summarizes his thoughts on God and the trail, he gives the reader permission to blue blaze, and skip that section. Oddly enough, I read every word.

Paul did find his signs that God exists and is active. He found those signs in the dancing of the leaves on the trees. And in the earth-shaking storm that threatened to take his very existence. 
"I was terrified of the storm but I was not terrified of dying. I actually felt at peace with the possibility. I clung to the tree, on my knees in streaming water, wind tearing at my body, rain and hail pounding me. I hung on. I knew God was there."

A Good Read About One Man, One Long Hike, and Faith

If a memoir (not a technical how-to) about the Appalachian Trail interests you, if you have ever lost a loved one and questioned the existence of God, or if you have ever struggled with living a more peaceful life, you will likely enjoy this book as much as I did. 

Other Thru-Hiking Memoirs and Trail Resources:

Paul Stutzman -- The official website of Paul Stutzman. Read about what he's done since thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

Trail Journals -- an online community of hikers as they prepare and hike. Read about their hiking gear, their preparation, and their journal entries while on the trail. 

Movie Review of Wild -- The story of Cheryl Strayed and her thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Another hiker in search of something. Watch as Cheryl finds herself. 

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. I've read several memoirs over the years about hiking the Appalachian Trail and enjoyed reading the accomplishments of others, so I'm sure Paul's story would be an interesting read. I'm not a big fan of Christian literature either, Dawn Rae, but I am aware that a loss of a loved one can sorely shake your belief system and accomplishing something bigger than yourself quite often helps. Years ago a dear friend lost his wife very suddenly, leaving him with 2 small boys to raise alone. His grief was enormous and overwhelming. He began to run every day as a release, and eventually became a marathon runner, and it helped him regain his faith and gave him the strength to continue. This was an interesting review of how one man coped with a devastating loss.

  2. Ah, my precious adventurer friend, it doesn't surprise me one bit that this is the book and author that would speak to your heart. As I was reading this review, I smiled when I read "found those signs in the dancing of the leaves on the trees", for I know that is where you will hear the voice of God. There are truly so many analogies that could be drawn here, but I will simply say I believe we all have our Appalachian Trails.

  3. A timely review. Strangely enough the last four books I've read are of peace, calm, finding our inner divinity (not applicable to one belief system), and this books sounds like a peace filled read as well. Thanks for the heads up, I may add this one to my list of reading material.

  4. Sounds like a book I would enjoy! Thanks for the review!

  5. What a fabulous review! How wonderful to find a book that really spoke to you the way this one did. Sounds like it would satisfy many, many other people as well. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Based on your review, I believe I would enjoy this reflective journey. Long walks are often inspirational and life-changing. The AT is the perfect place for soul-searching. Thank you for such an honest perspective. Always appreciated.

  7. This sounds like a book I would also enjoy, since I like walking and nature and have had my own share of grief to deal with. i'm glad it spoke to you, too.

  8. Your review of "Hiking Through" has me wanting to read it for sure. I have no aversion to faith-based reading as long as it is informative and interesting, definitely without Bible thumping! While I imagine the Appalachian Trail a treacherous hike, life itself can be the same for many, so in a way we are all hiking through our own treacherous journey in this thing we call Life.

  9. Re-reading your review of this book, Dawn Rae, I agree you should read the book again to regain what the book 'spoke' to you about the first time. I often do that with books whose message is special to me.


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