By Tod Jones

Inspiring Appalachian Trail Memoirs

Winter is a great time to snuggle in with a good book until the weather warms. Tod Jones, an avid A.T. section hiker and reader, recommends four Trail memoirs that are certain to inspire. Jones taught English composition and literature for 20 years at the University of Maryland College Park. He turned to reading Trail memoirs four years ago when he and his wife, Karen, started hiking the A.T. Since then, they have logged 930 miles. Jones says reading memoirs has been inspiring and informative. He underscores the point that hiking the A.T is, without question, a very personal experience that is uniquely shared in each book.

Walking with Spring by Earl V. ShafferWalking with Spring: The First Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail

By Earl V. Shaffer

Earl Shaffer details his thru-hike in 1948 after World War II and the death of his hiking partner who had been killed in Iwo Jima. Shaffer wrote his book years later from notes he had taken on the Trail. If you are looking for an account that traces the author’s emotional or psychological journey, this memoir is not for you. What is rather unique in the book is that the author liberally intersperses his narrative with naturalistic and historical information.

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David MillerAWOL on the Appalachian Trail

By David Miller

In 2003, David Miller was determined to hike the A.T. When his request to take a leave of absence from his computer programming job was turned down, Miller went absent without leave: AWOL. His account of his six-month thru-hike does more than tell a story, although that he does. Miller takes his readers along his journey, introducing them to life on the Trail. The resulting book is both descriptive and informative. It is an introduction to the lifestyle, including the hardships and rewards, as well as the social experience of an A.T. thru-hiker.

As Far as the Eye Can See-by-David-BrillAs Far as the Eye Can See: Reflections of an Appalachian Trail Hiker

By David Brill

David Brill recounts his five-month northbound thru-hike in 1979 and does a masterful job of chronological reporting — and manages to arrange his narrative into thematic chapters. In his first chapter titled “Fear,” the author narrates the terrifying mountain storm that Brill experienced on his first night in the Georgia wilderness, the fears and anxieties that emerged in the process of preparing for his A.T. journey, and the self-doubt that troubled him during the first leg of his immense undertaking.

There is an unmistakable nostalgia in these pages. Brill looks back upon his A.T. hike as not only a formative experience, but as a period of self-reliance, of magical camaraderie, and unique freedom from the constraints of societal expectations and material possessions.

Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr DavisBecoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail

By Jennifer Pharr Davis

Jennifer Pharr Davis, who achieved a 2008 (unofficial) women’s speed record for hiking the A.T. in 57 days, recounts her first thru-hike three years earlier — an experience she says defined her more than achieving her speed record. This book is predominantly about Davis’ unique and sometimes unusual experiences, and her interactions with, and reactions to people, places, and things. A couple of characters in her book are especially memorable — namely Moot and Mooch. Her accounts are often humorous and, ultimately, likeable.

Tod JonesTod “Birch” Jones was born in 1961 in southern California, and then moved to the East Coast in 1993 in order to study for his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, College Park. Afterwards, for twenty years, he taught English composition and literature at UMCP. For the past couple of years, he has been working at L. L. Bean in Virginia. He turned to reading Trail memoirs four years ago when he and his wife, Karen, started hiking the A.T. Since then, they have logged 930 miles.

Tod Jones has reviewed more than two dozen Appalachian Trail memoirs on his blog “Weekend Jots”: