When I decided that I was going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, it was not long before I began writing about my plans, my preparations, and the book I planned to write along the way. So many people have begun following my hike since then that I have wanted to rewind for quite a while and talk about the book, and how it turned into three (or at least 2 1/2).
The book that was always intended and takes much of my time on the trail in research was to be a non-fiction book about how complicated modern life has become and what positive effects a more simple life might produce. This book has been a long time coming, and the nature of the book has gone through many progressions the deeper I get into research.
In a way, the idea for this book began almost immediately after I finally accepted that I had this thing that Dr. Wikipedia called agoraphobia. While it would be months before I was officially diagnosed, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see what was happening.
Like everyone, I have a brain, but unlike most, I have never learned how to turn it off or set it to low, even at three o’clock in the morning. It was amid the late night whirring of said brain many years ago that I asked myself a simple question: Would this be happening to me if I lived in a small village 100 years ago?
Was I suffering from a disorder literally created by modern society?
This particular question I answered for myself after years of studying psychology, but the question grew. I studied minimalism and tiny homes and multitasking and all sorts of topics that went beyond me and agoraphobia, but instead to the general state of culture.
When I began my hike, I intended to simply write my argument for a simple life based on solid academic research. I quickly saw a problem with this. Anyone who has done any academic writing knows that you can usually find research to support almost any idea you want. What if a simple life is not the answer? In short, I decided if I were going to write an objective book then every time I felt I was taking something for granted that I had not really proven, I must take a step back.
I have taken so many steps back I’ve nearly fallen off the mountain.
To give you an idea to the extent that my research has gone in this area, I have gone through at least a hundred books and hundreds of research articles. Every path I follow ends up coming to a fork, and rather than choose this way or that, I choose both. I have the most experience studying psychology, but it is impossible not to delve into history, economics, philosophy, technology and many other areas.
At this stage, the best way I can describe my book is this: We, as humans, as Americans, as fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, have felt something is wrong for a very long time. It is in our literature, our films and television shows, it is the basis for entire genres of music.
As much as we rail against the way we live, few people ask why we live this way. In my book, I am attempting to trace historically how we arrived at such a complicated life, what effects the complicated life has on our health and happiness, and what might change things for the better. How did we get from four channels to one thousand? When did we decide we needed to be reachable twenty-four hours a day? Why are we teaching new generations a few highly specialized skills, but not how to fix a clogged toilet or change a tire or cook a meal?
If included at all, my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was to be used as a backdrop, a way to take the reader on the quest for knowledge I have embarked on. I never intended to write a book about my thru-hike, primarily because so many are written.
That has changed for many reasons. First, this thru-hike has turned into such an incredible experience that it seems wrong not to write about it. I could never write it in real-time, and so my pictures, Facebook posts and articles are such a tiny glimpse of the journey. Since most people began following my hike after I wrote about my book, they naturally assumed that is what the book would be about.
Finally, while it is true that many people write books about their AT thru-hike, none of them contain my story, or my experience. I don’t need to describe what Fontana Dam looks like or how cool it is to eat real food every day in the Shenendoahs. I do think, however, that some may benefit or simply find interest in a journey which found me just seven years ago barely able to walk to the mailbox, and today finds me walking solo 2,200 miles across the eastern United States.
So I am also working on this second book now. But I said three — what’s that all about?
The final piece of writing I feel I must create will not be long enough for a book, but must be shared in some way, and that is what I have learned about managing insulin on a thru-hike. When I began preparing for this trip there was almost nothing out there. I have learned so much, changed my insulin strategy so frequently, and picked up so many tips and tricks that would apply directly to anyone with type 1 diabetes planning a thru-hike.
So there you have it, two and a half books to complete. Thus far I have been writing notes or shorthand that will make it easy for me to expand once I’m back in the real world with a laptop, but as I push nearer to Katahdin I feel I am ready to begin writing full chapters, despite the time-consuming nature of doing so on an iPhone.
It has been a pleasure writing about my journey online, and I can’t wait to share all of the millions of things I just don’t have time to write about in real-time.
I owe everyone who has been following my hike a debt of gratitude, for you inspire me daily to “keep on trucking.”