Non-Fiction, Review

The Unlikely Thru-Hiker by Derick Lugo

I feel like I’m one of the very few people who read this book and didn’t feel the urge to rave about it.  I read a lot of hiking memoirs, and I just don’t feel like this was one of the better ones.  It’s not bad, but it doesn’t stand out either.

Admittedly, I have a pretty high bar for the genre.  Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods was not only my introduction to the subject, but it was the book that essentially fueled my passion for non-fiction.  I try very hard not to compare anything too closely to this favorite of mine–writing styles and narrative focus differ from writer to writer, after all–but even so, I didn’t find anything in this book to elevate it above the crowd.

My issues with this memoir boil down to two things.  The first is a minor gripe: the dialogue sometimes comes across as stilted.  Much of this book focuses on the interactions Lugo had with various people during his hike, so there are lots of conversations.  I felt that there were several instances where the dialogue didn’t flow like a normal exchange would. 

My larger issue has to do with the pacing.  As I said, I’ve read lots of hiking memoirs, and one thing that they have in common is best described as a sense of the time taken during the hike.  This is especially true–and especially important–for thru-hikes, in which the hiker does the entirety of a long-distance trail (like the Appalachian Trail ) in a single summer.  It usually takes anywhere from six to eight months and is done between March and October.  Lugo’s book comes across as more of a series of vignettes seen in the course of a bunch of unconnected outings.  I didn’t really get a feeling of the whole scope of the hike over the arc of the book’s narrative. 

There is one thing for which I want to commend the author, though.  Hiking is most often a pastime undertaken by white people (for various reasons that I’ve read about but do not feel qualified to discuss at any length), and Lugo notes that he was the only Black person thru-hiking the trail that year.  He also notes how far outside his comfort zone it was to do the hike.  The fact that he did so, and the fact that he wrote about it and was able to give his voice to the experience, should be taken into consideration.  Any shortcomings that I perceive in the actual writing shouldn’t take anything away from that accomplishment.  I mean, I don’t think I could do what he did, so I certainly give him props for it!

This book has a place in the hiking genre, certainly, but I think that there might be better gateways into learning about the sport. 

2 Comments

  1. Reg Spittle December 12, 2019 3:29 pm

    As an author in this genre, I am always looking for outstanding efforts…can you recommend one or two of your favorites?
    Thank you,
    Reg Spittle

    • Kristin December 16, 2019 3:12 pm

      Hi Reg,

      I would recommend Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”, “Zero Days” by Barbara Egbert, “Almost Somewhere” by Suzanne Roberts, and “Becoming Odyssa” by Jennifer Pharr Davis.

Leave a Reply to Reg Spittle Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*