Book Review: The Trail – by Ethan Gallogly

A few weeks ago, my son and I were spending the night at the Hampton Inn in Barstow, California on the way to the Grand Canyon. We were going to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim, starting at the north rim. Here is the first post about that. Before going to sleep, I finished my last book, the Mapmaker’s Daughter, and I was looking for the next book to read.

Checking my reading list, I just happened to spot The Trail, a novel about hiking the John Muir Trail in the California Sierra. My son had hiked that trail twice already, and I had hiked in provisions to him once. It would be so fitting to be reading a book about hiking while doing an epic hike myself. I started reading The Trail in that hotel room, and then every night in that little tent in my sleeping bag. It got dark in the Grand Canyon at 7:00pm and remained dark until almost 7:00am the next morning. Since there was no way I could just sleep for twelve hours, there was not much to do but read.

The Trail was the perfect book for that.

The John Muir Trail is a 211-mile long trail from Yosemite Valley to the top of Mt. Whitney, traversing some of this country’s greatest wilderness area.

The story is about Gil, whose father had recently died, and who had lost his job in a law firm. He accompanied this father’s friend Syd, who was dying of cancer, and wanted to do one more epic hike before he passed.

If you have read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, you will get a sense of this story. The author is definitely an experienced hiker. He tells the main story of the two characters ruminating about the meaning of life, while in a back story, we learn the history of the John Muir Trail, and the early exploration of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, including all the early explorers, their adventures, and how the various mountains, streams and valleys got their names.

There are many maps beautifully illustrated by Jeremy Ashcroft, and the book is broken down into chapters for every day on the trail.

If you are a hiker, and particularly if you are even thinking about long distance hiking, you should definitely read The Trail and you’ll learn a lot, not just about this particular trail, but about the backpacking experience in general. I loved reading this book while backpacking – it does not get any better than that.

There was just one minor thing that I found annoying about the author’s style. For reasons I cannot grasp he kept using colloquial contractions, like wanna, gonna, coulda, etc. It’s one thing to use these expressions in quoted dialog, where it makes the dialog seem real. But he didn’t do that. He used them in exposition.

I was a champion swimmer. I coulda saved him. After that day, I could never get near deep water again.

…but I didn’t wanna press the point.

I probably shoulda spent more time shopping.

It was my fault. I shoulda been with him.

Weird, isn’t it? Not a big deal, but this happens a hundred times in the book, and every time I found it distracting. It seems completely unnecessary to me, and not doing this would not have hurt the book in any way.

I enjoyed reading The Trail. If you like to hike, you’ll enjoy it too.

Leave a Reply