Whilst I enjoy reading many outdoor blogs I confess to not always enjoying trip reports. I don’t actually find them very interesting. That isn’t a criticism of those who write them, or those who read them. They just do not float my boat, but each to his own. And yes, I know I write trip reports on here, which possibly shows that I am a hypocrite. I try to write what I would like to read, mainly by adding some (admittedly pathetic) attempts at humour, self-deprecation, or ‘deeper thoughts’. The latter appear to chime with some readers, come across as pretentious to others and may have some simply reaching for the sick bucket.
With that background information about my predilections (good word that) it may seem a little odd that I sometimes reach for the ultimate trip reports, books by long distance hikers such as Chris Townsend. And often I find these enjoyable. In 2013 I read the book The Last Englishman by a British through hiker, Keith Foskett. Or, as Keith would emphatically argue, 'English' through hiker. It told the tale of his epic walk along the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA. Recently, Keith kindly sent me his latest book Balancing on Blue. The deal was a free copy in return for a review. I was able to write any review, of course, not just a favourable one.
Well the book arrived last week and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a cracking good read and I really did pick it up every spare moment until it was finished. It tells of Keith’s through hike of the 2184 mile Appalachian Trail (or AT) over almost 5 months in 2012. Now 2184 miles, mainly through thick forest with limited views, must be incredibly hard going for the walker. It must also be a genuine challenge writing about it and keeping each page fresh. But Keith has succeeded magnificently. The joy of the book is that it doesn’t read like a trip report of the ‘first I walked here, and it was this far, and then I walked here and it was really tough and it rained a lot and this is what I ate and this is what I saw’ variety. Yes that’s in it, and so it does give the reader in the UK a flavour of what the AT itself must be like. However, the book is rich in bringing to life the characters of Keith's walking companions, their grit, determination and motivators and the towns he stopped at along the trail. Keith describes his own emotions and thoughts and feelings and you do feel that you are walking each step with him, albeit without having to suffer the dirt, the discomfort, the smells and the constant hunger that through hikers seem to endure. Or the bears, of course. I couldn't be doing with bears. Cows are too dangerous for me. At the risk of sounding horribly patronising and pretentious it really is a well written book. It feels like it has been written by a ‘real author’ who happens to through hike, rather than a passionate walker who needs to write a book to supplement his income (I guess this may be true as well though!).
The book left me wanting to walk the AT (except for those sodding bears), yet knowing that I would never have the courage to set off, or the determination to manage such a walk. But at least I have walked it with Keith. And I will do my best to remember his trail mantra “never, ever, ever give up” as I set out on my third The Great Outdoors Challenge (TGOC) a month today. With luck and the right frame of mind I will have some of Keith’s ‘balancing on blue’ moments during that crossing of Scotland. If you want that explaining you’ll have to read to at least page 95 of the book!
I’m not going to try to provide a synopsis. Go buy the book. If you enjoy walking and reading you will be richly rewarded.