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Readers Review: On Trails

On Trails by Robert Moor, A Fresh Take on Paths, Trails, Passes, Roads and Beyond

A blog by: Louie “Crawdad Yankee Doodle” Knolle

When I’m not able to embark on my own treks and travels, one of my favorite ways to take a mental escape is to read about the amazing real life adventures of others. After working in the shop at RRT for two years surrounded by thru-hikers, both accomplished and aspiring, I always found myself drawn to books recounting someone’s trip along the AT, PCT, or one of the myriad of other long trails out there. That being said, On Trails is not your average adventure story, it goes well above and transcends to an exploration of the history and into the multitudinous varieties of trails that are used by all living things. While Moor is in fact a proud member of the Appalachian Trail class of 2009, I appreciated the selection of memories he shares from the trail when he deemed necessary, but his work quickly divulges from the now laundry list of AT memoirs.

He chose to divide the book into 6 main chapters:

• World’s Oldest Fossil Trails (Precambrian)

• Insects’ use of trails to create a sense of collective intelligence in the colony

• Movements of ungulates and other mammals creating their own paths

• Delving into the first human walkers of this continent, he travels with Native Americans learning how they once traversed this continent

• With his own personal stories from the trail, he speaks of the AT and other modern long trails

• The effort to extend the AT into Canada and across to the United Kingdom into the International Appalachian Trail

Through all of these thoughts and explorations, we begin to see the duality that exists along these seemingly simple trails. Despite the sense of freedom we experience on them, trails still have a designated path with boundaries usually existing between two (or more) points. Scientific discovery, animal and faint tracks of early people, the desire to find one’s own sense of freedom in the wilderness, and modernity all intersect in this one book in such a rich way. By the end of the book, Moor reflects after a once purely secular view of nature, that perhaps there is room for civilization in the midst of it all. He cites a great Gary Snyder quote towards the end that reads, “A person with a clear heart and open mind can experience the wilderness anywhere on earth. The planet is a wild place and always will be.”

If you’re interested in some natural history, select tales from the AT, a scoop of entomology, a dash of Darwin and Thoreau, all blended together with provocation of how you travel through the wilds and your place in it, then this is definitely not the book for you. (Only kidding!)