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by Martha F. Barkley
Jim Haskell is another Maine author who kept me turning the pages! Yes, in only two days I read Two Tents: Twenty-one Years of Discovery on the Appalachian Trail. Read to find out how he earned his trail nickname "Two Tents" as a section-hiker and not a through hiker on the great Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia. As a slow reader, I feel very accomplished in completing this Belgrade library book so quickly. Jim's completion of the trail was on 10-10-10, almost sounds like Two Tents remove a "10."
As a boy, Jim had climbed Mt. Katahdin twice with his dad. This started his hiking juices flowing. The Appalachian Trail northern end point made him curious about the entire trail south to a Georgia mountain as developed by two Mainers, of course. Mt. Washington was the original plan, but Katahdin won out in the final plan for up here.
To read Haskell's descriptions of different sections of the trail reminded me of Bill Bryson's ever popular A Walk in the Woods, made into a decent movie with a funny sidekick not too many years ago. I was gratified to read later that Bryson's sidekick lived a long life without alcohol. As we journey through some of the author's short term hikes on the trail, we learn about the variety of through hikers vs. weekend types who perhaps do not realize the hazards of the trail.
Jim turns out to have lived through some very life-threatening days: one while hiking in Maine in May with snow up to their chins...his first wife hiked this one. He thanked her at the end of his book for planting the seed of completing the entire Appalachian Trail. Both are happily remarried and with children.
Another life-threatening day was when he was alone. Most of his hiking days were alone and he explains this need beautifully. Time for reflection and observing nature. His second wife and their adopted son Jason spent many days on the trail with him as did some nieces and nephews. So he wasn't all alone all the time.
The AT turns out to be quite the place at each rest stop for making friends and sharing cooking, snacks, and warnings ahead on the trail. Sleeping was sound due to all the outdoor exercise and mountain air.
Since I love history, I found several chapters enlightening. "Feuding Founders" explains the differences between the two men from Maine who developed the trail over the years: MacKaye's original ideas vs. Myron Avery's, who connected many of the already existing trails. It stunned me that Avery died so very young, being an outdoorsman and all.
Also, both Bryson and Haskell indicate that Maine is the most difficult part of the entire trail. The canoe passage required in Maine at the rushing Kennebec River made possible by Steve Longley's skill. He, like Avery, died much too young of heart failure, as well.
Saltville, VA has a great museum where Haskell discovers the Confederate history of that part of the trail and the Battle of Saltville. Whoever heard of that battle and massacre, even you Civil War buffs? The AT goes through so much history of our country: from Benedict Arnold's trek to Quebec to Antietam in Maryland to Gettysburg. We are proud Mainers when it comes to Chamberlain of Brunswick and his Maine troops at that Pennsylvania turning point of the Civil War. Both the Skyline Drive and the Blueridge Parkway were the original AT walking paths.
Jim's brother Bob provides a familiar family foreword to this 21 years of completing the 2,179-mile AT. The fiftieth birthday for Jim was at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia where family gathered to celebrate his final steps on the completion of the entire trail. Photos show his triumphant accomplishment day and other scenes along this long journey.
From bears and lightening to hailstones in Virginia, Jim makes his short term hikes on the trail interesting to outdoor people and those who prefer indoors alike. The seven pages of charts at the end clearly show every step of the way from 1990-2010. Congratulations Jim on a great story about a wonderful accomplishment. Now, let's go take a hike!
Chelsea White, a Carmel, Maine artist, painted the very beautiful scene on the cover, which was a gift at the Harpers Ferry fiftieth birthday bash for her Uncle Jim when he finally completed his Appalachian Trail short-term hikes.
"By his late twenties, Jim had nearly convinced himself that taking a year off to hike the AT just wouldn't work. The dream was dying until an encounter with a disenchanted thru-hiker inspired Jim to revise his dream. Don't thru-hike the AT in one year. Take your time. Section-hike it instead".
That is what the author did! Amazing to find out about all the volunteers who clear the path yearly with chain saws and correct washouts, etc. Sounds like our summer camp roads here in Maine.