It's a Brave New Backcountry

Edward Abbey
Edward Abbey

I sometimes wonder what Edward Abbey would say if he could see Appalachian Trail thru-hikers resting cozily in their sleeping bags at night with the stars and moon above, tapping away on their tiny PocketMail devices so that they can post their daily blogs. So far from the asphalt superhighway, and yet still on it.

Well, who cares what Edward Abbey—the old grump—would say because it’s now a lot easier to learn about all of America’s long distance hiking trails at sites like Trailjournals. Started by two AT thru-hikers, “Leif” and “Zipdrive,” Trailjournals now hosts about 137,000 journal entries, and represents about 1,000 hikers and 1,500,000 miles trekked. It’s not just the Appalachian Trail either. You can read about the Long Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, you name it. Besides learning about the trails from the people who are on them, it’s pretty funny to see photos of hikers just starting out—often a little chubby, clean-shaven, and smiling—versus when they finish (looking a little bit like old Ed Abbey himself.)

Checking out this year’s crop of hikers, “Red Dane,” has a good site, as does “Stumpknocker,” an AT legend who has hiked the trail at least four times, and this year is walking all the way to Newfoundland. I met “Mango,” a recent retiree from Tennessee, in the White Mountains a week ago. My own trailjournal from 2004 is still up, though it’s sporadic since I relied on public libraries, rather than pocket mail.