When I Grow Up

Discovering Beauty and Purpose While Hiking the John Muir Trail

The Trail by Ethan Gallogly, PhD, is a novel, but it reads like a memoir. A sort of On the Road for the Thru-Hike crowd, the book tells the story of Gil, a young man who has agreed to accompany his late father’s good friend, Syd, (who is dying of cancer) on his quest to complete the John Muir Trail. The two face struggles on the trail and meet a number of interesting characters. As is true with any great undertaking, both discover something new, about themselves and each other.

From the start, the reader sees that Gil is no camper, or even hiker. His gear is all purchased shortly before this trip and he is a bit dismissive when others try to advise him. As the novel starts, readers of A Walk in the Woods may expect this to be another story of a hapless hiker and things gone wrong; while the reader does get some laughs at Gil’s expense, the story quickly moves in another direction. The book is not so much a tale of a hike, but of the trail and the characters, both of whom are searching for meaning in their lives, even if they don’t recognize it themselves.  Their interactions with others over the course of a month are intermittent but influential; these other characters’ stories become intertwined with Gil and Syd’s stories as they meet up again and again.

The Trail is the story of inter-generational friendship, personal growth, facing ones darkest fears, and discovering oneself. Presented as a daily hiking log, the book also tells the reader about the history and geography of the John Muir Trail and its surroundings. The text drifts into the didactic at times, but since the character doing the telling is a retired professor, it somehow works.

Line drawings by Jeremy Ashcroft complement each chapter and give the reader a visual, making it clear how much of an accomplishment each day of the hike truly is. The book is very much an entertaining read that will make you want to visit, if not thru-hike one of America’s treasures: the John Muir Trail.

Note: A digital copy of this book was provided free of charge for review. No compensation was provided; the opinions are that of the writer.