Stumbling Thru: Hike Your Own Hike, follows the adventures of a depressed, forlorn man. Forced by his wife to hike the Appalachian Trail, the story details the various other misfits and weirdos he meets, all of them bound by the common goal of reaching Maine by the end of the year.
When fellow thru-hikers meet Walter, he seems to them incredibly strange, even though thru-hikers are in the first place a strange set. His backpack barely fits, the food he carries is far too heavy, and for someone attempting to hike the Appalachian Trail, he just doesn’t seem very happy.
Naturally, there’s a history here: he’s hiking it against his will. His wife wanted him to do something, and to believe in it, and unless he could come up with something better, he’s going to have to hike the AT. This is obviously not how most marital disputes are settled, but to each their own.
Walter (or “Bartleby,” as he’s known on the Trail) might be the ostensible protagonist, but just as often Stumbling Thru, Book One focuses on a colorful cast of side characters. This includes Bawdy, the literature professor who actually hates literature (other than Vonnegut); Flutterby, a savvy former nurse who hikes much faster than everyone else; Coyote, a lecher and ex-con; and Ella, who’s mostly just trying to hike the AT for the sake of her blog.
The characters weave in and out of the text, dropping out and coming in at a rapid pace. Every character has their essential trait or gimmick, and they could all be roughly described as archetypes of one sort or another, but they’re also fairly fun in how they bounce off each other, and how they grow (or don’t grow) throughout the narrative.
A. Digger Stolz’s Stumbling Thru, Book One: Hike Your Own Hike is a great piece of wish-fulfillment for those who hope someday to hike the Appalachian Trail, but one thing it surprisingly doesn’t have a wealth of is descriptions of nature. But while Stumbling Thru, Book One might not provide quite enough of the sights or sounds of hiking the AT, what it does provide in spades is the feeling of it. The feeling of weariness; the blisters on the hikers’ feet; the food they eat, the places they sleep, and the places they go to the bathroom: this book provides rich detail in all these fascinating little minutiae, with great touches of irony and humor, such as the weird recipe involving Ramen and tuna fish which includes, “Borrow Bawdy’s garlic powder. A dash or two is plenty unless he isn’t paying attention, in which case, treat less like a spice and more like a topping”.
This is only Book One, and perhaps as a consequence it feels sort of incomplete. Walter/Bartleby is only half-developed by the end of this volume, still depressed and wishing he were home; and just by this volume, which ends quite a bit shy of the Trail’s terminus at Mt. Katahdin, it’s hard to say where his character is going to end up. But like hiking the AT itself, this book is about the journey and not the destination. The journey so far is light, escapist fun: Stolz’s narrative is loose and rambling, with funny and interesting characters, and great little snapshots of trail life.
Reviewed by Charles Baker for IndieReader