REVIEW: Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail: A Story of War, Brotherhood, and the Pursuit of Truth by N. B. Hankes
Nate Hankes returned home from his tour in Iraq unable to answer one simple question: Had his mission overseas been honorable? Determined to find clarity and forge a new identity outside of the U.S. Army, Nate, alongside his brother Ben, a recent college grad delaying his entry into the Great Recession job market, set out to hike the entire length of the 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail.
Unpredictable weather, brutal terrain, straining health, and a fractured mind stretched beyond comfort by a wise but imperfect hiking companion turn this walk in the woods into an adventure of body, mind, and spirit. And in a world gone mad, this coming-of-age story reminds us that true clarity and peace can only be found within.
Looking for something different, I picked up this memoir of a veteran and his brother hiking the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia (SOBOs in trail parlance). Nathan is fresh out of a four year tour in the Army while his older brother finished a college degree he now knows is useless to him. Though it’s supposed to be a bonding experience for the two, it also serves as time for both to figure out what they want in life and (more importantly) for Nathan to try and reconcile his experiences in and reasons for joining the Army.
Parts of the book I found funny and fascinating. Much of the narrative is spent on the day to day experiences of hiking over 2000 miles in all kinds of weather – both beautiful and dreadful. Ben and Nathan meet with generous and lovely people who give of what they have and offer the blessings of home cooked meals, washing machines, showers, and nights on sofas. They also end up spending over half the trail with Dylan, a counter culture, toking, philosophical hippie who schools Nathan in the horrors of modern American consumerism, privilege, greed, and the military-industrial complex. Nathan’s seeming naivete is at times staggering.
I would have liked to have learned more about Nathan’s time in the service and spent less time listening to Dylan. I also thought the book shortchanged us in telling one incident that appears to have been the dealbreaker for Nathan staying in the Army. There are hints of how badly this affected him then a little is told only for it to fade to black. Some of the book is profound, some is funny, but a lot strains credulity and it went on too long. C