Read eBook On the Beaten Path: An Appalachian PilgrimageAuthor Robert Alden Rubin –

An eloquent, wise, and witty account of how one man's sixmonth, endtoend hike of the Appalachian Trail led him back home

10 thoughts on “On the Beaten Path: An Appalachian Pilgrimage

  1. Gail Gray Gail Gray says:

    I finished On the Beaten Path recently and have to say it's one of the most lyrical books on the AT experience I've ever read. I love Rubin's writing, as I should, since he was an editor before hitting the trail and made the journey after becoming disillusioned with his job, along with the difficulties editors face, which I know first hand. Slogging through lots of stories to find the gems and then once you do so, the pain of writing rejection letters, and even having to reject good writing simply because there's no room.
    Rubin's descriptions are poetic and vibrant, his approaches change as he is transformed by the trip and the spiritual nature, not in any heavy handed way, more the way one feels when they stand at a summit in awe of the vision stretched out before, above and below them. He can translate this into words and therefore into our minds and hearts. This is a book I'll read over and over. It is an end-to- end, shelter by shelter NOBO relating of the trek, which at this point in educating myself about the trail, I enjoy. It makes it easier for me to look up sections as Loner goes through each particular area so I can imagine what he's seeing.
    The human story is just as vivid as the nature and travel experience. Rubin honestly accounts the confusion and unsettled discomfort he feels and which drives him to the trail, despite the fact it is a hardship on his wife. We are allowed to come to an understanding, as he does, of how each hiker is transformed by the experience and via a ripple effect so are those in their lives. This remarkable weaving of many perspectives of the Trail helps us understands why some people need to make this journey. Some may see it as an escapist act, but in the larger vision, it is not a running away from the world but a running towards the true north authentic self.I agree with Bryson in looking at the attempted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail as a sort of pilgrimage, something each culture needs as a sort of initiation, a coming to terms of what's important and how one must be transformed, an act which minds like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell considered imperative to the growth of each person.
    While not as irreverent as Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, Rubin's book still has its funny bits, and while not as detailed as David Miller's book AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, with it's organized info, I found On the Beaten Path less dry for a non hiker who is looking more for a story than for a tool to use to plan a hike.
    So far, I think Rubin's book is my favorite on the Appalachian Trail, a profound story on both an inner and outer level, of what he calls a pilgrimage. Rubin masterfully blends the powerful encounters of human nature and Mother Nature into a vivid portrayal of this monumental task.

  2. Kira Kira says:

    I've read a number of books written by people who hiked the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. They all seem to be at a crisis point in their lives. Some have lost a job, or simply gotten sick of their job and quit (as in Robert Alden Rubin's case). Some have gotten a divorce or their spouse had died recently. For anyone who is over about 25 or so, it seems it would take a pretty powerful motivation to spend six months walking up to 20 miles or more every day through all kinds of weather.

    For Rubin, his choice to hike the AT seems to be a way to avoid making a decision about his future. He hated his job as an editor of nonfiction books at a publishing company and so he quit. His wife Cathy understood that, I think, but when Rubin decided to spend six months walking the AT, leaving Cathy to hold hearth and home together, she was not quite as understanding. Frankly, I was surprised they were still married by the time Rubin wrote the epilogue, seven months after he had finished walking the AT. They were taking separate vacations at that time, so who knows what the future holds for them?

    The main reason I gave this book two stars instead of my standard three (readable with minimal flaws) is that for large portions of the book, reading was a hard slog. It becomes very obvious that Rubin's work as an editor of nonfiction books influenced his writing, despite the fact that he has a degree in creative writing. In other books I have read about thruhikers on these 2,000-mile trails, their personal journey is as important as their physical journey. Rubin ends his trek without coming to any conclusion about his life and in fact when he wrote the epilogue seven months later he still didn't have a job.

    The author information on the book jacket states that Rubin now works as a senior editor for the Appalachian Trail Conference, which seems like an ideal job for him. It required a move from Florida to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. One has to wonder how his wife felt about that. I imagine she was glad that he got a job. Please note I realize that the relationship between the author and his wife is none of my business, but he wrote extensively about it in the book so it is natural to speculate about whether they were able to find a middle ground and work out their differences.

    For most people it seems these extremely long thruhikes bring about a fundamental change in their lives and even their character. For Rubin, it seems to have brought out something that was already there, simmering underneath. I would recommend this book only for diehard thruhiker fans. I fear I am becoming one - a fan, that is, unfortunately I am too old and have too many health problems to be more than an armchair hiker.

  3. Karson Karson says:

    Liked this one a ton. Much more than Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. More honest and autobiographical. Also about this guy's inner journey on the path as much as the outer journey. He lost like 75 lbs on the trail too. I really liked this one.

  4. P.J. Wetzel P.J. Wetzel says:

    Robert Alden Rubin is a talented writer. He writes fluidly, sometimes lyrically, and always with the competence of a professional. His writing style seems to aspire to what writers call 'literary' prose. An author whose writing has literary quality is one who could write about a toilet plunger and keep the reader enthralled. The interest is in the fresh turn of phrase, the crafting of simple ideas into vivid experiences that jump off the page, the music and flow of the sentences, the emotional vice grip of the story.

    Does an Appalachian Trail hike memoir lend itself to literary prose? Rubin thought he'd give it a try.

    Here's the background. Robert Alden Rubin is a professional in the writing industry. He holds creative writing degrees from two colleges. He worked as an editor for a national trade publisher. He has edited a National Best Seller. But his editing job was becoming increasingly unsatisfying to him--even burdensome. It appears he was having trouble keeping up with the demands and pressures of his responsibilities. Maybe it was just a mid-life crisis, or maybe he had come up against his personal limit of competence. Or maybe the routine was just beginning to bore him. Whatever the reason, Rubin decided to quit his editing job and hike the Appalachian Trail--to embark on what he describes as a personal pilgrimage.

    And not surprisingly he wrote a book about it.

    The pilgrimage theme is Rubin's attempt at encasing the story in a single narrative arc. Yet by his own admission, he could never quite put his finger on what the object of that pilgrimage was supposed to be. It's not like the Hajj, where personal and community meaning is created, clarified, affirmed, and reinforced in a time-honored crescendo of spiritual energy. The AT is no Mecca, and Katahdin is no Ka'aba. The Appalachian Trail pilgrims have as many diverse reasons for making the journey as there are religions. Even on a personal level, Rubin confesses that the process of hiking doesn't lend itself to deep reflection and doesn't lead to any personal clarity. Instead it effectively forces the hiker to set aside the personal quest for the meaning of 'real life' in favor of the trail-life's much more elemental daily struggle to overcome pain, cold, hunger, thirst and exhaustion. So the over-riding narrative arc of Rubin's story comes off as less than compelling - no vice-grip here.

    One of the things Rubin does relatively effectively (for a male) is to invite the reader into his emotional inner workings and the turmoil that is there. Rubin knows he is hurting his wife with his irresponsible decision to quit his job and then to physically abandon her in favor of the trail. But he just hurts too much inside to do otherwise--he has to get away. He never goes so far as to say he 'needs some space', and maybe that's my cliched interpretation, but in any case, he makes abundantly clear that he loves and misses his wife but is not willing to abandon his pilgrimage. Yet even here the emotional arc is less than riveting. Rubin and his wife have no falling out. She travels to visit him throughout the journey and he reveals that she has a good government job at which she is excelling. By the end of the book, when he has returned home but has failed to find a new job after seven months, I began to question whether he was little more than a freeloader in the relationship. So in the end, the emotional narrative doesn't endear the reader or inspire any empathy - no vice-grip here either.

    On a chapter-by-chapter level Rubin alternates between direct description of his hike and a series of passages that encompass a 'bigger picture'. Many of these passages describe the psychological or cultural backdrop of the hiking experience, a few are flashbacks to his life before the trail, and many more are intended to add historical and physical context to his hike, describing the setting. There are passages about the Civil War as related to Harper's Ferry and the Mason-Dixon line, about Walt Whitman and Thoreau, about geology and the Appalachian 'Great Valley,' etc. These serve to add spice to the telling of his tale, and each such vignette is very well written. But the net effect of these digressions does not depend on the quality of the prose; and to me the fact that he goes to great effort to write them in a literary style only distracts. These passages tend to draw attention to themselves rather than blend into the story. I asked above: Does an Appalachian Trail hike memoir lend itself to literary prose? The answer seems to be no.

    Bottom line: 'On the Beaten Path' is a good quality book about hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the author's skill at writing prose is abundantly evident. But the disconnect between these two elements makes the whole, in this case, a little less than the sum of its parts.

  5. Dawn Dawn says:

    I loved this book. Maybe even more then I loved Bryson's similar work A Walk in the Woods. And I really loved that book when I read it many years ago. Rubin's book came out shortly after Bryson's and never got the acclaim. But his writing is lyrical (His trail name was the Rhyming Worm.) and thoughtful, sometimes funny, mostly not so much. Just really nice. I didn't want it to end.

    But it did..and here's his take on why some people dream the big dream of walking the whole Appalachian Trail, why so many head out to find something in themselves: Perhaps, all along, we have been dreaming of wilderness, of that most primeval of stories. If you go to the wilderness, if you climb to the mountaintop, if you sail away to the forest savage, surely an answer will present itself.

    If you liked Bill Bryson, give this a try. If you've never read Bill Bryson give this a try. If somewhere in the back of your mind you have a dream that seems a bit outlandish read this book. I think you'll find out that dreams can come true.

  6. Shelly♥ Shelly♥ says:

    Robert Rubin works at a publishing company in North Carolina. After struggling with his career for a number of years, he decides to quit his job and hike the Appalachian Trail. While it sounds like a reasonable idea, the fact that Rubin has a wife, dog and a mortgage muddies the water some. This is the story of his own personal struggles and how he seeks to work them out on the AT.

    Having read 7 other memoirs of the Appalachian Trail, I still found this book a wonderful read. The writing is outstanding. The author does an great job of weaving together the components of his own story with facts about the trail. He is fairly open and honest (without giving out any real details that might take the focus of the hike) about some of the struggles of his personal life - the thing that has drawn him to the trail.

    Super story!

  7. Terri Terri says:

    I looked forward to reading this book, and for the most part, enjoyed it. The author did a lot of research and I liked reading about the history and geography of the AT...for a while. However, the book started to get a little slow and I started skimming. The biggest disappointment, though, was that throughout the book the author talked about giving up everything and hiking the trail, searching for something in his life. But (spoiler alert), by the end of the book, I still didn't know what he was searching for and whether he found it. After all he put himself and his wife through, he could've at least told me what happened after he went off trail. Disappointing!!!

  8. Chade66 Chade66 says:

    This is my third AT book, so many of the place names are familiar. He quits his job as a fiction editor (and doesn't know who Kilgore Trout is? Really?) and goes on this hike for 6 months. It causes a lot of friction in his marriage and frankly I'm surprised that his wife didn't dump him because she was so ticked off.

    I think he needed the time to get his head on straight, but perhaps there was a better way to work it out with his wife beforehand.

  9. Mom2atornado Mom2atornado says:

    This was a beautifully written book and when I had time to read, I would find it hard to put down. I truly felt as if I was with the 'rhyming worm' on his hike. I found myself ear-marking pages that had wonderful statements that I wanted to come back and read again. Thank you to Robert Rubin for including us in his adventure. The lesson that the Appalachian Trail teaches is that one must simply take one step, then the next, then the next, and keep moving forward.

  10. Carrie Carrie says:

    My obsession with the AT has been fueled even more. Good trail narrative but I'm bummed he lost 75 pounds, then gained it all back. I'm not trying to judge, but one of the messages for the AT for me is healthy living.