Book Review: The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader offers glimpse into life on the trail

The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader is a collection of works highlighting the Pacific Crest Trail.Pacific Crest Trail hikes can be special in a variety of ways. Some people enjoy the solitude offered by the 2,650-mile trail. Others are drawn to the opportunity to take in sights of wildlife and natural beauties such as mountains and valleys. Some love the sense of community forged between hikers and the relationships gained with trail angels. The history of the trail and knowing those that came before you adds yet another level to the PCT’s allure. The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader (California) offers glimpses of all these things. Editors Rees Hughes and Corey Lee Lewis selected excerpts from a variety of writers to work together to capture the beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Everyone’s experience on the trail is different. For some, like Jerry Smith, a writer featured in the book, the experience is different between two hikes. Smith’s chapter is the finale of the California book and tells the story of thru-hiking the trail for a second time—25 years after his original journey. On his second journey, Smith finds that the trail is vastly different though the relationships gained along the way are still the most cherish able moments.

The raw experience of the trail is perhaps the greatest feeling for a thru-hiker as it is solely theirs. Many hikers learn new things about themselves, new limits they can take themselves too. The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader captures a multitude of experiences that hikers have encountered on the trail.

Along with tales like Jerry Smith’s, readers are treated to excerpts from famous environmental and American writers such as John Muir, Mary Austin, Mark Twain and Jack Kerouac. With a variety of styles contained in the book, readers can pick and choose what or who they want to read. The book is also designed to geographically match with the PCT, meaning readers can choose to read chapters for sections they wish to hike, are planning to hike or are currently hiking.

A piece of PCT culture is expressed in stories featuring trail angels and trail magic. One such tale comes from Barney “Scout” Munn. Along with a friend, Dan Gizzo, Scout organized for he and his walking partner to meet Gizzo at a point on the trail 38 days after commencing a thru-hike. Gizzo was there to meet his friends and brought along a car full of homemade food. Gizzo’s meal ended up feeding collections of hikers as they gathered and shared stories, taking a day to enjoy the company of others.

Jonathan and Amanda Stahl’s “In Sickness and in Health” introduces readers to the service of trail angels and the importance they serve to hikers. Trail angels offer aid to hikers on the long trail, whether it be a meal, a cot to sleep on at night, a place to do laundry or a ride to town. The above examples are just two of the tales within the book to explore and expand upon the cultural value of the PCT.

The stories of those that walked along the trail throughout its entire history add perspective to how hikers view the trail and their time upon it. One such example is Moses Schallenberger’s “Winter on Donner Pass.” It tells the story of attempting to cross the high elevations of Donner Pass in a long, harsh winter with hardly any food reserves.

Pioneer efforts and Native American myths are also included and add historical background to the development of the land the trail traverses. The pieces work together to build a background and setting for the trail, which helps readers develop a connection to the land whether they have walked it or not.

Reading this book may just provide the motivation to get out and hike. The wonderful experiences of others can make readers eager to gather their own experience and spend time on the trail. While the book does a terrific job of capturing the historical, cultural and environmental values of the trail, the only way to complete the experience is walking in the footsteps of others, meeting other hikers, trekking the nearly 60 major mountain passes along the 2,650-mile journey and getting your very own trail name. For those without months to spare though, The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader is a great place to start.

Purchase the Pacific Crest Trailside Reader: California online through its publisher, Mountaineers Books.

Image: The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader is a collection of works highlighting the majestic Pacific Crest Trail. Source: Mountaineers Books