Walking With Spring is a memoir by Earl V. Shaffer that tells the story of his hike of the Appalachian Trail. His was the first recorded thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and took place in 1948. Shaffer had returned from World War II and was looking for a way to deal with the trauma he suffered there. He took to the trail as a means to heal. For any of us that view hiking as a source of peace and solitude, this purpose is close to our hearts. Shaffer’s hike serves as an example for the thousands that have walked in his steps since.
I found Walking With Spring to be a fascinating look at the early days of the Appalachian Trail. While the trail itself follows a similar track, the hike Shaffer took was very different than the modern through hikes of today. Shaffer tells of poor markings, local folks generally unaware of the AT, poor maintenance in spots, and a general lack of support services. The trail in 1948 was a far cry from the well trod path that exists today. I found this difference striking and marveled at Shaffer’s ability to complete his “lone expedition”. He used a map (when available) and compass – no phone or GPS. His gear was heavy – there was no ultralight concept. AT blazes were periodic / non-existent in places – not like the well marked white blazes of today. I came to understand that Shaffer’s hike was much more difficult than what we experience now.
I also quite enjoyed the photographs that Shaffer took throughout his trip. They are included frequently in the version that I read (http://amzn.to/2DmWYO7). These pictures help the reader get a sense of the landscape, shelters, and trail that he experienced. While Shaffer’s descriptions were quite detailed, I found the photographs helped tie his words into a mental image for me. Shaffer was also a poet and some of his works are included in Walking With Spring. While not the most complex of poetry, much like the photographs, these words help to convey the emotion and feelings Shaffer had as he hiked. One of my favorites ties into the title of the book:
The flowers bloom, the songbirds sing
And though it sun or rain
I walk the mountain tops with Spring
From Georgia north to Maine
This description of his hike, walking north as Spring touched the mountains, is beautiful to me. It is an amazing description of what a northbound thru-hike can be.
I highly recommend Walking With Spring to anyone who has a love of hiking or the Appalachian Trail specifically. It is a fantastic trail journal and gives you a sense of the early history of the AT. Certainly a trailblazer in every sense of the word, Shaffer’s story sets an amazing example for modern day aspiring thru-hikers.