Book Review: I Hike: Mostly True Stories from 10,000 Miles of Hiking
After an awesome week hiking in Moab with Lawton “Disco” Grinter (from the Trail Show, the Walkumentary), it seemed like the next best way to continue my Disco fix was to read his book I Hike (Grand Mesa Press, 192 pages, paperback and Kindle). I Hike immediately differentiated itself from other adventure tales on my bookshelf because Disco picks and chooses stories across many trails, sparing the reader the termini-to-termini focus. The result is a rich set of vignettes that document the wisdom and maturity that hiking can bring to a young person. Each chapter has a different locale, but the stories are tied together well with a theme of living a simple fulfilling life with friends (on a trail).
Based on Disco’s work on the Trail Show, I had assumed I Hike would be a funny book filled with triumphant tales of trail shenanigans. It certainly has plenty of that, but although the same joyous humor that Disco shares on his podcast comes through in I Hike, I was surprised by the depth and wisdom of many of the chapters. I Hike is thick with insight only gained from walking. In the least serious example of this, readers learn alongside Disco that eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting is a poor decision. In the most serious case, Disco reflects on the dangers of hiking and the fragility of the simple hiking life.
In writing I Hike, Disco doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of hiking, but reflects on them. Why is it that sometimes a long hike is hard and we feel like we want to quit? I Hike also explores what I find to be one of the most beautiful aspects of trail life: the seemingly miraculous transition from suffering to salvation. Yet Disco takes this idea further: it isn’t the transition itself that is incredible, but the irony of how quickly our fates change. This is because being on the trail, no matter how bad (with some exception), isn’t suffering (as the saying goes: “A bad day on the trail is better than a good day at work”). Instead, what is incredible about hiking is that we learn how whimsical our fate can be. Our desire and delight in walking is impacted by our perspective as much as by the weather.
I tried to ration the chapters—forcing myself to do some chores and money-making ventures in between each story—but found myself powerless and read the whole thing in a sitting. Disco’s way of writing is funny and engaging, and because he explains technical hiker terms so well, I Hike may be a better introduction to long distance hiking than A Walk in the Woods (for one thing, Disco has end-to-ended several trails and Bill Bryson couldn’t make it past Gatlinburg). I am eager to share this vivid slice of thru-hiking life with my non-hiking friends. Moreover, I wish I could have read this book before I started thru-hiking so that I could have had a better idea of what I was getting into—the fantastic, the hilarious, the heartbreaking—and could have learned about the trail in a non-guidebook style medium.
Throughout I Hike, I was repeatedly reminded of the kindness and generosity of the hiking community. In numerous stories, Disco and his then hiking partner/fiancé now wife, POD, go through extremes to help those in need, even when they have nothing to gain and much to lose by doing so. Reading I Hike on a lonely day was like a portkey into the magical hiking world that can seem so fantastical compared to humdrum cubicle life. I Hike is a reminder that no matter what life (or the trail) may present, the hiker family will provide redemption.
Disclaimer: I don’t usually read hiking books because I am worried my own trail experiences might get muddled up with someone else’s (or that reading about others’ trip may alter my expectations). This is one reason why I hadn’t read I Hike until now (it came out at the end of 2012). Disco graciously sent me this copy and forever changed the way I think about hiking books. Far from mixing with my own experiences or altering my expectations, I Hike helped me understand and digest my on-trail experiences better. I am very grateful that he was able to share his stories with me.
Liz "Snorkel" Thomas
Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.