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Book review: Colorado thru-hiker’s guide will inform worried moms and would-be hikers alike

An informative primer for prospective hikers with hard-earned wisdom

Juliana Chauncey, a veteran of thru-hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail, self-published her book “Hiking from Home:“A Long-Distance Hiking Guide for Family and Friends.”
Juliana Chauncey, a veteran of thru-hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail, self-published her book “Hiking from Home:“A Long-Distance Hiking Guide for Family and Friends.”

It’s tempting, when considering Juliana Chauncey’s new book, “Hiking from Home,” to resort to that annoying, overused tick of the social-media age: I see what you did there.

The book is subtitled “A Long-Distance Hiking Guide for Family and Friends,” and Chauncey, co-host of the popular, Golden-based Backpacker Radio podcast and veteran of thru-hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail, has done an excellent job with the first book expressly aimed at those left behind on the home front when a hiker heads off to walk a few million steps and sleep in the wilderness for five or six months.

Chauncey has single-handedly eased the burden of would-be hikers, who may now simply hand this detailed explanation of long-distance hiking to baffled friends and family, sparing them the necessity of defending their “crazy” decision in the years, months, weeks and days leading up to their trek.

“As someone who’s important in your hiker’s life, they need you, too,” she writes. “They need those closest to them to understand that what they are doing is on a level beyond what may seem like a vacation in nature. They need you to understand that there will be times they need to kick and scream about how they hate the trail, while not wanting to give up or quit. Regardless of the long trail, no one gets through it alone.”

Ah, but Chauncey is sneaky: This highly useful guide for the perplexed is also a highly informative primer for would-be hikers themselves. It’s jammed with excellent advice, not just from the author, but also dozens of quotes from both hikers and their supporters at home.

Chauncey uncorks this effervescent bottle of chatty trail wisdom early and lets it breathe for more than 200 pages. Under broad headings such as “The Basics,” “Logistics,” “Safety” and “Support,” she hits all those questions prospective hikers are sure to get, including such greatest hits as “Where will you go to the bathroom?” and (usually spoken in horror), “You aren’t going alone, are you?”

“Guy or girl, parents worry, because they don’t hike themselves. They worry about the ‘alone’ factor,” says hiker parent Rob, 34. “I just tell them, ‘Look, he’s not alone. He’s with someone every night, he’ll develop a group of friends and he’ll hike together with others eventually.’ Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s still surrounded by people.”

The section on safety addresses everything from “Trail Culture and Community” to “Wildlife Encounters,” “Hitchhiking,” common illnesses and injuries, and “Concerns for an Older Hiker.” Chauncey cites current scientific data and clues readers in to long-running discussions among hikers on topics both large and small, her tone equal parts frank and soothing.

For example, in answer to the perpetual question of whether a hiker should carry a firearm on trail, she points out, along with other information, that:

  • Over thousands of miles, gun laws vary not just state-to-state, but on lands managed by myriad agencies, making it difficult to pack heat legally.
  • The likelihood of being harmed by another person on the trail is far less likely than off-trail.
  • And, “The number one reason that hikers — gun enthusiasts and those with anti-gun beliefs alike — choose to forgo carrying a gun is that it just isn’t worth the weight.”
hiking from home

Chauncey provides gear lists, sensible advice on how to send resupply boxes and even tidbits of psychology. She does an admirable job of preparing hikers for the mental challenges they’ll face, deemed by many thru-hikers more daunting than physical strain or logistical obstacles.

And throughout, Chauncey tips readers off to the kind of hard-earned wisdom most receive only after hiking many miles.

“What is the allure of stripping down to life’s basic necessities and living austerely?” she asks. “Why walk from town to town when we’ve built roads to connect them? Or give up a warm bed to sleep on the cold, hard ground? Why would grown adults dig 6-inch holes and imitate cats in a litter box when flushing toilets exist?”

After interviewing more than 100 long-distance hikers about why they do it, and why the love it, she concludes that at the deepest level, it’s because, “They need to.”

That’s just a sampling of the cornucopia of wisdom in “Hiking from Home,” a crafty Trojan Horse of a book for “family and friends” that charmingly moonlights as a comprehensive guide to prepare new hikers for their coming adventure, as good as any you’ll find.

Highly recommended for prospective hikers and worried mothers alike.

Hiking from Home: A Long-Distance Hiking Guide for Family and Friends

Juliana Chauncey

Self-published, 228 pages, $16.95.