Trail of My Life - Espy
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Tuesday, 27 January 2009 21:01

GeneEspyHeadThe Trail of My Life:  the Gene Espy Story, by Gene Espy.

After a wait of 57 years the "story behind the story" of the second Appalachian Trail thru-hike comes to us.  Like a fine wine, Gene Espy's remarkable adventure has aged well.

Reading this account is like hearing Gene Espy speak.  In person you see his sparkling eyes and hear his Southern wit.  These qualities come through on paper as you read his account and review photographs of his artifacts.  The writing is crisp and insightful, yet tempered with experience.  Gene Espy has linked his thru-hike adventure with trails of his life which led there and those which followed.

 You vividly see a barefoot child of seven helping his older brother distribute grocery flyers as he saves up money for a bicycle.  You watch him build boats, make his own water skis, experiment with cars and motorcyles, explore caves and improvise diverse travels.  These varied experiences reflect the ingenuity and adaptability called for on his pioneering long-distance hike.

Gene Espy Thru-hiker photo 1951The trail account begins with a description of his gear, including a miner's carbide lamp that he used in place of a flashlight and 2 pairs of nylon-fiber athletic socks that lasted the entire hike.  Carefully chosen anecdotes sprinkle the narrative of Gene Espy's thru-hike.  

In New Jersey his second pair of shoes wear out, so he hitches into Port Jarvis, New York only to be refused help by the cobbler.  So he buys temporary boots at a nearby store, which tide him over until his favorite LL Bean Maine Guide boots arrive by mail in Kent, Connecticut.  Although Gene Espy sometimes goes a week without seeing another person, he cites many rewarding encounters that modern hikers call Trail Magic.

The Trail of My Life describes the publicity accompanying the finish, the exultation of accomplishing a dream, and the anti-climactic reception back home.  Despite the lack of local attention, his accomplishment resonates with the public, the press features him in more stories, and he builds lasting friendships associated with the Trail.

When I finished this book, I paused and remembered that Gene Espy barely mentions the tough economic times of his youth.  Instead, I was struck by the infectious enthusiasm permeating his book.  ~ Charlie Duane


Last Updated on Sunday, 01 February 2009 14:32
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