I went looking for books of the same vein, and came upon "AWOL on the Appalachian Trail" on Amazon. Published in October, it is thru-hiker David Miller's 2003 tale of his completion of the AT. He decided to quit his job and hike the trail, obviously not without doubts and concerns. Leaving his wife and three young children at home, Miller began the trail at the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and travelled north. He began the trail at the end of April, and had to finish by mid-October, when Baxter State Park (home of Mount Katahdin) at the northern end closes for the season. Miller intended to do the trail quickly and finish in 5 months.
As his journey unfolds, Miller faces obstacles such as injuries, rain, doubt, and in some instances other hikers, and reflects on his inspiration for attempting the trail. In his life prior to the trail, he was a computer programmer and felt trapped in a cubicle. He decided to attempt the thru-hike as sort of a mid-life crisis, with his boss even asking why he couldn't just get a Corvette. Right off the bat he starts to have some knee problems, which come and go, and ends up seeing a doctor for an infected bunion on one foot early on in Virginia. Later, Miller sprains an ankle right around the half-way point of the trail and spends almost a week off the trail. He continues the trail with an aircast on the ankle.
He spends time in the book talking about hiking gear and shoe selection (he went through many pairs of shoes during the trek), and a lot of time on the other hikers he meets. This is one point of the book I particularly like - the encounters with other hikers: thru-hikers, section-hikers, and day-hikers. There are some folks he spends significant time with on the trail, some he sees periodically, and some are one-shots, but for me, the camaraderie is one big appeal of a journey like this. The stories are good and a lot of the people he meets are great characters. Not all his encounters with other hikers are pleasant, but the vast majority are.
(my Luna moth, Sandwich Range, NH 2008)
The descriptions of the landscape are one of the things I like best about this book and "A Walk in the Woods". I love walking the trail in my head while reading the book (makes me want to get out there!) While Miller was in NH I was able to actually follow some of his progress through the White Mountains, since I've hiked there so much. Another fun aspect of this book was the time he spent in hostels and trail towns. Hitching is (was? do people still do that?) a big part of hiking the AT - the trail crosses roads, but you aren't always close enough to walk to your destination for the night. I gathered from the book that the biggest things about being off the trail in town for a day are laundry, real food (buffets are golden), and phone/email to get in touch with family (Miller also wrote for a local paper & I think blogged his trip).
Miller triumphs and completes the trail September 17, just less than 5 months after he started. The book says the average thru-hike takes 6 months at about 12 miles a day; Miller was doing 20 mile days at some points. When I had started the book, at first I'd been expecting to be reading another Bryson, which this is not, but in some ways I liked "Awol" better. I feel like this book gives the lay-reader a much better idea of how life actually is on the trail, whereas Bryson is much more about the philosopical aspect of being on the trail (which I also loved).
This was a great book for me to read during the off-season and I will be looking for more like it to get me through the winter. "Awol on the Appalachian Trail" is available on Amazon.com - I definitely recommend picking it up.