Book Review : Thru-hiking Will Break Your Heart

I was told over the past year, by more than a few people, that I must read Thru-hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn.

The praise was very high. And the book has become a bit of cult following among people who enjoy the long trails.

I was reluctant to read the book, however. At this point in my life, accounts of thru-hiking on the well-known national scenic trails typically don’t interest me. For me, the long trails are just a conduit to enjoy the wild places rather than the goal itself.  

For various reasons, the modern culture of thru-hiking on the well-known trails does not call to me.

And, frankly, these books follow a typical arc that I’ve discussed before. :

  1. A person gets the bug to the hike a trail.
  2. Lots of strange, expensive and new equipment is bought.
  3. The person arrives at Springer Mountain or Campo, CA and starts hiking.  Blisters are had, rashes procured in strange places and the new life is experienced with a bit of difficulty.
  4. A colorful cast of characters with names like “Snot Rocket” or “Ramen Wanderer” are encountered.
  5. The person adapts to trail life as the earlier obstacles are overcome.
  6. The northern terminus  is reached.
  7. A post-hike chapter is included with reflection on the journey.

 Some of the books are great. Many are bland. Still others are, frankly, terrible.   But they are stories we’ve all read before. And they almost all follow the arc of above. We’ve been there, read that and have the (hiking) t-shirt.

 But since the book was free one weekend a few months back, decided to download it and read it.  I’ve read it on-and-off since then. I’ll get to why it took me a while to read in a bit.

First, what I find interesting, is that some of the criticisms of Carrot Quinn’s book are in the same vein of that other well-known PCT book.  Meaning, people attack the book for what’s it NOT rather than appraise the book for what it is.

As one Amazon review put it:

Reading this book will break your heart, for now the commercialization and modernity of trail life is truly told in this tale. Do me a favor Carrot, go on an adventure where “trail names” and “angels” dont  happen.”

While someone can lament the changing of the trail experience, I personally don’t feel it is fair to criticize the book for writing, accurately, about the 2013 Pacific Crest Trail experience.  Trails names, trail angels, water caches, smart phones, and texting are as much part of the experience as nylon clothing and lightweight shelters.

It would be akin to going to Taco Bell and critiquing the place for not serving authentic Mexican food.

Equally puzzling is that people don’t care for the foul language or discussion of sex. Fair enough I suppose. But not sure what some f-bombs have to do with the quality of the story. The same type of person  must really hate GoodFellasas well….

Quinn’s book is not a Colin Fletcher book  about a journey in the wilderness.  It is a book about modern thru-hiking on a well-known trail. Where it is more of a social experience and about the community on the trail.

That is not a criticism. As more than one sage put it: “It is what it is”.

That is why I probably won’t hike any of the big three trails again as a traditional hike.

But that’s on me and not a reflection on the quality of the writing.

Which brings me to how I feel about the book itself…

As mentioned, it took me a few months to finish the book.

I, frankly, could not get into it.

Part of the issue may be where I am at in life with what I seek in the outdoors. The Camino-esque journey does not appeal to me.

Part of the issue is that a story that is more about the personal journey, where the outdoor experience is the backdrop rather than the focus,  does not hold any interest to me either.

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart was solidly written. Had some nice turns of phrase and, I think, captures the essence of what hiking the PCT, or any long trail is about for many people in recent years.

My experience reading the book may be akin to my brief trail running hobby: I finished the runs and a few races, too. I got through it. I did not hate it…but was not passionate about it either.

My personal rating for Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart  would three stars out of five:  Solid, easy to read, did not really grab hold of me….it is not a book that made me go “Wow!”  It was what I call an airplane book: Something to pass the time from an airport terminal in Providence to touching down in Denver a few hours later.

Those who enjoy the personal journey more, and appreciate the communal aspects of long distance hiking, may enjoy the book quite a bit.

If you are more into a journey where the wild spaces are the focus, and the personal journey is more in relation to those spaces, something such as River may be more interesting.

However,  a  blogger I regularly read, whose outdoor preferences are similar to my own, wrote high praise of the Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart.  So don’t take my word for it necessarily.

Read the book for yourself and decide.  At $5, it is not a large investment monetarily. And my overall reading time was quick.

I just, again personally, had a hard time getting into the book. Your experience may be different.

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Philip Werner
8 years ago

Thanks for the review Paul. I don’t think it’s for me either. I like all that Wilderness junk.

8 years ago

When I was writing my Florida Trail book all I could think of was, damn I have no crazy story to tell, we’re just walking in the woods/marshes/sandhills of Florida because we like it. It is good to know that people out there still like non-dramatic hiking books.

This book was on my to-read list for hiking books but I’ll move it towards the bottom now.

Hilary Young
Hilary Young
5 years ago

I must say I constantly search for books with a female lead (cus I’m female) doing something adventurous and kicking butt. Reading about some dude gets pretty boring, it’s easier to imagine myself in the story when there is someone like me leading it. Tho once in a while a writer is so great that the story and characters transcend gender (John Steinbeck for example). My point is we need to support female writers so we can get beyond stories like “wild” where women are adventuring to escape abuse or hardship. Meanwhile I’ll keep reading all the banal hiker trash… Read more »

Carl Gatlin
Carl Gatlin
4 years ago

The book was so horrible I could not finish it.Even the sex writing was boring and when she kept on and on and on about the smell of this guy.I made it 3/4 of the way thru and had to yell calf rope(means I’m done)

Dan Cutter
Dan Cutter
4 years ago

I am a pretty tolerant reader but could not finish this book. I want my money back. I enjoy the backcountry to escape exactly what this book has to offer. Self-absorbed modern hippie wannabe with a cell phone.

3 years ago