Ethan Gallogly's The Trail
The Trail shows the immense value in being in the wilderness. Nature takes us away from life’s hectic pace, our duties and responsibilities. Wilderness requires few possessions but much perseverance and strength. Nature can transform us for the better, removing us from the day-to-day routines that often trap us. As the vistas open up, so do our souls.
Much of the hiking along the John Muir Trail (JMT) is based on the hiking of author, Ethan Gallogly. The trail, both a physical and spiritual journey, is difficult and transformational.
The two main characters are Gil and Syd. Ethan Gallogly told me, “Gil represents the younger brasher me in many ways. I think all men go through a transition from an awkward, almost rude and childish boy, into a man…. For better or worse, Gil is like the me I once was.”
Finalist (2022) in General Fiction of The Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Syd, an intense, intelligent older backpacking enthusiast, is frail with cancer. The best friend of Gil’s recently deceased father, he invites Gil along to hike the challenging 200-mile-long JMT. Gil is out of work, overweight and totally unprepared to backpack for a month in the High Sierra. He doesn’t want to babysit this ill and seemingly frail friend of his Pop’s. Both their lives are transformed.
Ethan characterizes Syd as closer to his present self. “Like Syd, I’m an avid backpacker, I’ve hiked thousands of miles in the Sierra and even reviewed several guidebooks, and I taught for several years at UC Berkeley. I also lived in mainland China for five years, studying Chinese poetry and literature—so much of Syd’s background as a Professor of Asian Philosophy was easy to write…. Finally, like Syd, if I ever had the choice of dying in a hospital or spending my last days hiking in the Sierra—you’d find me up there, enjoying my last moments in that wild range of light!”
Ethan’s descriptions of the magnificent scenery of the mountains and valleys are beautiful, inspiring and completely his own. He re-hiked the trail with his son to more accurately record the details. In addition are helpful pen and ink sketches of each section travelled.
Ethan shared, “When I was writing the book, I struggled the most with this part. Always feeling that my words never equaled the majesty of being up there, in what felt like God’s workshop .... If my words capture even a tenth of that feeling for the reader, then I’ve really done something.”
Ethan balances the moment-to-moment details of life on the trail and the lofty emotional heights. On one hand, we hike through the unexpected rainstorms, the cold and the heat, the thirst and the pain. We also experience moments of exhilaration, instant friendships, joy after reaching a summit, sharing lives and food. Many of the spiritual moments are narrated with John Muir’s words, who was greatly admired by Syd and our author. One such quote illuminates the spiritual aspect of the trail: “[John Muir] would look into the face of nature and see God. Then he’d write about it in such poetic prose as to capture the image and bestow it in the hearts and minds of his readers.”
And Ethan has done so, capturing our imagination and inspiring us to walk in the wilderness. He wrote to me. “Stepping out into nature gives us a way to slow down and reconnect with the natural world and with ourselves. There’s an inner peace that comes from walking in nature; a spiritual sense of belonging to the greater universe. I hope to share that with my readers. To show them the importance of natural places and of taking time out for introspection.”
On the trail, a fellow hiker makes Couscous Curry, dried fruit and veggies, which Syd and Gil relish. I developed a recipe with these ingredients and added grilled steak, a favorite for hikers after the intense physicality of the hike. It’s a wonderful meal on and off the trail.