176 pages, 9 b/w photos, 1 map
The most famous long-distance hiking trail in North America, the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail – the longest hiking-only footpath in the world – runs along the Appalachian mountain range from Georgia to Maine. Every year about 2,000 individuals attempt to "thru-hike" the entire trail, a feat equivalent to hiking Mount Everest sixteen times. In Walking on the Wild Side, sociologist Kristi M. Fondren traces the stories of forty-six men and women who, for their own personal reasons, set out to conquer America's most well known, and arguably most social, long-distance hiking trail.
In this fascinating in-depth study, Fondren shows how, once out on the trail, this unique subculture of hikers lives mostly in isolation, with their own way of acting, talking, and thinking; their own vocabulary; their own activities and interests; and their own conception of what is significant in life. They tend to be self-disciplined, have an unwavering trust in complete strangers, embrace a life of poverty, and reject modern-day institutions. Walking on the Wild Side illuminates the intense social intimacy and bonding that forms among long-distance hikers as they collectively construct a long-distance hiker identity. Fondren describes how long-distance hikers develop a trail persona, underscoring how important a sense of place can be to our identity, and to our sense of who we are. Indeed, the author adds a new dimension to our understanding of the nature of identity in general.
Anyone who has hiked – or has ever dreamed of hiking – the Appalachian Trail will find this volume fascinating. Walking on the Wild Side captures a community for whom the trail is a sacred place, a place to which they have become attached, socially, emotionally, and spiritually.
"Well-written, accessible, and succinct, Kristi Fondren's Walking on the Wild Side tells the interesting story of the Appalachian Trail. Upon finishing a chapter, the reader is anxious to move onto the next one."
– Alan Graefe, professor of recreation, park, and tourism management at Penn State University
"Fondren takes readers on the most memorable of journeys. She portrays hikers braving both environmental and social elements, and, with remarkable sensitivity, she reveals that they are not so different than the rest of us. The Appalachian Trail is a microcosm of American society, and a fascinating one at that."
– John P. Bartkowski, University of Texas at San Antonio
"Though the book's aims are primarily scholarly, its brevity and approachable colloquial style make it accessible for students and lay readers."
– Library Journal
"If you dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail this book should be on your bedside table."
– Hike Bike Travel
"Succinct, clear, and captivating [...] an excellent contribution to the reading lists of hiking enthusiasts, leisure and recreation managers, and sport studies scholars interested in nature and the environment."
List of Illustrations
1 From Georgia to Maine: The GA-ME Is Afoot
2 Hiker Trash: Constructing a Long-Distance Hiker Identity
3 April’s Fools: A Situated Subcultural Identity
4 In Search of Ithaka: Long-Distance Hiking as Spiritual Quest
5 The Appalachian Trail, an ATopia? Social Differentiation and Hierarchies among the Tribe
6 Hike Your Own Hike: What the Hiking Subculture Tells Us about American Society
Appendix Research Methodology
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Kristi M. Fondren is an associate professor of sociology at Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia, USA.