Wielding the waspish wit he flashed in sending up the overblown aura of his chosen profession (Hacks, 1996), Wren sets off on his march into retirement by sending up himself.
It’s the kind of initially engaging idea that for most of us would best be abandoned overnight. But foreign correspondents are nothing if not doughty; you don’t get sent to the far corners of the world with an expense account by large organizations unless commitment is consistently followed by resolve. Wren said he would do it and he does, walking out of the New York Times’ mid-Manhattan office on his last day to continue on foot until he gets to the retirement home he and his wife bought in Vermont. The preparations have been elaborate (without moleskin, blisters can be terminal), the pangs of trepidation recurrent, but think of it as an opportunity for 400 footslogging miles of interior monologue. When Wren beds down alone in the woods, for example, he reflects on how much less dangerous that is than walking along a highway—or, for that matter, than the time in (name Beirut or any other famous hell-hole) when these freedom fighters (or jihadi or whatever) were out for his blood. Wren’s war stories are artfully notched into the passing scene along with his grasp of local history (“Major Andre was turned over to the Continental Army near here,” etc.). Characters met along the way, particularly in the Appalachian Trail section, all walk a lot faster than the author, never get lost, and seem strangely self-assured. Only when two youths bivouac nearby without ever seeming to notice him does Wren lapse into the bittersweet acknowledgment that the march into “senior anonymity” can still be redeemed by small victories, like finding Highway 22 without a compass.
For the armchair hiker, a walk well worth taking.