A writer, editor, and “inveterate walker” chronicles his monthlong hike in the Alps.
In his first book, Arlan follows the literary path that others have blazed, to great popular success, though he has taken a different route, both geographically and thematically. “Everyone back home knows the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail,” he writes. “But so few seem to have heard of the Grand Traverse of the Alps….There was something untouched about it that I liked, so I treated it preciously, like a secret.” This alone must have seemed like a good enough reason to undertake the trek and to write a book about it. However, there is little sense of true purpose in this account: no spiritual illumination, no sudden epiphanies, no meditative insight, no transformation—at least none that occurred during the hike or the writing about it. Toward the end, Arlan told a traveler, “I’ve been walking for over three weeks. Not every day, but almost. From Geneva.” When asked why, he responds, “The longer I walk the harder it is to answer the question.” Readers who have encountered such literary journeys will likely knows what happens: the author sacrifices some financial security; he encounters strangers, some of whom are kind; he gets lost; he is more tired than he has ever been; it rains a lot; he survives a dangerous fall. By the time he finished both his journey and his book, he changed a bit, discovering some stamina and inner resources he never knew he possessed. “I am a quitter by nature,” he insists, though the evidence suggests the contrary. “I don’t like pain the way some people do. I have no interest in ‘pushing myself,’ in ‘broadening my horizons’….The path of least resistance has always been my favorite path. So, again, I wonder: what was I doing here?”
Perhaps the best reader for this book is someone who wants to hike that same trail and is willing to risk being talked out of it.