On the Beaten Path: An Appalachian Pilgrimage

An eloquent, wise, and witty account of how one man’s six-month, end-to-end hike of the Appalachian Trail led him back home.

Community Review

  • Robert, I would love to meet you someday! Very well told story and I could see your attitude and maturity changing as you traveled. I could see the anger dissolving after the hike began and hear the peace in your writing voice as you finished and after the trail! Definitely a good man whom I’d love to meet and love to hike with! He tells the story as a common man in very common shape as many begin such adventures with and clearly tells the hardships of such an undertaking. Also, I appreciate the writing style and editing that only someone in the literary world could apply!
  • This is a good book that lets you not only see what a thru-hiker sees, but also feel what a thru-hiker feels. It is very well written too. Rueben, being a former editor, knows where to stop and what to cut out from a book (sometimes this is not as easy to do as it seems). Rueben’s “pilgrimage” is as much a personal, even spiritual journey as it is a physical one.
    It is not fair to even mention this book in the same sentence with Bryson’s. Rueben’s hike, as well as his book, is a much more sincere effort. For one thing, he hiked the whole AT. For another, he hiked the AT because it was a pilgrimage for him, not because he just wanted to get some material for his next book. Bryson, on the other hand, only finished less than 40% of the AT, and he wanted nothing but just some material for his next book. Rueben’s journey is a triumph whereas Bryson’s is a failure. Rueben is consistent throughout his book in writing and storytelling, whereas the second half of Bryson’s book ultimately falls into some random, chaotic and awkwardly put together bits and pieces (can you say hypothermia?)
    Comparing this book with those of Colin Fletcher who certainly had some long hikes would be more appropriate. There are two differences between the two (over-simplifyingly): 1. Rueben is a better writer and editor, while Fletcher goes on and on and on, Rueben knows how to write a compact yet insightful book; 2. Fletch is a true naturalist and truly enjoys the outdoors, whereas for Rueben, the hike was just a vehicle on which he hopes to carry out his personal and spiritual search.
  • I had read so many books about walking the Appalachian Trail that I thought I would not purchase any more, but noting the excellent reviews of ‘On the Beaten Path’ I decided just one more. I am glad I did.
    Everyone’s experience of the AT and the reasons for undertaking the venture, is unique. Robert Rubin was having a “mid-life crisis” and hoped that the challenge of the trek would produce some sort of transformation in him. He probably did not expect the level of guilt he would suffer throughout the journey over what he admitted was a selfish act.
    I liked the inference that the AT has now become the “beaten path”, because so many people hike it every year. He brings to light just how close the AT is to civilization when he sees the tops of the two towers of the World Trade Center and realizes that the panorama of Manhattan is just beyond a single wooded ridge.
    The author also paints a graphic picture of the illnesses that befall the AT community, the torn knee ligaments, the stomach bugs, the health hazards of crowded mouse-lousy shelters, the strange effect on the bladder. But it is not all doom and gloom, the author has a beautiful command of the language and the descriptions of the environment he is walking through read like poetry.
    This is the first book where I have read the “Afterword” before finishing the book because I could not resist finding out whether he really did find what he was looking for.
  • I finished On the Beaten Path recently and have to say it’s one of the most lyrical books on the AT experience I’ve ever read. I love Rubin’s writing, as I should, since he was an editor before hitting the trail and made the journey after becoming disillusioned with his job, along with the difficulties editors face, which I know first hand. Slogging through lots of stories to find the gems and then once you do so, the pain of writing rejection letters, and even having to reject good writing simply because there’s no room.
    Rubin’s descriptions are poetic and vibrant, his approaches change as he is transformed by the trip and the spiritual nature, not in any heavy handed way, more the way one feels when they stand at a summit in awe of the vision stretched out before, above and below them. He can translate this into words and therefore into our minds and hearts. This is a book I’ll read over and over. It is an end-to- end, shelter by shelter NOBO relating of the trek, which at this point in educating myself about the trail, I enjoy. It makes it easier for me to look up sections as Loner goes through each particular area so I can imagine what he’s seeing.
    The human story is just as vivid as the nature and travel experience. Rubin honestly accounts the confusion and unsettled discomfort he feels and which drives him to the trail, despite the fact it is a hardship on his wife. We are allowed to come to an understanding, as he does, of how each hiker is transformed by the experience and via a ripple effect so are those in their lives. This remarkable weaving of many perspectives of the Trail helps us understands why some people “need” to make this journey. Some may see it as an escapist act, but in the larger vision, it is not a running away from the world but a running towards the true north authentic self.I agree with Bryson in looking at the attempted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail as a sort of pilgrimage, something each culture needs as a sort of initiation, a coming to terms of what’s important and how one must be transformed, an act which minds like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell considered imperative to the growth of each person.
    While not as irreverent as Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”, Rubin’s book still has its funny bits, and while not as detailed as David Miller’s book AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, with it’s organized info, I found On the Beaten Path less dry for a non hiker who is looking more for a story than for a tool to use to plan a hike.
    So far, I think Rubin’s book is my favorite on the Appalachian Trail, a profound story on both an inner and outer level, of what he calls a pilgrimage. Rubin masterfully blends the powerful encounters of human nature and Mother Nature into a vivid portrayal of this monumental task.

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