On the Appalachian Trail, there aren’t too many stretches of flat terrain, as we’re generally either going up or going down. I’ve often heard section hikers complain about the trail’s elevation gain and insist that the footpath would be better if it were to pass primarily through the valleys. I disagree.
The Shenandoah National Park is one of the areas of the easiest walking on the whole trail. The treadway is smoothly graded–free of rocks and roots and never very steep. And, while I didn’t dislike that section of the trail, I must confess that I found it horribly boring.
Luckily, Quiver, my hiking partner, agreed.
Our opinion of the Shenandoahs greatly improved when we found Even Cowgirls Get the Blues at a shelter in the Park. In part because we appreciate the principle of reciprocity and in part because we don’t like carrying “heavy” books longer than we need to, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers have a casual sort of library in the shelters along the trail. A book or two could probably be found in most shelters at any given time, and hikers are welcome to take them and encouraged to leave others in their place.
(Except in the case of Glenn Beck books. When those are found on the trail, they’re just used in the privy or as kindling.)
We’d stopped by a shelter for a water break when Quiver found a worn, cover-less copy of Cowgirls in the corner of the shelter, with a note from Shine (another hiker) on the title page: “Read this book!” Familiar with author Tom Robbins’ works and Cowgirls itself, Quiver cheered and couldn’t resist bringing it with us. And, because of the monotony of the Shenandoah treadway–and because I had a tendency to fall asleep as soon as he started reading to me unless I was walking–Quiver decided that the best way to enjoy Cowgirls would be for us to read it as we walked.
Thus, I led the way, sounding the warning about any potentially hazardous (and rare) branches, rocks, and roots–and about approaching families–and Quiver walked behind me, trekking poles collapsed and book in his hands, reading aloud in this perfect reading-aloud voice of his. And, just like that, I had a personal audiobook.
If you’re familiar with Tom Robbins, you’ll understand that my letting Quiver know about families hiking ahead wasn’t just so he didn’t crash into them. Tom Robbins writes with a unique style that is alternately high brow and low brow. You’ll be reading along about philosophy and the human condition and then, wham! Potty humor and sex. It took me a little while to figure out how it worked–and to not need the innuendos explained to me–but I loved his style right away.
One day, Duke, a conservative Freemason from Oklahoma who was a trail friend of ours, was leap-frogging us while we were in the middle of Cowgirls. Quiver decided to keep reading as we approached him, just for fun. We were in the middle of this cathartic lesbian sex scene, and I’ll never forget Duke’s “WHAT are you reading?” There was lots of laughter all around.