Outskirts Press (2015)
Reviewed by Ben Green for Reader Views (11/15)
When I first saw the cover of “Stepping Wild” by Phill Grounds, I was excited to read and review the book. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is something that, as a native Appalachian, has been on my bucket list for a while. After reading the back cover and realizing Phill served with the U.S. Army Special Forces, I felt there was a lot to be learned from this book. “Stepping Wild” is the account of Phill’s time on the trail, the people he meets, and the adventures and misadventures along the way.
The book starts at the beginning of the trail and ends more or less, at the conclusion of his time on the trail. It contains a lot of good information about trail life and culture, as well as the skills necessary to make it out on the trail. The book itself is not a guide, but more of an autobiography about the author. It is nice to have a first-hand account of the trail in a concise book format, instead of trying to piece together random blog posts or online stories.
Throughout the book, Phill offers useful tips that are worth the cost of the book alone, like not wearing cotton underwear, although I was somewhat surprised he did not already know that. He also gives tips about the different types of people you might meet along the trail and the different types of trails you could potentially take on your journey.
The book is an easy read and not overly long. Phill's writing style is very plain and, at times, his accounts of events seem unnecessarily vague. While a decent enough read for someone interested in the subject matter and looking for a first-hand account of time spent on the trail, as a standalone read the book falls a bit short. Part of this may be due to the style of the writing. I feel that much of this is because Phill does not really make you care about the main character (himself) at all. Throughout the book I felt like his motivation was unclear and he never really lets you get inside his head or know him well enough to care about whether or not he succeeds on the trail. In other words, there is very little character development and the stakes never feel all that high. Having said that, I did find myself reading the book from cover to cover, searching it for nuggets of useful information and inspiration about the Appalachian Trail, and hiking it.
“Stepping Wild” by Phill Grounds is an excellent first person account of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and anyone who is interested in the trail will find the book informative and inspirational. However, if you are looking for a more entertaining, character-driven narrative then this may not be the best story for you. Overall, I give it three out of five stars.