filed under: book reviews
Jim Schmid shares his review of this recently released book. In Journeys North, legendary trail angel, thru hiker, and former PCTA board member Barney Scout Mann spins a compelling tale of six hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 as they walk from Mexico to Canada.
by Jim Schmid
“You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” For me these words by the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar are at the heart of this book. In the long distance trails community Barney Mann needs no introduction. Him and his wife Sandy are known by their trail names—Scout and Frodo—and by their generosity. His new book Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail will introduce him to the larger trails community and even pull in those who love a good story.
Another memoir about a long distance trail thru-hike can easily get lost in today’s world of internet blogs and self-published books. Doing a quick Google search of books will bring up more than a dozen recent memoirs about Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hikes. As a trail lover I look forward to reading them all. But when you find a book written by not only someone who thru-hiked the “Triple Crown” (as well as his 2007 PCT thru-hike, Scout thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 2015 and the Appalachian Trail in 2017) but is also a trail angel, volunteer, and advocate, you just can’t help but be pulled in as you read and want to know more of his story. Scout was elected to the PCT Association board in 2008 and served nine years and currently he is the board president of the Partnership for the National Trails System. I’m looking forward to a future book that details those off the trail adventures in advocacy.
This not a how-to hike book, nor is it an expanded trail journal, instead Scout digs deep into the back story (secrets and aspirations) of four fellow thru-hikers: Blazer (Amanda), Dalton (Alan), Nadine and her dog Pacha, and Tony. To keep everyone straight in my mind while reading I visited a local toy store and bought some figures that I could keep next to my reading chair and take a glance at once in awhile. I’m at the age where visual aids help.
These four thru-hikers were brave to let Scout tell not only their trail stories but their off-trail stories. It’s one thing to reveal intimate details about your past while hiking and a whole different thing to let someone share those stories in a book. You can feel the bond they forged and the trust they have in each other—a bond that goes beyond the five months they spent on the Trail. You can’t help but be pulled in by such honesty.
It would be cliche to say that this story happened in a simpler time. 2007 feels like a lifetime ago and yet the lessons learned apply on and off the trail; even today with all the issues swirling around us. They faced hardships and continued heading north. At one point Scout says about thru-hiking: “You have to really, really want to do this.” He also talks about understanding pain—the kind you can tolerate and the kind that must be dealt with. These truths hold true on and off the trail. While reading this book in December I got a call from my mother who still lives in San Diego where I was born in 1951. She had sad news. My sister’s son who was 50 years old had committed suicide. I was seventeen when he was born and would babysit him the first two years of his life before I left home. I can’t imagine the pain my nephew felt that brought him to end his life. How do you face these hard truths and carry-on?
While reading you can’t help but think about the other 2007 thru-hikers. That season close to three hundred started out at the Mexico border headed north for the adventure of a lifetime. [Spoiler alert—not everyone makes it] While Scout focused on four of those hikers I couldn’t help but think how hard it must have been for him to just pick four. Here’s a shout out to the other hikers he met along the way—Ryley, Gaby, Whisper, Big Cat, Breeze, Sage, Heidi, Munchkin, Feather, D-Bone, Bull, City Girl, Out There, Mr. Smiles, Mario, Luigi, Allegheny, Shamus, Germinator, Festus, Neptune, Bounty Hunter, Figaro, Foots-Aflame, Walk-it-Off, Hammer, Roswell, Recline, Monty, OJ, Vlad the Impaler, Tazul, Teatree, Not-a-Moose, Glacier, Sleuth, Red Barb, Disco Dan, Cloudspotter, Stomp, Buckeye, Odysseus, Switch, Ladybug, 30-30, Chigger, Miso, Mr. Pink, Lotto, Guts, Chuckwagon, Sandals, Also-Ran, Gesh, and Junkfood. You know that behind everyone one of those trail names is a story—of dehydration, getting lost, or caught in a storm. There are so many ways for thru-hikers to share their stories these days and I hope they take advantage of all of them. Since 2007 the digital age has really changed the way hikers experience the PCT and the outdoors in general. Social media is all the rage and it seems most every thru-hiker has a smart phone allowing for real-time sharing of stories.
My wife Sandra (trail name Packa Sandra) thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2001. The other night over dinner we got to talking about fellow 2001 thru-hikers. Twenty years later we relived being on the AT while talking about Sam Wise, California Bear, Patch Monkey, Porkchop, Ropeyarn, Tacoma Ted, The Barefoot Sisters, Wobegan, Baltimore Jack, Young Flash, Old Flash, Wood Nymph, Blowing Sunshine, Mountain Goat, AWOL, and Nature Girl. And that was just one dinner. Thank you Scout for showing the way to a fun dinner conversation.
Scout and Frodo started hosting Pacific Crest thru-hikers at their San Diego home in 2006 when seventeen hikers stayed with them. In 2019, they had over 1,200 stay in an eight-week span. They not only offer a place for them to stay before they start their thru-hike, they along with other volunteers will pick up hikers at the airport, feed them, and drive them to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail at the Mexico border. All for free. This make them legendary “Trail Angels” in the long distance trails community.
On the inside covers of the book are two mosaics consisting of 1,094 photos of hikers who stayed at the Mann’s San Diego home in 2016 and 2017 before starting their thru-hike. Be sure to check it out on Barney’s website at barneyscoutmann.com/photo-mosaics. What a neat way to see how the thru-hiker community has grown in such a short time.
On and off the Trail Scout and Frodo are helping people get what they want. Now it’s our turn to help Scout. For the past forty years he’s had a dream where he’s walking through an airport and sees someone reading his book. My dream is that he not only sees that one person but hundreds enjoying this and future books that he’s written.
Scout leaves us with these words: The simple act of walking under an open sky, shedding those distractions that claw at us, leaves you open for change. Take that first step. And I’ll leave with these words: be sure to read this book when you return—whether it’s a five month hike or a walk around the block you’re in for a treat when you get back. As always I hope to see you on a trail real soon. Go Scout Go.
Published February 2021
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