Nate Hankes returned home from his tour in Iraq unable to answer one simple question: Had his mission overseas been honorable? Determined to find clarity and forge a new identity outside of the U.S. Army, Nate, alongside his brother Ben, a recent college grad delaying his entry into the Great Recession job market, set out to hike the entire length of the 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail. Unpredictable weather, brutal terrain, straining health, and a fractured mind stretched beyond comfort by a wise but imperfect hiking companion turn this walk in the woods into an adventure of body, mind, and spirit. And in a world gone mad, this coming-of-age story reminds us that true clarity and peace can only be found within.
Idea: This is an engaging memoir, both in terms of the growth of the brothers and also in the physical descriptions of the trail. As one of Nate's philosophical thoughts puts it: "the simplicity of trail life felt similar to my life in Iraq... living close to the bone, close to the earth."
Prose/Style: The writing is clear and simple for the most part, which proves effective; at other times it is quite poetic and descriptive.
Originality: Coming-of-age texts are not unusual; however, this one based on hiking the Appalachian trail, where a returning military person experiences so many new, intriguing ideas, feels unique. Nate is extremely open-minded and this contributes to the diversity of his life experiences.
Character Development/Execution: The tale is told chronologically with flashbacks to Nate's time in Iraq. The reader gets to know Nate, Ben and their new "hippie" friend, Dylan, who becomes a sort of mentor to Nate. The 2,180-mile journey takes months and is replete with wonderful views and conversations, bad weather, lack of nourishing food, and stinky clothes and bodies, where the characters get to know both themselves and each other much better.
Date Submitted: December 11, 2020
“Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail is a deeply personal and powerful tale of a young veteran’s journey to understand his role in America’s post-9/11 wars. This unique coming-of-age story is an incredible encapsulation of young peoples’ general disillusionment with American exceptionalism and the frustration that comes from questioning the status quo. I can’t wait to see where Nathan goes next.”
“Like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail is a tale of transformation and emergence from trauma and confusion into something closer to insight and clarity. Hankes writes from the heart, and his story is both powerful and important. I hope this book finds the large, passionate audience it deserves.”
“There are two battlefields described in Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail—one in Iraq and the other within the human heart and mind. Nate Hankes’ memoir is the perfect metaphor for the path that leads each of us from ignorance, fear, and suffering to true freedom, reconciliation, and awakening. This book will change your life.”
“In his courageous exploration and dogged determination to make sense of his young life as an Iraq war combat veteran, Nathan Hankes offers us the raw, honest, and gritty perspective of one who is willing to question everything in the service of living a connected, empathic and meaningful life.”
“Tim O’Brien wrote in his novel about Vietnam, The Things They Carried, ‘A true war is never moral.’ Nathan Hankes reminds us of that, but shows us there is a way forward: By bravely seeking truth, one step at a time, to understanding and redemption.”