5 stars to The Precipice- my book review ( it’s a backpacking novel)

precipice_MECH_01.inddIt has been at least a decade since I last sat down and read a novel from cover to cover in 1 one day, or part of one day, as in this case. The Precipice is Maine native and bestselling author Paul Doiron’s latest creation.

The book’s protagonist is Maine game warden Mike Bowditch, and the setting is totally outdoorsy- Maine’s fabled Hundred Mile Wilderness segment,  smack dab at the northern end of the Appalachian Trail.

I have hiked the entirety of The Hundred twice, half of it three times, with the fourth time coming up this week when I will be in the unique position of functioning as a Registered Maine Guide, and assisting three novice backpackers in traveling 50 miles through the uninhabited forest.

I will definitely not tell them about this book, at least before they go. It’s unerringly accurate, and captures the details of the lifestyle of Hikertrash, that grimy subset of backpackers who are totally immersed in the walking in the woods lifestyle.

I am not giving away any spoilers, as the book’s inside dust jacket boldly proclaims, “Mike Bowditch joins a desperate search for two missing hikers as Maine wildlife officials deal with a frightening rash of coyote attacks.”

Lest one think that The Precipice is too unrealistically grim a portrayal of the hiking life, consider this.   A disturbing personal chime was sounded in the Author’s Note section of The Precipice when Doiron lists being informed about the AT by Michelle Ray’s How the Hike the AT: The Nitty Gritty Details of a Long Distance Trek.

Ray attempted a thru-hike of the AT the same year that I completed it in 2007. I hiked with Birdlegs a number of days that summer, and we remain friends.  In an uncanny twist to her placement in this particular book, Ray’s own thru-hike was halted on October 4 just after she crossed the Kennebec River in Maine, shortly before one enters The Hundred. She writes about the incident here in her 2007 Trailjournal .  Ray was advised by the Maine State Police not to continue hiking alone after a vagrant drifter who was camped out on the AT began to follow, harass, and actively stalk her.  The individual was well-known to local police and had an extensive criminal background, with warrants out for his arrest in Georgia and New Jersey. The police were concerned enough about the incident to place the Northern Outdoors outfitter into lock down, and searched for him with no luck. The individual knew the area well and vaporized into the woods.

Coincidentally, Outside magazine’s latest issue (September 2015) features a major story- “Up on Cove Mountain”, by Earl Swift, that explores the 1991 murder of two young hikers who were killed at an AT shelter on the Trail in Pennsylvania. The author was also hiking the AT that year, where he had actually met the two hapless victims.

I am still going to guide my group through half of The Hundred. As always, I’ll have my “bad guy” radar turned on. If we encounter any shifty characters out there, my gut feeling will have me hiking on and hiking smart.

The Precipice is the real deal.


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