Avalanche and Gorilla Jim: Appalachian Trail Adventures and Other Tales (Morgan James Publishing, 306 pp., $21.95, paper). The title tells it all. Author Albert Dragon realizes his life’s dream to hike the Appalachian Trail. He backpacked the trail (in sections) at different times, from 2002 to 2007, and his hiking companion for much of this journey was Gorilla Jim whose real name is Carl James Saxton.
The book’s connection to the Vietnam War is through Gorilla Jim, who served in the U. S. Army in Vietnam. In the second chapter Dragon describes some of that service and includes a few other mentions scattered through the book at great intervals, usually to explain his companion’s wariness with some people. He arrived in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry, was involved in Operation Pegasus at Khe Sanh, was temporarily blinded, and was awarded a Bronze Star.
The bulk of this book deals with backpacking the Appalachian Trail, and it is a worthy successor to Bill Bryson’s classic book on that subject, A Walk in the Woods, which Dragon credits as changing his life and inspiring this journey. All the challenges and joys of hiking the “A. T.” are covered in this book: the cold, the heat, the steep trails, the bugs, poison ivy, the heavy packs, bears, water shortage, the great views from the top of peaks, and the camaraderie with the other hikers on the trail, all of them with silly nicknames like the ones in the book’s title.
I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in backpacking the Appalachian Trail. Dragon does not shy away from the harsher aspects of hiking the trail. He even includes a section dealing with the more notorious murders associated with the trail. Speaking personally, this book is as close as I need to get to the famous trail.
The author’s website is http://albertdragon.com/