Local author recounts experience on Appalachian Trail
By Dan McDonald
For Hometown News
BREVARD -- David Miller was a 41-year-old computer software engineer, with three children, and an (extremely) supportive wife, when he decided to quit his job in 2003 and hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
It was that 2,185-mile trek, stretching between Georgia and Maine that would forever change his life.
Sure, there were bears - 21 if you're counting. All black bears and only two that rose to the level of excitement.
There were poisonous snakes, including one Eastern timber rattlesnake and a few copper heads, as well as moose, elk, deer, hundreds of pesky mice, and two medical emergencies that forced the Titusville resident to miss 18-hiking days to convalesce.
Despite all he encountered during his journey, Mr. Miller's big epiphany came after he returned home.
It was then that he decided to turn his experiences along the Appalachian Trail - or "A.T.," as it's affectionately known to the 3 to 4 million annual hikers - into a writing career.
Mr. Miller's "AWOL on the Appalachian Trail," a memoir of his experiences as a hiker, was self-published in 2003.
Sales grew slowly, but steadily, and in 2011, the book was picked up by publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Mariner Books). To date, "AWOL" has sold more than 50,000 copies.
But even more importantly, Mr. Miller discovered another yet another opening.
"I realized that the guide books I had read prior to going on the trail weren't quite accurate or relevant, and I had many experiences that just weren't covered," he said. "So, I thought I could do a better job. Little did I realize, it would become my job."
In 2008, Mr. Miller published "The A.T. Guide," a book that has become so recognized as a must-read that most thru-hikers - and there are approximately 3,000 attempts made annually - won't leave home without it. The reference book sells about 9,000 copies per year.
"I've been on the trail numerous times and see people reading my book," Mr. Miller said. "It's a really great feeling. I know what they're going through, and I always feel like I have to keep working to make sure the book stays up-to-date and accurate.
So, each year, Mr. Miller published an updated version of the guide.
"There are always changes," he said. "For example, the actual length of the trail changes almost every year. The difference comes from certain states that alter the trail to perhaps become more scenic, or get away from traffic."
There are also many businesses that cater to the hikers, and the businesses are always changing, as well, he said.
"Some might go out of business, or some might change services, so there are always updates to be made," he said. "It has become my job. I guess I've been lucky to find something that I like doing."
Mr. Miller has also become a featured guest at various forums, and locally, he'll be recounting some of his experiences at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 10, at the Mims/Scottsmoor Public Library at 3615 Lionel Road in Mims.
"I've read his book, and it's very good," said reference librarian Beth Doud, who booked the local author. "It's a memoir, and it's very good. It has some very good things about hiking and the Appalachian Trail, but it's philosophical, as well. I think anyone who comes and listens to his account of hiking will enjoy the evening. It's a very good read. It's a lot more than just a book about hiking. It's a look at one's goals and how to achieve them."
For Mr. Miller, achieving his goal of hiking the trail was not easy, and he said he is aware of the problems most hikers face.
"The majority of thru-hikers are either young men in their early 20s, or they're older men, who are retired," he said. "Because it takes so long to hike - typically four to six months - most people just don't have the time. I was lucky to have a supportive wife and had the resources to take the time off in mid-life. I went 'AWOL' from work, which is how the book got its title."
But, Mr. Miller said, anyone with an interest can complete the trail, with some planning.
"There is so much fun and enjoyment along the route that I think it's something most people should consider," he said. "It's a lot more than hiking. It's a chance to reflect and sort out your own issues. It really can be a trail of self-discovery."
For more information about Mr. Miller's journey and his books, visit www.theATguide.com.
Fun Facts about the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail was 2,172 miles long when Mr. Miller hiked it in 2003. Now it's 2,185 miles long.
The Trail passes through 14 states, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Hikers who go end-to-end in one year are called "thru-hikers."
A typical thru-hike lasts four to six months, with most hikers starting in March or April and traveling south to north.
Mr. Miller's hike lasted four months and three weeks.
Many hikers have "trail names," which are aliases used on the trail. Mr. Miller's was "AWOL" (since he went AWOL from his job), which explains the double-entendre of the book title.
Hiking the entire trail again is not on Mr. Miller's 'to-do' list.