Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail

A Story of War, Brotherhood, and the Pursuit of Truth

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Pub Date 10 Apr 2020 | Archive Date 30 Oct 2021

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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.

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...

Advance Praise

"“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.”

—Chris Ryan, Ph. D., author of Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress and host of the Tangentially Speaking podcast.

“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.”

—Darren Main, author of Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic

“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.” 

—Heidi Bourne, Mindfulness Educator & Consultant, Pacific Mindfulness

“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.”

—Kevin Sites, author of The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You About What They’ve Seen, Done, or Failed to Do in War

“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.”

—Allegra Harpootlian, ReThink Media"

"“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...

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ISBN 9781393614128
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Average rating from 25 members

Featured Reviews

I always like reading or watching about people who are back from the war.Seeing how their psychology is affected and the post trauma is something so fascinating to me.That's why I enjoyed reading this book.If you also like these tropes,you'll probably like reading this.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
I enjoy books written about these long journeys on mountain trails. The backpackers always seem to become enlightened on a personal level. This book is not just about the experience of the hike with the author's brother. It delves deeper into the "whys" of war and government. A couple of chapters give snippets of his experience in Iraq, which I found interesting and really pertinent to the overall book.

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This book covers the lives and changes of two brothers hiking the Appalachia Trail and the people and places they meet on the way and their sense of greater understanding. The trek reminded me of similar stories such as Camino de Santiago trail in Europe. It was a little tough to get interested in, but When I did, I enjoyed it.

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*Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review*

It was impossible for me not to compare this book to Cheryl Strayed's "Wild" and, I admit, Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods". Ultimately, while there are whispers of both those books in this one, I didn't find it quite as profound as I'd hoped - but I still enjoyed reading it!

Hankes provides a really honest account of his experience hiking the AT, sprinkled with a few memories from his time serving in Iraq. Most of the word count is spent on the minutiae of hiking the AT - the sights, the food, the shelters and camping, the temperature, the clothing (the smell), the random acts of kindness, the physical toil - and what's not to like about that? For me, there's something hugely meditative about books like this, especially as someone who has had arthritis from a young age and knows this kind of journey will never be possible for her.

In between trail life, Hankes spent a very sizeable chunk of the book chewing over his fears and doubts about whether the Iraq war was a noble or corrupt endeavour, and whether capitalism will destroy America's environment and human society. I didn't mind this, although there was too much of it for me, and it was fairly repetitive and abstract. I kept waiting to get back to the trail, where my mind was happy to follow in Hankes' footsteps. Whether you dream of hiking the AT, or you want to live it vicariously, I recommend this book.

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Nate Hankes returns home after serving 4 years in the Army, as a drone operator in Iraq. He and his brother Ben, a recent college grad, decide to do a Southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. This serves both as a great adventure, and as an opportunity for Nate to sort out his thoughts on his time in Iraq, and what kind of future he wants. The book primarily follows the trail, but does include some flashbacks to his time in the war, as well as his inner though process along the way.

I have read quite a few Appalachian Trail memoirs, and this one stands out as a unique, well-written book. The best ones always have some kind of philosophical underpinning, some kind of psychological journey along with the physical one. This one asks if Nate's time in the army had any honor. It asks what an actual just and honorable life looks like. These are questions that I find important, so I was pulled in to the book.

This is not strictly a hiking book about the actual trail, but is more about the inner journey along the trail. It is well-written, and asks big questions. I felt that it contributed something new to the Appalachian Trail books that I have read.

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I chose this book as I am very interested in stories of long distance hiking and wanted to know more about the Appalachian Trail. I enjoyed Nate, Ben and Dylan’s journey. The joy and hardships they faced were well described.

I wasn’t expecting the political angle and a lot of it was unfamiliar to me. However it was very relevant especially during the current unrest and worries about COVID-19 and the economy.

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Loved it!!! I was so impressed with the story telling in this book! Every page was amazing. It’s one you want to read again.

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I loved this book!! I live close to the Smoky Mountains, so I have an
interest in hiking, especially when I was younger. The book is interesting
like all the other popular trail hiking books.
The book was well written by the number of days and their milage tracked.

Thank you to NetGalley, NB Hanks, and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.

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☆REVIEW☆ Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Waking Up on the Appalachian Trail is a travelouge written by young Iraq War veteran Nate Hankes as he and his brother hike 2,190 from Maine to Georgia. Along the way, he grapples with big questions - What is his purpose? How can he be happy? What did his service accomplish, and what was he actually fighting for? How can he make a difference? Where does he go from here?
I really enjoyed Nate's description of the actual thru-hiking, which comprises most of the book. He and his brother meet a lot of funny characters and are helped by so many kind people. I loved the picture he paints of this slice of America and the people who inhabit it. The trail descriptions are really well done; you can almost see it in your mind, and you can feel his love and appreciation for its beauty. You also get a great sense of just how mentally and physically challenging this feat is. Hiking over 2,000 miles sounds hard, but he brought up things I never would have thought of (like basically subsisting on dry ramen and granola bars). Nate also offers a few glimpses into his time in the Army as he muses over his service time while hiking the trail, but they really made me appreciate what exactly those servicemen and servicewomen endured in a new way.
A good chunk of this book is spent on Nate's existential musings. I didn't mind them - I think a lot of us ponder similar questions at some point (although certainly Nate's questions are impacted by his time in the service) - until they got repetitive. This is essentially a record of Nate's process of working through his experiences, and while I respect that, past a certain point, I didn't find it to be very compelling as a reader.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot and would recommend it to memior-enthusiasts, travelogue-lovers, or anyone interested in questioning the status-quo.

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Waking Up on The Appalachian Trail: A Story of War, Brotherhood, and The Pursuit of Truth by N.B Hankes is a memoir detailing the intellectual and spiritual awaking of Nate Hankes, a young, bewildered and troubled war veteran as he and his brother hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail over five months.

Hankes, a drone operator during the Iraq War, chose to hike the trail with his brother after his return and details their trip with writing that belies his youth. Hankes has written a memoir that grows along with his insights as the miles of the trail fall away. Intermingled with segments of their hiking, Hankes also provides flashback segments of his military experience and time in Iraq.

Along the way, Hankes and his brother encounter a hippie-esque, sage-like figure named Dylan that pushes Hankes to question more and more with gentle, interesting prodding that shows Hankes there is more to life than just the highlights.

As the memoir unfolds, as Hankes continues to ask questions of himself, his self-inquisitiveness allows him to find his answers and share them with the reader.

Hankes' descriptions of the trail, Iraq, and experiences of two novice trail hikers, later labeled with the honorific title of "thru-hikers" are compelling and captivating. Insights sprinkled throughout the book by Hankes are poignant and revelatory.

One thing that would have complimented the digital format of the memoir would have been images of Hankes, his brother, and the trail (I do not know if images are included in the print version of the memoir). Still, the writing and tale told was interesting and stands on its own.

Waking Up On The Appalachian Trail is highly recommended to those that enjoy adventure type tales with self-discovery and growth.

This memoir was provided by NetGalley upon the promise of a fair review.

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I enjoyed Nate's story of his hike along the Appalachian trail with his brother. Nate, aged 23, has recently returned from a time serving the American army in Iraq and his brother had recently finished college. I didn't have much in common with the two brothers, apart from the hiking and the need to question my life but it was a lovely refreshing, insight into his life and his journey.

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This has pretty much everything you would want from a memoir. It’s deeply personal, thought provoking, not overly self-obsessed or indulgent, and has its fair share of comedic moments that got me laughing to myself (quite the feat). For this kind of work, the amount of description was perfect for placing the reader in the moment alongside Hankes without being overly burdened by the details of every leaf and stone. While much of the inner journey revolved around the same few subjects, the content never got stale for me. I was greatly impressed by the skill to know what to include and exclude and how. My only gripe is at times some editing seemed rushed with minor errors or typos, especially near the end. This is a phenomenal debut published work. Kudos to N.B. Hankes, and I will follow his writing career with great interest.

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Let me start by saying I have read close to 50 books about thru hikes and this is definitely in the top 3. It goes way beyond a recounting of each mile hiked and explore how two brothers, Nate and Ben and a friend they picked up along the way, Dylan come to grips with questions of life as they hike Southbound on the Appalachian trail. I have always wanted to hike the AT and life got in the way but I can experience the hike through these books. I has some of the day to day grind in the book but the author doesnt give the name brand of each item he hikes with and the specifics that I can do without that are in most thru hiking stories. This book explores the bigger picture of what the author and his brother hoped to gain from this hike and I was glad to be along for the ride.
Thank you Netgalley, N. B. Hankes and BooksGoSocial for the ARC for my honest review.

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Engaging, enlightening and brilliant. It is well written and follows the inner journey of an Iraq war veteran after returning home.

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A very enjoyable read! I've read some other books about long hikes and it really amazes me what people are capable of, I'm not really an outdoor kind of person, not that kind anyway!, so it's good we have people like N.B. Hankes write about their adventures, so we can enjoy them too!

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Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail: A Story of War, Brotherhood, and the Pursuit of Truth by N. B. Hankes is a non-fiction account of the author’s hike on this national scenic landmark, along with his brother. Mr. Hankes is a US Army veteran, who has served overseas, this is his first book.

I enjoy good travelogues, they are difficult to write, and when they’re good, they’re very good. I did not know what to expect from Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail: A Story of War, Brotherhood, and the Pursuit of Truth by N. B. Hankes, but it sounded interesting and I thought I’d give it a shot.

The narrative follows the author and his brother, an Army veteran and a college graduate, who decided to hike the Appalachian Trail from north to south over five months. The pair goes through their own revelations while trudging through physical difficulties which the trail offers.

One of my favorite things about traveling and hiking, especially for long periods of time, is the people you meet. There are people who do not run in the same circles, geographical or social, as you which otherwise you’d never know. These people give you a different perspective on established views, or share their own life experience and how it shaped their opinions. I think there is a missed opportunity with books such as these, especially on an eBook where at no, or little, cost the author can either add or link passages to maps and/or pictures they took.

The author finds this experience of meeting people enlightening as well, especially with another “thru-hiker” who joined the pair of brothers for much of the hike. Having time to reflect, deflect, and the patience to listen to others helped the author deal with the trauma he got during his wartime service, as well as reconcile his spirit.

Mr. Hankes goes into a deep analysis of the “why” behind his service, his upbringing, and his understanding and philosophy of life. He manages to come to terms with his service, and get a better, more profound understanding of geopolitics, and national politics.

The book concentrates more on being an introspective, personal journey of a soldier coming home from war to a peaceful country. It is a daunting experience where everyone seems to be in a dream state, not known they’re dreaming and only you are aware of what’s real. This is where the book shines, as a travelogue it works somewhat, there aren’t many descriptions of the trail – but as I said before the really interesting aspects of every travelogue are personal growth and people you meet on the way.

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I've read a number of books about walking the Appalachian trail and other long distance walks and I really enjoy hearing about the experiences of the trips, ups and downs both physically and metaphorically and some of the nitty gritty involved.
This book separates itself from similar walking experience books with the inclusion of the authors experience in Iraq and these sections are excellent, really insightful and fascinating. My only criticism really is that I would have liked more of them. I guess the idea is that he is using his walk to move on/process and perhaps move away from his was experiences so the 'flashbacks' to this time become less as the book progresses but this seems a shame as both aspects are equally interesting to the reader. Whilst he becomes more and more disillusioned by life in the army, this change would be worth exploring further as there must be others out there who had experienced similar rather than just juxtaposing this with his time on the trail lifting his mood and spirit and suggesting this as a solution.
Great to see the brotherly relationship develop throughout and again I would have loved to hear his brother's views on the opposite angle - Iraq etc.
Really enjoyable as a read and overall definitely a book I would recommend to anyone interested in walking, challenging yourself or making changes in life.

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As a 2010 AT hiker I really appreciated this book and the excellent writing from the author. So many hiking memoirs do not have good editing and the story can run a bit dry. I was hooked from the start and appreciated the perspectives he offered, both from his years in the military and as a hiker on the trail. An must read for for anyone interested in thru-hiking.

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Many thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this new work!

This was terrific. I have read many AT books and this is now my favorite! The writing was very good. It was a joy to tag along on the personal journey that the writer went through while on this AT hike. Highly recommend this. Many of the AT books get a little stale after a while but not this one. Worth the read!

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