Book review: Thru-hiking will Break your Heart by Carrot Quinn

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Thru-hiking will Break your Heart
by Carrot Quinn

Let me preface this review by stating that I admire Carrot Quinn tremendously. I have been a reader of her blog since 2014, and have cheered her along every step of the Continental Divide Trail this year. She’s a fantastic blogger — but is she a great author?

Thru-hiking will Break your Heart is the account of her first thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. This is one of the greatest backpacking routes on Earth and passes through America’s finest wild country. The thru-hiking memoir is now an established subgenre of travel writing; classics include A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Wild by Cheryl Strayed, both of which I have read and been moved by.

So, Carrot Quinn stands amongst exalted company, and it’s fair to say that she must have been feeling some pressure to write something fantastic. The result is like no other thru-hiking memoir I have read, and I would describe it as a flawed diamond — certainly not perfect, but very special.

The book is written in the present tense, as a stream of consciousness, in a style that will be familiar to readers of her blog. The star of the book is Carrot herself. She writes absolutely honestly, from the heart — life on the trail is described warts and all, with little in the way of lyrical or beautiful writing but more profound meaning than you may be aware of at first. The depth of her experience creeps up on you. At first the style comes across as superficial, almost trivial; but gradually, as her character comes through the page and you begin to understand the demons that drive her, you are sucked in to this wonderful story.

Most writers have a style of their own. The style of Thru-hiking will Break your Heart is, as far as I can tell, just Carrot’s character. That’s this book’s greatest strength, because despite the fact that she makes some silly decisions and often seems to pay little attention to the glorious wilderness through which she roams, she comes across as an authentic, likeable and (above all) free human being, and the reader can’t help but cheer her on and hope she makes it to Canada.

Readers hoping for detailed observations of the wilderness or features along the trail may be disappointed. The book focuses almost exclusively on the human process of thru-hiking, with very little attention devoted to broader descriptions of the landscape (although it’s clear the author has a deep love of being surrounded by nature). Some readers may not like the writing style — if you don’t like the stream-of-consciousness format, which contains fragmentary dialogue and bits that don’t seem relevant to the story at hand, you may not make it to the end. The middle section of the book gets a little repetitive as every day is described as being more or less the same as the one before, and the key conflicts of the story are suspended for a while. However, this reflects the routine of life on the trail, and I was enjoying the story enough to give Carrot the benefit of the doubt and keep reading until the writing improved (which it did).

I think readers of Carrot’s blog will get the most out of this book. Those who have come to it ‘cold’ without having read any of her material elsewhere may be put off and find the style impenetrable. However, there’s no denying that as thru-hiking memoirs go this one is different, and if you enjoy reading about long-distance backpacking then this book is worth a shot.

And I urge you to read Carrot’s blog and follow her on Instagram. Her adventures are the stuff of legends; as I write this she has just finished thru-hiking the CDT and is hiking elsewhere in America before the winter sets in.

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