Book Review: “Summoning the Mountains – Pilgrimage Into Forty” By Amy “Willow” Allen
Reviewed By Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Amy Allen’s book—partly about her deciding, then planning, then walking the Appalachian Trail as she turned 40—begins with this sentence: “As a 39-year-old Gemini, the mother of two teenage boys, I have toiled for the last 10 years at a thankless office job for a pittance … I’ve been an hourly slave, whose college degree meant nothing.” And continues: “Next summer I will turn 40. Before me has come a long line of early deaths in my biological family.”
From that space of fear and burnout Amy Allen, harking back to a childhood where mysterious winding footpaths beckoned but were forbidden, determines that this six-month hike is the perfect way to both celebrate and challenge herself. She fears her two sons will feel abandoned; instead they are excited and give her the “trail name” Willow, which in Gaelic lore “represents both the nimble maiden and the weathered crone.”
The next months call on both the strength and resilience of the maiden and the inner wisdom needed to weather through physical, mental and emotional challenges; many that were unforeseen. This book contains her thoughts and experiences in the form of daily journal entries.
Here are a few: “I am battling great apprehension and yet am more confident than I have ever been.”
“I purchased a full supply of dehydrated meals: 188 breakfasts, 190-something dinners, 50 servings of mashed potatoes …” These were broken down into small bundles to be mailed to pre-determined stops along the trail.
“I’ve now been alone for three days—talking only to one hiker named Brian at lunch and briefly to some weekenders from Pennsylvania yesterday. Everyone passed me early on, and no one else has come along.”
“More signs of spring have become apparent which have also served to cheer me up. Last night (she began the hike in mid-March) was another cold, cold night, and I was awake much of the night attempting to stay warm.”
As she walks along, she meets a number of other thru-hikers and some day hikers, all with wonderfully colorful trail names. Many she meets again and again and as solitary as she expected the hike to be, realizes there is also a community forming day by day, mile by mile. Adjustments are made: lightening her pack several times; dealing with a foot issue and then one knee collapsing “from the simple, cumulative effects of 175 miles with a pack that was too heavy.”
The months and miles go by and still Willow carries on. No spoiler-alert needed: I’ll let you read the rich and thoughtful prose about what she discovers along the way … and let you be surprised at many of her adventures, and descriptions of the other hikers she meets. Does she make it all the way to Katahdin in Maine (the entire trail is 2175 miles)? Whether yes or no, what price does she pay, emotionally and physically?
Amy “Willow” Allen will sign her book, Summoning the Mountains – Pilgrimage Into Forty, on Oct. 26, from 2-4 at Barnes & Noble in the Asheville Mall.
Sandi Tomlin-Sutker is the Publisher and Editor of WNC Woman. You can reach her at email@example.com