RECENT AND NOTABLE WORK

Among Appalachian Trail “thru-hikers” — that special class of backpackers dedicated (or obsessed) enough to walk the trail’s full 2,200 miles — the question of whether to carry a tent is hotly debated. Thru-hikers tend to fall into one of two factions. Some (albeit a minority) insist a tent is unnecessary because the trail is punctuated with wooden shelters, or lean-tos, every 10 miles or so. As a rule, these hikers tend to travel light, cook simply or not at all, and sleep in the lean-tos or other shelters on the trail. But other hikers pride themselves on being self-sufficient: They prefer to camp in a tent far from other people; they carry detailed maps; they would never hitchhike into town just to grab a milkshake. We do not have a precise word for these two personality types. Not yet.

The experience of driving a car has been the mythopoeic heart of America for half a century. How will its absence be felt?

Two years ago, Dr. Sandra Lee, a dermatologist in Southern California, opened an Instagram account. She viewed it as an experiment; the surface of the internet was riddled with unseen pockets of desire, weird subterranean pressures, and she was inclined to prod it, gingerly, until she found out how deep they ran....

When I was eighteen, I bought a copy of Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” which remains, if my conversations with strangers are any indication, the only book anyone has ever read about the Appalachian Trail. It was summer. My friend Andy and I had driven across the country and ended up in the town of Sheridan, Wyoming, where we stayed for a week with a genial middle-aged couple, family friends of my friend. Scanning my hosts’ bookshelves, as I have a tendency to do, I was quietly horrified to discover that they were exclusively stocked with works of pop evangelicalism (Rick Warren and the like). It was a literary desert: xeric, Mosaic. Bryson’s book was the only one I’d brought, so, while Andy rode dirt bikes with a guy named Dusty, I lay on a fold-out couch in the basement, consuming it in controlled bursts, as if bolting food rations.

Every great writer, it seems, has a formative horror. For some it is a war, an illness, an abuse, an abandonment, a death. For [Robert] Coover it was an explosion. The scrabbling for meaning that followed the disaster — the rumors, the prayer vigils, the journalists picking over the wreckage — gave him a riddle he has spent his career unraveling: How are myths made, and how can they be unmade?

As someone who has hitchhiked more than a thousand miles, spanning dozens of rides, over the past six years—a lonely anachronism out on there on the roads—one of the first things I noticed when rereading On The Road recently is Sal Paradise’s utter lack of awareness about his appearance, his posture, or his stench.

As a result, Kerouac fails to capture the core irony of hitchhiking, which is that it privileges exactly the people one would not suspect to be hitchhiking: those who dress well, those who bathe, those with expensive-looking luggage. There’s a reason hobos—and their crusty, cynophile offspring, found panhandling and nodding off on St. Mark’s Place or Haight Street or Camden Road—traditionally ride the rails. Hitching is at its heart an exercise in superficiality, and necessarily so: there’s literally no time for depth; to the people blurring by on the highway, the hitchhiker is flattened into a Polaroid.

For the last few years I’ve been seeing woodsmen on my city’s streets. They wear long beards and long hair, or long beards and no hair. They favor beat-up leather boots and wool beanies and jobs involving wood. At Best Made Co., a downtown boutique, they purchase hand-painted axes and canvas portage packs. At French atelier APC, they try on pieces by Carhartt, a manufacturer of blue-collar outdoor wear, that have been recut for slimmer legs and thicker wallets. Until recently, they were able to hone their bow-hunting skills in the basement archery range of clothier/barbershop Freeman’s Sporting Club.These urban dwellers seem to be getting ready for a long camping trip that never takes place; their flannel grows tatty and their boots scuffed, but they are never stained with real dirt.

© 2016-2666 by Robert Moor