In the spring of 2011, and after leaving his life as a corporate lawyer, Tyler Coulson set off from the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware coastline to undertake a western journey across the United States with Mabel, his adopted dog and companion. Destination: Pacific Ocean. Method of travel: Foot. After 3500 miles and millions of footsteps, Tyler recounted the journey in By Men or By the Earth. Of course, there’s a deeper story to most long walks, and Tyler dives into not only the day to day experiences of the walk itself but develops a story that shows the reader why exactly he undertook such an endeavor in the first place. We published an article by Tyler in Issue 4 of the magazine, where he highlights some of the hiking lessons and tips that he learned along the way. (Direct link to that article Here) Even before we published the article, I knew that the book detailing the journey was one I’d have to check out.
After ordering the book and upon arrival I have to admit that it was as bit thicker than I expected. Then I cracked open the cover – This isn’t a book with a large font and generously spaced lines, like you may have tried to get away with in school to meet a minimum page requirement for a report. No slacking here, the book comes in at just over 300 pages, and there’s quite a bit of text in those 300 pages. However, once I started reading the book I was hooked. I was actually reading a few other books at the time, but I found that they were soon pushed aside in favor of By Men or by the Earth. While it’s long and you get the sense that you’re following along for seemingly every step of the way, that obviously just can’t be the case in a 300 page book.
The book is written in an interesting arrangement over 3 individual “Books” all contained within one cover. The individual books are then broken down into individual chapters. Basically, Book 1 covers the day to day experiences while undertaking the walk, Book 2 covers the time period leading up to the walk, and Book 3 takes place after the conclusion of the walk. The books and chapters are not arranged chronologically. As an example, you might be reading about the walk in one chapter, while the next chapter goes back to the story of the author’s experiences prior to the walk while in law school. (Or later, a law firm) Then, back to the walk or beyond. In the end 3 separate stories are woven and while they are each unique, you begin to realize just how interconnected each story is and each book becomes intriguing in its own right. Tyler writes in a contemplative and at times conversational style, and isn’t afraid to share the personal and emotional intricacies that are always a factor on such a trip, but are often not touched upon in similar texts.
As you might imagine, a coast to coast hike doesn’t always have the wilderness opportunities that you might find on some of the other South to North / North to South running thruhikes you might think of like the PCT or CDT, especially when you consider the time-crunch to get over the Rockies before winter weather sets in. As such, Tyler and Mabel spend their fair share of time on everything from trails to back roads to highways, and spent the night in everything from bear-infested campsites to shady motels. In all situations however, I still found myself turning the page, waiting to see what happened next. And if you’ve ever travelled any type of distance with a pack or even just dreamed of a long hike, it becomes easy to relate. Even if you haven’t, it’s simply a good book that anyone who appreciates a good story should enjoy. And if you both like to hike and appreciate a good story…There’s not much more to ask for.
The book does require some commitment, and while not necessarily an “easy read” it’s well worth it. Even if you’re like me, who is at times plagued with a modern technology-induced short attention span, the book is still strangely addicting. It’s the story of a static corporate desk job juxtaposed against a cross-country journey on foot, something to which many of us can relate. You’ll read about the people that are met along the way – The good, the bad, and even the strange. You’ll follow along as relationships are forged and lost, and you’ll be left with a few things that keep you wondering. Overall, By Men or By the Earth is one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time and I think the book can simply and best be described in one word – Real.
If you’re interested in checking out the book, you can find By Men or By the Earth here at Amazon.