I’d recommend Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail by T.J. Forrester to anyone who enjoys a gritty, dark, compelling tale. And to anyone who ever questions whether or not they have free will.
The Appalachian Trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin, Maine; 2,160 miles total. It takes five to seven months on average to complete; people usually start in March or April and finish in late summer or fall. Hikers who attempt to complete the trail in one season are called “thru hikers.” Some hikers even continue into Canada and follow the 1,900 mile “International Appalachian Trail,” from Maine to the Appalachian Mountains at Belle Isle, New Foundland, and Labrador.
The Appalachian Trail is relatively safe but not without potential dangers, including: bears, snakes, wild boars, disease, poison ivy (especially in the southern states), extreme weather conditions, and crime (there are instances of murder).
In Black Heart, “hikers are dying along the trail, their broken bodies splayed on the rocks below. Are these falls accidental, the result of carelessness, or is something more sinister at work?”
Taz Chavis, newly released from prison, is certain that a hike along the Appalachian Trial will put enough distance from his toxic, drug fueled past. “On the street friends were like Styrofoam cups. Some got crushed, others blew out of sight.”
Scientist Simone Decker requires more than a thru hike to diminish her demons and she knows this deep within her black heart, but she’s willing to try anything. She’s comforted by the theory that “one secret of the human race is that every person is born with a genetic flaw that leads to his fall.” Because if this theory is fact, then her behaviors are beyond her control.
Richard Nelson, a Blackfoot Indian, is a free-spirited child stuck in a man’s body. This is his last hurrah before he returns to his life of mediocrity. His advice to Taz is: “White man, if you want to get laid on the trail, you best come up with some New Age shit mixed with nature.”
Black Heart explores the question, “Do people have free will?” Some people, like Simone are adamant that people don’t, Taz is hopeful that people do, and Richard isn’t sure either way.
“I am Taz Chavis, and I plan on living a good life after the trail.” Like Taz, I’m hopeful.