Alluring account of Northville-Placid Trail

In “The Allure of Deep Woods,” author Walt McLaughlin narrates a two-week hike along the entire length of the Northville-Placid Trail. I’ve never done the whole trek, but I have sampled segments of it. I feel a bit guilty admitting that I read the volume while relaxing at a more stationary campsite only yards off the route.

From the moment his wife dropped him off at the trailhead near Benson until she picked him up in downtown Lake Placid two weeks later, McLaughlin faced and reflected upon the highs and lows of a “through-hiker” on the storied route. Aided by his guidebooks, maps, camping skills and a supply of ibuprofen, he made steady progress. Along the way, he managed to fit in a modicum of philosophy, history and enviromental thoughts as well.

There are the pleasures of the wilderness: haunting calls of loons, joyous sounds of a rippling brook, the satisfaction of finding a patch of black raspberries, the surprise at seeing the dark red flower of a pitcher plant. And, of course, there are the travails, including the unexpected rain, the drowned corduroy, the blisters and chafing, the falls. Descriptions like “a sea of hobblebush and striped maple” are evocative. Mud, on the other hand, is just mud.

McLaughlin mixes in just the right doses of history and forestry. He seizes upon the role of fungi in forest decay, admits his inability to identify which mushrooms are safe, gives a paean to the compass with its “mix of romanticism and practicality,” and pays tribute to the foresight of “forever wild” legislation. There’s commentary on the changing roles of Adirondack guides, the Adirondack Park Agency and wilderness preservation concepts.

These reflections, never excessive in length or out of place in the general narrative, added considerably to my enjoyment of the book. He has an ability to display knowledge without being pedantic, to give an opinion without being dogmatic, and to be self-deprecating without asking for sympathy.

His meditations on solitude alternate between positive and negative, but there’s a consistent appreciation of wilderness. He’s realistic about his role in the universe, though dismissive of the cardinal rule never to hike alone.

I was secretly pleased that McLaughlin suffered through the rainstorms and insect assaults that I always seem to attract during my own hikes. He often handled them with more grace than I might. His ability to forget any setbacks in the face of a single glorious view reminded me why I like living around here in the first place.

Reading this book proved a delight. I suspect the author is a person with whom I’d enjoy hiking and sharing observations on the Adirondacks, but I respect his commitment to enjoying such an expedition alone. I’m glad he chose to share the experience with us. This work will be a nice addition to my Adirondack library.

This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.