Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Story Behind Trail Mix by Paulita Kincer

I’m not an outdoors kind of person. Don’t get me wrong, I love to be in nature to see beautiful scenes -- sunsets, mountains, seas. And who can beat the feeling of the sun warming my face as I laze on a raft in a pool?

But I’m not crazy about bugs and dirt and, mostly, peeing without a toilet. No matter how I squat and aim, the pee always ends up running down my legs and soaking my socks.

When two of my characters proposed hiking the Appalachian Trail, I resisted. I wanted to sit them down and have a conversation about the trials that they would face. But Jess and Andi seemed determined.

And if they were going to do it, I had to do it.

This idea started when I noticed my friend Sheila was an awesome dieter. She could go on a diet and stick to it in most impressive ways.

I’m terrible at dieting. I can’t make it a day, but I exercise religiously.

Since my husband had been hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail for a few years, it struck me that hiking the Appalachian Trail would be the ultimate combination of diet and exercise.

Like most women inching toward middle age, Sheila and I felt fat, compared to our previous bodies. But looking back now, we should have been satisfied with the bodies we had rather than thinking about dieting and exercise.

My characters, Jess and Andi, are similarly obsessed with diet and exercise when perhaps they should be satisfied with the bodies they have. They also are trying to avoid some emotional issues at home, like young adult children returning home from college and needy husbands.

When I decided that I’d have to hike part of the Appalachian Trail to write the book, I emailed my friends.

I sent messages to the women in my running group (obvious because they love to exercise) and to my homeschooling mom group (obvious because they like natural things and new experiences).

Three friends agreed to come along – one from my running group and two from my homeschool group. We scraped together backpacks and walking sticks and set off for North Carolina.

Many of the scenes in my novel come from that hike, including the very first scene as we hiked through a thunderstorm, cresting mountains as the lightning streaked across the sky.

I’d only been car-camping before. You know, where you pull your car up to the campsite, drag out the tent, the prepared food, the firewood bought at the corner store. I hated that. It just seemed dirty and disgusting. The prep and the cleanup afterward took forever.

But hiking the Appalachian Trail, with everything I needed on my back, seemed pure somehow, in spite of having to dig a hole when I wanted to use the bathroom.

One morning, as we were hiking, we climbed a path that took us across a grassy bald – that’s a rounded mountaintop where trees don’t grow.

As we walked through the grass, my friend Noreen threw her arms out in the air, both hands grasping walking sticks, and she cried, “Thank you, Earl!”

Earl is my husband who planned our hike, so that one morning, we would stand on that bald and see the Blue Ridge Mountains rolling away in front of us in their blue haze.

This trip with my friends was the first step toward my novel, which became Trail Mix.

Thanks so much for allowing me to meander through my memories of how this book came to be.



About The Book



Title: Trail Mix
Author: Paulita Kincer
Publisher: Oblique Presse
Publication Date: August 30, 2014
Format: Paperback / eBook 
Pages: 220
ISBN: 978-1312462502
Genre: Women's Fiction / Travel / Adventure


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Book Description:

In the tradition of Wild by Cheryl Strayed, comes a novel of two suburban women who decide to hike the Appalachian Trail, escaping their lives as moms and wives in search of nature, adventure, and the ultimate diet plan.

How does a woman know what she wants after spending 20 years thinking about her husband and children? Sometimes it takes a distraction from everyday life, time to examine the forest before the trees become clear. With no previous camping experience, Andi and Jess begin the 2100-mile odyssey from Georgia to Maine. The friends figure life on the trail can't possibly be worse than dealing with disgruntled husbands, sullen teens home from college, and a general malaise that has crept up in their daily lives. At the very least, the women are bound to return home thin.


Book Excerpt:

Prologue

Raindrops trickled down Jess’ nose. Her sodden boots plodded along, squooshing the mud with each step.
“Why did I do this?” She threw her head back, her face raised in lament to the sky. The hood of her rain poncho slipped off. The empty forest around her offered no answer, just a steady rain. Then, far above the treetops, she glimpsed a bolt of lightning streaking toward a nearby mountain and heard an answering boom of thunder. She cringed and scuttled faster down the trail.
For nearly two hours, since the wind first whispered its urgency through the leaves, and the raindrops began to fall, Jess had been hiking through the thunderstorm with no place to stop and dry off. No place to get warm. No offer of coffee or a dryer where she could heat up her clingy socks. She walked alone on the Appalachian Trail.
Like being in the middle of labor and deciding she didn’t want to give birth after all, Jess could not turn back. Well, she could turn back, but she would find only more of the same -- woods and rain and an endless trail.
This adventure was all Andi’s idea. As Jess trudged through the forest in the unrelenting rain, she blamed her best friend and hiking companion, Andi, who had pushed the hike as a great way to lose weight. And, when Jess’ teenagers took off for the summer leaving a big gap where the role of mother used to be, she thought a hike with Andi might fill that space. Andi, who, with her long legs, strode ahead, maybe miles away by now, claiming she had to hurry to the nearest shelter to keep the tent dry. Andi had tucked Jess’ poncho around her pack before presenting her back for Jess to return the favor.
“See you at the shelter,” Andi had called. “Only about three miles farther.”
In the city, a three-mile walk might take 45 minutes, an hour if she stopped to window shop. Here, in the mountains, it could last days as she climbed up peaks and descended into valleys. Oh, who was she kidding? She would never walk three miles in the city. She would get in her car and drive.
The thunder crashed louder, and Jess eyed the spiky greenery of a large fir tree. She could take cover under the tree, be a little bit sheltered. Even as she considered taking refuge, she stumbled past the tree, walking, walking.
Tears joined the rain on her face. She felt trapped. No exit ramps in sight. She could only continue to walk.
The wind ripped at her poncho as she climbed slippery stones that had been placed to form stairs. At the top, the wind gusts grew stronger and tried to push her back down. She hurried on along the ridge. Her walking poles dug into the mud that edged the rocks along the path.
On this crest, she stood exposed to the wind and rain and lightning. Rhododendron bushes lined the trail below, but the only plant that dared to peek through the crevices on this crag was a lone sycamore tree. If Jess could escape this bare slope, the trees ahead would provide an arching umbrella across the trail. As she started to descend with the trail, her boot slid across a slick stone, and she toppled backward in slow motion. She wheeled her arms, trying to right herself, but could not stop the plunge until her backpack hit the ground, and she landed – thump – on top of it.
This was supposed to be a diet plan, not a death sentence, she thought, lying on her back like a turtle on its shell, her arms and legs sprawled helplessly at her side. I may drown. The downpour pummeled her full in the face, but she lacked the energy to sit up, free herself from the 30-pound pack, heft it onto her back, and start the hike again.
As the rain doused her face, she slipped one arm from her pack and turned onto her side, away from the sky. For just a moment, she allowed herself to rest, curled into the fetal position beside her pack. A tingle began in her spine, and, in the moment she pondered why—everything went black.



About The Author



Paulita Kincer is the author of three novels, The Summer of FranceI See London I See France, and Trail Mix. She has an M.A. in journalism from American University and has written for The Baltimore Sun, The St. Petersburg Times, The Tampa Tribune, and The Columbus Dispatch. She currently teaches college English and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three children.


Connect with Paulita:
Author Website: paulitakincer.com


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