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A boy alone in the wilderness finds sense of accomplishment

Scholastic Press, 229pp. Maruzen price: ¥2,776 plus tax

“The Trail” by Meika Hashimoto“The Trail,” Meika Hashimoto’s novel for young readers, is the story of a 12-year-old boy named Toby who tries to hike a 440-mile (708-kilometer) trail stretching from Vermont to Maine in the northeastern United States, part of the even longer Appalachian Trail.

Initially, he planned to hike with his best friend Lucas. The two boys had written a list of 10 things they wanted to do during their summer vacation, such as “go fishing,” “eat a worm” and “build a tree house.”

They completed most of the items, and the one last remaining item on the list was “Hike the Appalachian Trail.” For reasons the reader will learn, Toby goes hiking alone to complete the list.

Although Lucas’ father, who was a Boy Scout leader, taught Toby “all about survival in the woods,” a 12-year-old boy hiking a tough trail by himself sounds reckless. Besides, Toby feels he is cursed with bad luck, messing things up and depending on “Lucas to figure out how to save us from my dumb mistakes.”

Shortly after setting out on his journey without Lucas, he loses his map and water filter in a stream. Due mostly to his inexperience, he also finds himself with very little food. Then, he faces a storm. Before long he is shivering uncontrollably in the heavy rain. Catching his foot on a twisted oak root, he narrates, “I let myself sink into the wet ground.”

Throughout the journey, Toby faces life-threatening situations repeatedly, but he goes on hiking with the help of people — and a “mangy” dog — he meets on the trail.

It is obvious that most parents would not allow their kid to attempt such a reckless act. A journey like Toby’s has a high risk of ending in a tragedy.

Yet, little by little, Toby begins to feel a sense of accomplishment while merely trying to survive in the woods to finish his goal of reaching the end of the trail.

Author Hashimoto “grew up on a mountain in Maine,” but Toby’s journey also reminds me of my own youth. I grew up in the countryside and I spent a lot of time with my friends in the wilderness surrounding our houses. When I finished adventures with my friends, such as climbing up a steep mountain along a stream, or overcoming difficulties through cooperation among children who were immature and had very little knowledge of anything, I could certainly feel a sense of accomplishment.

Later in my youth, the spread of video games reached even small villages like mine. You could also feel a sense of accomplishment by playing those games, but what I remember more in my 40s are the experiences I had in nature.

In Toby’s journey, there is a moment when he “feels like my bad luck is turning,” as he is overcoming the challenges.

I have been away from the wilderness for a long time. After reading the book, I missed my time in nature and feel like spending some time again in the wilderness.

— Takeshi Kuroiwa, Japan News Staff Writer

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