The Power and Magic of the Appalachian Trail

Youth, walking, mountains and freedom

It is not often people encounter a life-changing event and are able to document it in full. Naturally, details get left out, names and dates get mixed up and, unless photos were taken, the memories can fade with time.

This, however, is not the case for Donald E. Williams Jr., known also as “Jug,” who detailed his and a few groups of diverse kids’ 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998 on the Appalachian Trail in “The Power and Magic of the Appalachian Trail.” These trips all took place hiking between Georgia and Maine.

Originally from Coatesville, Williams happily resides in Sabinsville on top of a mountain, a relocation that was inspired by his love of the Appalachian Trail.

“We think it’s a treasure. We enjoy walking up the mountain. It keeps us connected with the mountain,” said Williams, who has to park a mile below his home during the winter months, but he does not mind. “It’s like a winter wonderland,” he said.

Williams’ book reads like a genuine travel scrapbook, full of field notes and memories, but the publication — available through Dorrance Publishing Co. — was not always a single physical book. What became “The Power and Magic of the Appalachian Trail” was originally four smaller books, and it wasn’t until a friend, a teacher at Cowanesque Valley High School who wanted the smaller books in her Accelerated Reader program, suggested he compile them into an all encompassing story of, as Williams puts it simply, “Youth, walking, mountains and freedom.”

Williams lives by those four tenets, and he decided those beliefs would be best shared with a group of “multi-ethnic, international (kids) … to provide the opportunity for all of us on the trip to enjoy and learn from the richness, strength and beauty that emerges from human diversity,” Williams said. The kids central to the book come from several different times in Williams’ life — including his tenure at Upattinas School as an AAU basketball referee. Family, friends and kids from summer camps where Williams worked, also came along, he said.

Williams says hiking the Appalachian Trail is a great way for the kids to learn about themselves.

“Getting on the Appalachian Trail, you’re kind of living life in the raw,” he said, “it’s a great place to discover who you are.

Williams is a prolific writer, and it shows in his book, as he even includes details of the group’s encounters with racism on their journey.

“He stopped my son from using the bathroom,” Williams said, after the whole group hiked a mile and a half down to a Georgia country store to pick up supplies. “Fortunately, we have a very mixed family, (so) that was a rare experience.”

But the small hiccups along the way like food conservation, exhaustion, dangerous wildlife and inclement weather were miniscule compared to the overall experience.

What sets “The Power and Magic of the Appalachian Trail” apart from other Appalachian Trail books is it is probably the first time a group of ethnic kids hiked long distance on the trail — “that’s never occurred before or after,” he said.

Williams also believes his African American perspective will give readers a never-before-seen look at the Appalachian Trail and the issue of racism, and hopefully inspire others to get outside, build more trails and embrace the great outdoors, he said.

And inspire people, he has. One kid from one of his Appalachian Trail groups went on to hike half the Pacific Crest in California. Williams’ own son hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine again two years ago, and other kids have taken up hiking and camping with their families. “(Nature is) the best show in town,” said Williams, who hopes his book will become a renaissance for people to hike the Appalachian Trail.

“The Power and Magic of the Appalachian Trail” ends beautifully and summarizes why Williams is who he is — “I leave the mountains in the obscureness of the dark shadow sky holding firmly a treasure of priceless memories that I will keep in my custody forever, locked away in a ‘safe’ called my heart,” Williams said.

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