A Familiar Wilderness: Lessons from Walking Daniel Boone's Road

In 2013 I walked the approximate path of Daniel Boone’s 1775 “trace,” the first major migratory route over the Appalachian Mountains into the West and the basis for the iconic Wilderness Road. Starting from Sycamore Shoals in northeast Tennessee, I trekked almost 300 miles of asphalt, gravel, and dirt—the old road has been mostly overwritten by federal highways, state routes, and county roads—arriving at Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky, more than three weeks later.

I traveled as a transplant to Appalachia: a big-city northerner who moved to Johnson City, Tennessee, some years earlier, but wanting to know my adopted home more intimately. I traveled as a journalist with a quarter-century of writing, editing and teaching experience, and thus along the way met and interviewed, and in some cases befriended, dozens of people of all ages: listening to their individual stories, seeing where they lived, learning what they thought about everything from religious belief to the future of coal. And I approached the trip with history in mind, trying to understand how the region’s 240-year heritage has shaped the people and places as they are now. This journey is the subject of a forthcoming book, a work of narrative journalism.

This experiential presentation will be designed to share some of this journey’s stories and discoveries as a way to promote dialogue through a work of creative expression, coming from a so-called outsider who has adopted Appalachia as his home. Likewise, it is intended to foster appreciation and understanding of Appalachian experiences. Indeed, that was the goal of this journey from its outset.