Cheryl Strayed walked the Pacific Crest Trail and wrote about it in Wild. Bill Bryson walked the Appalachian Trail and wrote about it in A Walk in the Woods. Their stories of sore feet and adventures have little in common, however, with Andra Watkins who walked the Natchez Trace and wrote about it in Not Without My Father. That's because the 444-mile Natchez Trace, once America's premiere foot path walked by such historical figures as Daniel Boone, is not a trail. It's a scenic byway for motorized vehicles stretching from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee.
And Andra Watkins isn't a devoted hiker. She walked the remnants of the old footpath to publicize her book: To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis. The quirky premise of that book, published in March, 2014, involves the ghost of Meriwether Lewis trying to redeem himself for his own unresolved death. Lewis, best known for his participation in the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, died in 1809 at the age of 35 while traveling on the Natchez Trace. Whether his death was suicide or murder continues to be debated by historians.
The title for Watkins' book comes from the fact that she was accompanied on the walk by her father. Each day he dropped her off where she had finished the day before and picked her up at the end of her daily 15-mile tormented walk, which never got easier. While readers of this book will learn something of the Trace's historic past, they will learn more about a troubled relationship between a daughter and her father—and where this journey takes them. Not Without my Father is more about relationships and coming to know one's self than it is a travelogue. It's a story that is real, with all the grit of growing up in a household that had little resemblance to the Beaver's world of June and Ward Cleaver.
This is a book without traditional heroes, but one in which you'll find yourself rooting for the non-heroes who struggle to give meaning to their lives, the daughter by walking and the father by selling his daughter's books along the way. Both finally have the time to explore and try to overcome memories of bad times in their relationship, and both realize the time remaining to mend their ways is short.
Did Andra really walk beside a highway the entire Natchez Trace? Did she and her father come to better understand each other? I'm not going to answer those questions. You'll have to read the book and find out for yourself. I'll just say that it won't be a waste of your time.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Check out our interview with the author of Not Without My Father.
Andra Watkins lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and has an accounting degree from Francis Marion University. Her first novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, was published in March of 2014. She is still mad at her mother for refusing to let her major in musical theater. Her mom's excuse is that she was convinced Andra would end up starring in porn films.
Visit her website.
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