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The Appalachian Trail is inspiration for Maine novelist

Maine native and author Paul Doiron, whose sixth crime novel came out this summer, uses his home state as the setting for his series featuring Mike Bowditch, a game warden who tackles all sorts of crimes around the state. In his latest book, “The Precipice,” the action centers on the Appalachian Trail, no random choice on Doiron’s part.

Besides being the former editor in chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine, Doiron is a Registered Maine Guide, a certification that requires participants to demonstrate basic first aid and leadership skills before taking people onto the water or into the woods. You have to pass a rigorous oral exam in your subject area and then complete a written test. Doiron’s specialty is fly fishing, and he credits the time he spends in the woods and his lessons with a retired game warden and two legendary guides as part of his inspiration.

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We talked to the author about his background, his research process, and what he’s learned along the way. Doiron also shared some of his favorite Maine hikes with us.

Why did you choose the Appalachian Trail as your setting?

I nearly died on it in 1988 when two friends and I were struck by lightning. We were camped in the woods on a spur of Baldpate Mountain, and the bolt struck a fir tree at the edge of the clearing. The experience of being struck by lightning is everything you imagine it to be: muscles spasming, a burning sensation in your blood, hair rising on your head, a zapping sound amplified a million times. I remember being blown off the ground. One of my friends ended up going down the mountain for help while I stayed with his severely injured brother. Fortunately, we all survived, but it was the longest night of my life and my first brush with mortality. In my books now I write about the need for humans to be humble before the power of nature. I learned that lesson when I was 22 on the Appalachian Trail.

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How much it have you hiked?

Growing up in Maine, I hiked many of the New England sections of the AT — the Presidential Range, Grafton Notch, Mount Katahdin — without really appreciating that they were all part of this 2,200-mile-long trail. Intellectually, I knew it of course because the trailheads are well-posted, and you run into through-hikers in the summer. But it wasn’t until I became editor in chief of Down East that I realized how cool it is that my home state is the northern terminus of one of the world’s great footpaths. I became fascinated by the culture that exists on the trail, particularly among through-hikers. And I discovered that there is a surprising lack of fiction set along the AT. When the time came for me to begin my sixth Mike Bowditch novel, I said, “My goal for this book needs to be bringing the Appalachian Trail to life.”

Did you hike the Hundred-Mile Wilderness and Gulf Hagas (sections of the AT), which are featured in the book?

I hiked the beginning and end portions of the Hundred Mile Wilderness, as well as the Gulf Hagas section, which is where “The Precipice” primarily takes place. I stayed at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Gorman Chairback Lodge while doing much of my research. It’s just a fantastic facility with a great staff (and food), and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a vacation in the wilderness that also includes hot showers. I ended up working a fictionalized version of Gorman Chairback into the novel because it blew my mind to find this state-of-the-art ecolodge in what I had presumed was an impenetrable back country. The question of just how wild the Hundred-Mile Wilderness is today became fodder for my book.

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Kim Foley MacKinnon can be reached at kimfoleymackinnon@gmail.com.