Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Adventures on the Trail

Now most people reading this blog probably think, "What kind of INSANITY must a man suffer from to choose to hike 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada? This is the 21st century!"

It's true, there aren't a lot of us crazy folks out there. But it's also true--I'm not the first to decide to hike this hike. I thought I'd share a few books that previous thru-hikers of the PCT have written. Some I've read, some I haven't. Some I might read while hiking the trail. =)

This first book is called The Cactus Eaters, alluding to an event when the author, after running out of water, decided to try quenching his thirst by eating a cactus, allegedly plump full of water. It didn't work out well for him, but the book is very well written and highly entertaining.

Next up, A Blistered Kind of Love: One Couple's Trial by Trail. I'm not really sure the trail is the best way to test a relationship. The whole concept seems like those couples you see on the Amazing Race who say they hope to "test" their relationship. If you have to "test" your relationship, it's probably not going last! Fortunately, for those two folks, it actually does. =) This is also a very well written book. Many thru-hiker books I've read, while often entertaining, have a very 'amateurish' feel to them, but these first two recommendations were written by solid, well-grounded writers. (Or they have heck of a good editor!)

Next up, Zero Days. A zero day is a day of rest, when zero miles are completed on one's thru-hike. I haven't read this book (not yet, at least!), but is intriguing since it was written by a family who thru-hiked the trail, including a 10-year-old girl--the youngest person to ever thru-hike the PCT. The thought of a 10-year-old thru-hiking from Mexico to Canada astounds me, and this would certainly include a perspective you'll never see in any other accounts of thru-hiking the PCT.

Another book I've never read is Dances With Marmots. I have no idea if the book is any good or not--I just found it mere minutes ago with a search on, and I really, really liked the name of the book. =) Apparently this one was written by a guy born and educated in the UK and now lives in New Zealand. I suppose a non-American might have an interesting point of view of thru-hiking the trail, but I will admit--I'd never heard of this book before and have absolutely no idea if it's any good or not.

And finally, last but not least, another book I'd never heard of until I just did a search on, A Thru-Hiker's Heart, Tales of the Pacific Crest Trail. This book, from what I can see, seems to have the feel of a "I'm not a writer, but I'll turn my journal entries into a book anyhow and self-publish it." I could be COMPLETELY wrong about this, however, and even those types of books have their place. In a strange way, some of those well-edited "professional" books seem less real and authentic. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, so don't diss those. They have their place too. Not to mention that if I ever turn my adventures into a published book, it'll likely fall into this category. ;o)

That, and I find the picture on the cover appealing. =)

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why is not about the PCT. When you search for a term on, they also provide a list of stuff saying, "Other customers suggested these items," and I thought this was a pretty morbid but kind of funny suggestion. I hope to land in the "lives" category, but if I were to unfortunately wind up the "dies" category, it'll make the hairs on your back stand up to read this blog entry after the fact. ;o) (In all seriousness, it's extremely unlikely I'll do anything that will get me killed. I tend to feel more in danger walking around in cities than I do in the backcountry.)

Happy trails!

-- Ryan


Anonymous said...

So, of all the pictures you have taken of yourself, which one would you put on the cover of your journal to be published? hmmm Did you ever get you a moisture proof camera yet? And are you taking one with you this time.

Anonymous said...

Is there a clue on this blog post, Ryan? Are you planting any boxes this trip?

Anonymous said...

I read one a number of years ago about a thru hiker that started in Canada and went south,If memory serves he was a 17 year old fresh out of high school in the early
'70s Cant remember the title(memory not serving well)I do remember he had to re-sole his own boots a couple of times, I'll see if I can dig it out of my stuff.

Anonymous said...

The name of the book is," The High Adventure of Eric Ryback:Canada to Mexico on Foot" Chronicle Publishers 1971

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I'm interested in reading a couple of your book recommendations, but wow....that Cactus Eaters book sure got a lot of bad reviews. This one was the most revealing for me:

by Peter Stekel
The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind - and Almost Found Myself - on the Pacific Crest Trail (P.S.) (Paperback)
Dan White provides two epigrams at the beginning of The Cactus Eaters. The second one, by William Gass [The Art of Self: Autobiography in the Age of Narcisssim] sums up White's "adventure."

"Many lives are so empty of interest that their subject must first perform some feat like sailing alone around the world or climbing a hazardous peak in order to elevate himself above mere existence, and then, having created a life, to write about it."

I can see why an editor ensconced in their office in NYC would be drawn to this book. It's all about somebody with no knowledge or experience wanting to perform a task that requires knowledge and experience.

Perfectly defined by William Gass.

Instant success is the order of the day. Why spend time and energy learning something first when you can just jump right in? Kind of like taking your 5 year old, throwing the kid in the pool and waiting to see if it drowns or swims. The child may survive but will never be interested in water again. Such a shame.

White's ignorance is kind of cute in the beginning of his book but wears thin by the time he meets the Gingerbread Man. His fixation on copulating with his girlfriend is also cute, at first. But do we need to hear about it a second time? We get the point.

I've had to rescue people like Dan White when they took their Ray Jardine-inspired techniques for lowland hiking into the High Sierra. Jardine has great ideas and he informs his readers of their limitations. Pity they don't pay attention. Hiking barefoot, an umbrella in the snow and in 40 kt winds, corn pasta gruel - they're great until you find yourself off-trail with no chance for support except for other hikers in the same boat as yourself.

PCT hikers are a special breed. Like AT hikers [and as White demonstrates] they have little experience in hiking and none in backpacking. They focus on pounding out the miles, traveling through the landscape rather than being in it, learning nothing of their surroundings except for where the next watering hole is found.

Ultra-light backpacking is great. It has done wonders for revitalizing a moribund sport pioneered by boomers in their 20s who are now in their 50s and 60s.

But if your only goal is to squeeze 20 miles out of every day rather than enjoy where you are and learn something about it, why not spend your time on the treadmill at your local gym or saunter through the concrete and glass canyons of your local city?

Dan White could have written a nice, amusing article for Backpacker or Outside. Instead, he had to burden us with a nearly 400 page ode to narcissism. It's amusing he knew what he was doing. Why else include that quote from William Gass?

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

Ryan said...

That review is written by an idiot. I wouldn't pay much attention to it. =) Some people would rather sit around in a chair all day putting other people down than actually get off their ass and do something interesting. ;o)

And keep in mind, these kind of books aren't meant to educate you about what sort of wildlife you'll find in the great outdoors. There are guidebooks for that. It's just meant to be entertaining, and that's exact what it does.

-- Ryan