In my search for new authors, I recently read three books about a journey of a different kind. Two of them were by authors that I have never read before and one was an old book by a favorite author.
The first journey of a different kind is “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed. When her mother dies, Cheryl throws away everything in her life. She becomes a heroin addict and is unfaithful to her husband. On an impulse, with no backpacking experience whatsoever, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She doesn’t train, she doesn’t read about it. She just packs up a backpack and sets out. Although Cheryl intends to hike the PCT through California, she skips the Sierra Nevadas because of record snowfall and hikes parts of California and all of Oregon instead.
She hikes the PCT in 1995 but takes another 20 years to write the book. This autobiographical story just didn’t resonate with me. The hardships she faced were mostly of her own making. She thinks about every man she meets in sexual terms. Overcoming the odds that she put in her own way gave her the strength to straighten out her life, but life after the PCT isn’t a part of the book. Reese Witherspoon starred in the movie “Wild” describing Strayed’s adventures.
The next book about a journey was Robyn Davidson’s “Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback.” Robyn Davidson is an Australian who actually spent two years learning about camels and preparing for her trip. In 1977 she set out from Alice Springs heading for the ocean across the most desolate part of Australia. The trip was partially financed by National Geographic and she wrote about the trip immediately after it was finished. Another book, “From Alice to Ocean,” written by Davidson and her photographer, Rick Smolan, has the photographic story.
I liked “Tracks” better than “Wild.” Davidson spends half the book telling about her preparations for the journey. She genuinely loves the four camels and dog who accompany her on the trip. Davidson also loves the Australian outback. You can sense her care of the land as she describes her journey. She also writes movingly about the plight of the Aboriginal people in Australia who have the double discrimination of being indigenous and black. This book was also made into a movie.
The final journey book is by one of my favorite authors Bill Bryson, “Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe.” I love Bill Bryson’s humorous look at cultures that are different. He sets out to recreate a backpacking trip across Europe 20 years after the original trip. Only this time he is a writer instead of a college student and has the resources to stay at decent hotels.
The most enjoyable thing about this book – beside the laugh out loud moments – is his lack of a clear plan setting out. He can’t find a hotel in Amsterdam and ends up in Haarlem instead. Bryson doesn’t make reservations because he doesn’t know how long he is planning to stay in one place. His very loose plan is to start at the northernmost point in Europe, Hammerfest Norway, and head south until he gets to Istanbul. When he gets tired of the rain and snow in France he goes to Italy. He visits museums and looks for decent meals and affordable beer. Although he hits a few of the spots he traveled to when he was 20, most of the places he goes are new to him. Even though the observations in this book are almost 30 years old, they are still humorous and relevant today.
Each of the journey books was interesting in its own way. I liked “Tracks” better than “Wild” and “Neither Here Nor There” best of all. During this time of limited travel, it is a joy to take a journey through a book.