Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This true story is about a 26-year-old broken woman who set out to hike alone on the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 1995 after losing her mother, divorcing her husband, using heroin and sleeping with too many men (she states herself).
Physically, she was unprepared for this adventure, and she recounts a great deal of physical pain: that of setting off with a ridiculously overstuffed backpack she comes to refer to as Monster; losing most of her blackened toenails to ill-fitting boots; having her feet become “a throbbing mass of pulp.” After a few weeks on the trail, she writes, “my stench was magnificent.” She tells good, scary stories about nearly running out of water, encountering leering men and dangerous animals. Sex is a leitmotif: Strayed likes it, and had packed condoms. Men are sized up as soon as they walk into the campsite and on to the page. About two-thirds of the way through the book, the act of congress finally occurs, spread-eagled against a boulder on a beach, with honey and sand involved. She was given the trail name “Queen of the PCT” by a group of young men who described her a total badass, even though she was very green and rough around the edges. I actually listened to this book on audiotape during my road trip to Arizona and I found myself crying in my car, alone, at a stoplight, more than once. At other times, I found myself laughing aloud and thinking “that is something I would do”. This incredible story brought out every emotion in me from pride and laughter to sorrow and anger, but most of all it is an inspiration to all women who have hit rock bottom.
Tracks by Robyn Davidson
My ex-boyfriend who is from Australia bought me this book, and I was immediately smitten. Robyn Davidson walked across 1,700 miles of the hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company with the following words: “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there's no going back." From witnessing her dog die from eating a poisonous plant to being maltreated by men and having authentic heart-wrenching encounters with the aboriginals, her journey through the Australian’s Outback was eye-opening and with every good book, there is enough sex and romance to keep us females interested. This is not just a story about a woman in the outdoors but also about the sexism and racism, specifically affecting Indigenous Australians, the then 26-year-old encountered, and about alienation and how we limit ourselves through fear or insecurity.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
A friend I thru-hiked the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) with told me about this book of columns and memoirs after we joked about our blistered feet and how they reminded us of the character in “Wild”. I couldn’t wait to read another book by Cheryl Strayed. Spoiler alert: this book is an advice column mixed in with Cheryl’s personal stories. The beloved Internet advice columnist, using the pseudonym Sugar, revealed herself in early 2012 to be the acclaimed Cheryl Strayed. First appearing on the Rumpus in 2010, her column ‘Dear Sugar’ quickly attracted a large and devoted following with its cut-to-the-quick aphorisms like “Write like a motherf*cker” and “Be brave enough to break your own heart.”
From life, love, and sex to career changes and shit that just happens to the best of us, this collection of “advice columns” makes for a ridiculous entertaining read and got me through an international flight to South America (along with a couple of martinis).
A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio
I first was introduced to Mirna through her well-known blog “Fat Girl Running”. I had the pleasure of meeting Mirna, and she is just as funny in person as she is on her blog and in her book. I am a total nerd and was way too excited when she started following me on Instagram. From her ridiculous obsession with coffee and energy gels to her hilarious stories about talking to bears, cows, and javelinas while running endless miles in the dark on winding, dusty trails; Mirna’s book is inspiring and uproarious. She breaks the runner’s mold, shatters the glass ceiling for women all while finishing one ultramarathon after another. Fat shaming, race shaming, and gender shaming are sadly NOT things of the past but Mirna talks her about her personal experiences with each of these and is closing the gap between fat and skinny, black and white and man and woman in the outdoor world. As stated in her bio, 'Mirna Valerio, a native of Brooklyn, New York, is a Spanish teacher, diversity practitioner, cross-country coach, ultra-runner, OCR (obstacle course runner) enthusiast, and blogger.' For a few years, her story has been featured on platforms such as CNN, Runner’s World Magazine and prestigious platforms like the Wall Street Journal and NBC Nightly News. Mirna is an ambassador for Skirt Sports, a showcased athlete for Swiftwick and a Global ambassador to Merrell.
I read this book alongside my good friend, Julia on our trip to Death Valley National Park. We sat side by side around the campfire laughing and commenting as we each devoured every word of the book. I am sure our camp neighbors thought we were nuts.
The Adventure Gap by James E. Mills
I purchased The Adventure Gap in a store during my trip to Yosemite after reading the back cover, which stated, minority populations are much less likely to seek recreation, adventure, and solace in our wilderness spaces. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a hammock with a beer reading this book while pondering why the outdoor world is primarily populated with middle to upper-class white males. This book covers the detailed journey of the first all-African American team of climbers, sponsored by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and their challenge to summit North America's highest point, the dangerous and forbidding Denali, in Alaska. The author uses Expedition Denali and its team members' adventures as a jumping-off point to explore how minority populations view their place in wild environments and to share the stories of those who have already achieved significant accomplishments in outdoor adventures-from Mathew Henson, a Black explorer who stood with Peary at the North Pole, to Kai Lightner, a teenage sport climber currently winning national competitions. Although this book was not a page-turner, it really is a great read for those who are curious about race, gender and wanting to make the outdoors an even playing field for everyone.
What is your favorite adventure book to read while in the outdoors?
See you on the trails xx,