Although I write, I don’t actually read that often. When I do, I veer towards those books that appeal to my adventurous and wandering spirit. This is a list of my favourite reads; some go back a few years, others are more recent.
As Far as the Eye – Reflections of an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker by David Brill
(ISBN – 978-1621900009)
I’ll start with an absolute classic. David Brill’s account of his Appalachian Trail thru-hike is one of the most renowned AT books ever written. It details his experiences from his hike in 1979 and although the book is now 34 years old, it is timeless.
It was the first book I read on the AT some years ago and instilled in me a desire to get out to the States and hike the trail myself. It hasn’t dated despite the years, probably down to the fact that trail surroundings don’t really change. It’s only when one arrives in town that time passing is noticeable.
It was written before we had such concerns as weight and equipment; these aspects were not considered important. Instead, Brill concentrates on the journey itself and thus the reader becomes more acquainted with the actual adventure. It’s difficult to slot this book into any one section at the local library. Travel? Yes, of course. However, it’s also a study into one’s own mind and the author’s education along the way. It could also be classed as part guide as well.
Brill brings across both negative and positive aspects from the trail without getting bogged down with either. His observations and descriptions are vivid and varied, even down to observing a cat stalking and pouncing on its prey which is so detailed that you are alongside watching, or taking ice cream away from town and into the woods but forgetting some strawberries, only to look down at his feet and find some wild ones growing.
A must for potential AT hikers but you don’t need to be interested in the trail to read it, the appeal is open to anyone.
Clear Waters Rising – A Mountain Walk across Europe by Nicholas Crane
(ISBN – 978-0140243321)
I grew up with Nick Crane’s adventures. I remember watching kid’s TV as a young boy in awe of his crazy antics. He cycled up Kilimanjaro on a mountain bike, went for a long run in the Himalayas and made a notch for himself by doing what everyone else couldn’t even think of at the time.
He’s softened and matured in the interim period, as I guess we all do and now his concentration is more focused on two feet. When Clear Waters Rising was published I gulped it down eagerly and have read it three more times since. Not responsible completely for my wanderlust, but it wouldn’t have a decent argument against most of it.
In the early 90’s Crane embarked a remarkable 6,250 mile adventure; a seventeen month solo mission to cross Europe on foot along the continental divide from west to east. What’s more, he walked through a winter to accomplish it.
He comes across as an intellectual man with an impressive mastery of the English language but the book is never complicated to read. It also draws the reader in wonderfully and carries you along; sharing his vision and imagining it unfold. Capturing a moment in time Crane’s journey across a magnificent chain of mountains takes him away from the large conurbations and instead we find him mingling with the locals in small hamlets and villages that live on the fringes of society.
Tinged occasionally with a wry sense of humour and the specifics of sock rotation, observations and relative merits of which dried sausage to carry on trail and an obligatory bear meeting (yes, there are bears in Europe still), he has a keen eye for the small details.
A lonely journey but one I can relate to and indeed, one day, travel a similar path.
Travels with Boogie by Mark Wallington
(ISBN – 978-0099503125)
Travels with Boogie reduced me to tears of laughter at regular intervals. Boogie is a London mongrel borrowed from a friend who accompanies Wallington on a walk around the south west coast path in England. The pooch is essentially the star of the show, his canine antics regularly getting the author into a series of scrapes and misfortunes.
Wallington is also responsible for one of my favourite quotes:
The best journeys have no motive. They are capricious affairs, made for no other reason than they exist, for no other goal than fun.
In other words, don’t take hiking, or indeed life to seriously. It’s all about having fun which is exactly what Boogie, and his temporary owner did. There’s no gear talk, distances don’t matter, Wallington’s focus is on other areas like a crash course on where to camp, what pub is showing the football and the merits of various dog food brands.
If you just after a decent giggle you couldn’t do any better.
Ghost Riders by Richard Grant
(ISBN – 978-0349112688)
I’ve only just finished this masterpiece and it resonated hugely with me. Grant makes a living writing for various publications which entails travelling around America chasing stories. It’s a lifestyle he’s more than content with because he is unable to stay in any one place for too long. In fact, he’s never spent more than 22 consecutive nights under the same roof.
The man has a raging wanderlust and the beauty, to some a surprise, is that he doesn’t consider wandering a problem, in fact he nurtures it. Being a nomad, a drifter, whatever you choose to label it, is frowned upon by the vast majority of modern society. It’s a lifestyle that is misunderstood, most find it confusing and unacceptable that people would choose to constantly keep moving when they could stay in one place.
Grant doesn’t try and convince anyone to understand his lifestyle, his facts are clearly well researched and he simply portrays the life of a nomad as being different yes, but equally not one that should be chastised. It’s simple, never spend more than two weeks in on place.
Many adventurers, whether you’re a hiker, a sailor, a mountaineer or a cycle tourist harbour an inherent desire to roam. Some fight it, others embrace it. The author takes you back to the pioneering era of America, the days where expeditions were heading west and introduces a collection of explorers who eagerly took up the challenge not so much to seek out new territories, but as an excuse to dip into their nomadic side.
Skywalker – Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Walker
(ISBN – 978-1460999424)
I met Bill at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, when I hiked the Appalachian Trail. This is his first book and he has progressed to write more on his Pacific Crest, El Camino and Annapurna Circuit hikes.
It’s a classic story line; middle aged business man with no hiking experience sets out to tackle a long distance route and learn about how to do it whilst actually doing it. Walker is also very tall, just shy of seven feet in fact and this brings about a whole set of problems the average hiker doesn’t experience; he was more prone to weight loss, suffered in the cold and always has trouble finding a big enough motel bed, let alone a suitable tent.
He has a wonderful sense of self-deprecating humour, doesn’t take life too seriously but equally is always focused on the mission; he wanted to complete the hike. There is a wonderful thread through the book of the various characters he meets, the reader is often left thinking where some hikers have disappeared to and one wonders if Walker has forgotten about them. However, at some point they crop up again and this soon leaves a sense of finding out when, it keeps you turning pages.
On Foot through Africa by Ffyona Campbell
(ISBN – 978-1857979466)
Ffyona Campbell was another inspiring influence on my life as a child. She was the first woman to walk around the world – the holy grail of any hiker. The Whole Story – A Walk around the World (ISBN – 978-0752809885) chronicles that mammoth effort but On Foot through Africa, as the title suggest, details part of this walk through that country.
Written in the early 90’s when long distance hiking was gaining in popularity, it’s more personal than A Walk around the World. The African continent has always been regarded as a dangerous environment to travel through, made even more perilous because, apart from her support vehicle meeting her in the evenings, she walked most days alone. It’s a demanding landscape, with tribal factions at war, extreme wildlife that wouldn’t bat an eyelid whilst it devoured you and even simple difficulties such as her wild, blonde hair arousing unwelcome attention and cutting through red tape to secure visas.
Campbell delves into her inner self as most do on such a journey, gives insights into the logistics and we learn the ups and downs of getting to know the various different support drivers and group dynamics.
In the end, it is a story of a selfish devotion to accomplishing an expedition at all costs.