It’s January and we live in Northern BC. There’s a foot of snow outside and in recent weeks I’ve experienced temperatures of anything from -40c to 2c. Yes, there is adventure to be had out there in the form of snowshoeing, ice fishing, cross-country skiing and more, but I’ll be honest; sometimes the idea of reading a book (or rather, my Kindle) is far more appealing than digging out the van. I read a lot of travel non-fiction, moving my preference in recent years away from standard travelogues to books focusing on incredible journeys or achievements.
Here are my most memorable reads from the last year (note – links are affiliate, meaning if you buy a copy, I will receive a very small %)
A captivating book following Colin’s two-year journey across the world using only human power. Full of drama and near-death moments, it almost reads as fiction as Colin (and latterly, his incredible wife) attempts to overcome seemingly endless physical, emotional and economic barriers on his quest. Imagine my surprise to find out Colin was from the Comox Valley, our Vancouver Island home from 2011-2014!
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – Cheryl Strayed
Yes, I know, this book seems to be everywhere right now what with the recent film adaptation. But it was such a good read. After experiencing family tragedy, Cheryl sets out to hike 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from California to Washington on her own. With little experience and one very heavy backpack (sounds familiar), Cheryl struggles from day one. I could relate to a lot of her experiences travelling solo, both good and bad. Filled with vivid imagery of her journey through the desert, mountains and forests, I absolutely flew through it. And I really want to go hiking.
Alaska Traveler: Dispatches from America’s Last Frontier – Dana Stabenow (Completely free kindle book on Amazon)
A little different to my other favourites, Alaska Traveler is a collection of Dana’s articles written for Alaska Magazine. Most of them focus on easy travel activities (whale-watching, seafood festivities et al) but the highlight is a two parter titled ‘A Time Machine Called the Chilkoot Trail.’ Dana isn’t much of a hiker (and especially not one that sleeps in a tent); the phrase ‘what the hell was I thinking’ comes up a lot. Extremely relatable and inspiring for the casual hiker.
Light hearted travel tales
The Long and Whining Road – Simeon Courtie
Appealing to my love of road trips, this fun and easy read follows the Courtie family’s year-long trip around the world in Penny, their VW van. The family busk as the ‘Beatnik Beatles,’ raising money for charity along the way. Like us, they travel on a miniscule budget and I felt their pain every time they broke down or struggled to find somewhere free to camp. I was thankful to be an armchair tourist as they travelled through India and (pre-war) Syria, two countries I’m not sure I would choose to drive through myself!
One Day Ahead: A Tour de France Misadventure – Richard Grady
Four amateur cyclists decide to attempt the 2012 Tour de France, a day ahead of the professional riders. The author, Richard, is not one of these cyclists. He is part of the support team, something that turns out to be just as hard as the actual cycling challenge. Witty and self-deprecating, Richard hides none of the daily trials and tribulations involved in ferrying and assisting four people to cycle 160km every day. If you love the Tour De France (like me) and don’t mind a bit of good old British moaning and groaning, then check it out.
While I have listed this book under ‘light-hearted,’ it has surprisingly intense moments. Apparently making wine isn’t as simple (or as fun) as it sounds. Caro and her husband move their young family from the UK to southern France to open an organic winery, with absolutely no experience or knowledge aside from knowing they like to drink wine. Yep, it’s one of those ‘what were they thinking’ kinda books, but it was good. It left me dreaming of a summer of wine touring.
All Time Favourites
A bit cliché, but what can I say; Into the Wild will always be one of my perennial favourites. Into Thin Air is a fairly recent addition after reading it in one day on a paddling trip. I re-read (and re-watched) Into the Wild while in Alaska last summer, my surroundings making Chris McCandless’ journey across North America as ‘Alexander Supertramp’ even more vivid. The personal motivation and experience Krakauer brings to each and every subject he addresses are inspiring as well as intensely interesting.
Set mainly in the Yukon, both books hold so much more meaning to me after spending the summer in the Far North and learning so much about the Klondike Gold Rush. We paddled very close to where Jack London’s cabin was on the Yukon River, later visiting the reconstruction in Dawson City. I’m thinking that a trip to the Yukon in winter may be essential to get the full picture…
On my to-read list
I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago – Hape Kerkeling
The Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) is a hike I would like to do, despite the popularity. I think it would be an interesting contrast to backcountry trails in Canada. I keep meaning to check out The Way movie too.
After meeting Kevin Carr, a Brit attempting the fastest round the world run, this book holds more interest than ever.