Travel & Adventure
If you have seen my Running Books page, you know I love a good running-related tale. The same can be said about travel and adventure stories. These books make me want to jump off the couch and see the big wide world in which we live. Although work gets in the way of a life permanently on the road, I relish living vicariously through someone else's escapades. Plus these books give me the inspiration to create my own experiences, to journey off to some distant place far removed from my own normality. The only downside is that my bucket list is growing longer every year...
Below I have listed the travel and adventure books that I have personally read, in no particular order. They are accompanied by a brief review of my thoughts after reading each book. For more details on what the stories are about, see Google. There are roughly a thousand more books on my to-read list, and I will update this page as I get through them. If you have a personal favourite that you think I should check out, feel free to send me a message with your recommendation. Happy reading!
Jennifer Pharr Davis
I have no idea why I picked up a book on hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail (I had never even heard of this trek), but I'm glad I did. There aren't many 21 year old women who head out alone for four months to solo-hike over 2000 miles, and it was not something I had ever considered myself before reading Davis' story. Many people were deterred by the author's judgmental tone and her close relationship with God, but I was mesmerised by her adventures and welcomed her honesty. Her encounters and struggles during her time on the trail were extraordinary, which led her to becoming a much more worldly and grounded person than I was at that age. It has definitely sparked in me a longing to tackle a similar journey one day.
I think this was the fastest book I have ever read. Not because it was short (it wasn't), but because I was completely captivated by Cheryl's memoir. From a tough childhood that involved an abusive father and a house with no electricity or indoor plumbing, to her adult life that included her mother's death, a divorce, her family drifting away and the start of a heroin habit - not the usual lead up to someone who decides to head out on a three month solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Her tales from the trail had me entranced at every step, spurring me to design my own ultimate adventures.
Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains
The adventures this woman undertakes are phenomenal! In this chapter of Antonia's life, she motorcycles her way through a relatively unknown and little-visited pocket of Northeast India, finding the most remote villages and tribes in the region - so isolated, in fact, that some of the locals had never seen a white person before. The stories she hears, the people she meets and the rituals she takes part in are the stuff of legends, and had me enthralled from start to finish. It was clear she researched the history and culture of this area extensively, both before the trip and while writing her story, which provided a deeper insight into her motives and experiences. Aside from her excessive use of a thesaurus, ensuring that every single adjective in the English language was included in the book (many of which I had never heard of before), it was exceptionally well written and will be a valuable guide for future travellers. I can't imagine the courage she needed to undertake a solo venture like this, but thankfully luck was on her side (over and over again) and she came out the other side unscathed with a remarkable tale to tell.
Full tilt: Ireland to India with a bicycle
Two words: bloody courageous. A young female travelling through Europe and the Middle East, alone, on a bicycle, in 1963. No internet, no GPS, no Google Maps, no travel guides or blogs to follow, no idea what to expect - a travel experience entirely unlike anything most of us would experience today. So much happened in the first chapter, that spanned from Ireland to Iran, that it could have been its own book. Dervla was attacked by wolves that she had to shoot with her gun, was almost raped twice (including once by a police officer), was swept away in an icy river, had to retrieve her bicycle from thieves, and was in a car accident just in the first few pages. All of these were glossed over in an urgency to get to what she considered the main subject matter of her story, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These two countries were definitely not at the top of my must-visit list, but after reading her descriptions of the the friendliness of the locals, their unique cultures, the remote villages she passed through and the extraordinary scenery, they (particularly Pakistan) have now been bumped up right near the top. At times her wording was not exactly politically correct as we would say it today, but 50 years ago I guess it was more acceptable. The ending was quite abrupt and left me wanting more, but luckily she has written dozens more books about her travels around the world.
Down Under (a.k.a. In a Sunburned Country)
I am ashamed to admit how much this book taught me about the history of my own country (I am also ashamed, it turns out, of much of Australia's history). Bryson uses his typically witty writing style to take the reader on a journey across this vast, desolate, deadly island, educating and entertaining at the same time. Maybe I enjoyed this book so much because of the familiar subject matter, but I think everyone would benefit from learning a little more about our broad, sunburned country.
Gregory David Roberts
The first time I picked up this book I didn't get more than 200 pages in (out of over 900). I was lost, disinterested, unmoved. A few years later I gave it another attempt, and this time I couldn't put it down. The nutty characters, the incredulous plot, and the unimaginable adventures the author took me on had me gripped from start to finish. I don't know what changed from that initial experience to the next, but I am glad I gave it a second chance. For me, the blurred line between fact and fiction didn't get in the way of a great story, even though I wanted to hate the author/main character for some of the choices he has made in his life. This book gave me a fascinating insight into the various Indian subcultures and has put the country high on my must-visit list.
Thru-hiking will break your heart
Yet another thru-hiking story that completely captivated me - I actually looked forward to going to bed each night so I could catch up on Carrot's adventures. It was an easy read that literally described every single day of her travels, which became quite repetitive by the end (but really, how exciting can you make hiking after 150 days of doing the exactly the same thing?) I was drawn right in to her world and felt the hypothermia, starvation, dehydration, exhaustion, illnesses and heartbreak along with her. I hadn't seriously considered hiking the PCT before this book (even Cheryl Strayed hadn't swayed me) but now I'm longing to get out there and see the trail for myself.
A walk in the woods
A famous author writing about a famous hiking trail? As soon as I found out this book existed, I knew I had to read it. I was a little disappointed to find that he didn't hike the entire Appalachian Trail, although, in fairness, most thru-hikers don't - it's clearly no walk in the park. As usual, Bryson presents a humourous view of his endeavours, however I didn't find it as absorbing as some of his other books. Despite the bear encounters and the apparently endless procession of "stupid people" he meets on the AT, I am still keen to explore this route one day. And I would probably re-read this book before doing so.
Into the Wild
I watched the movie years before I picked up the book. I remember loving the movie; I did not love the book. I thought the story would be from the perspective of McCandless, a young man who left everything to set off across America and live a nomadic existence. Instead it was from the author's point of view, as he personally travelled around the country in an attempt to retrace McCandless' footsteps and determine why he chose the path he did. It's an interesting story, maybe worth an article, but the reporter-style tone, the lack of empathy I felt for the central character and the strange obsession Krakauer had with McCandless made this book a struggle to finish. Most people seem to love Into the Wild, so chances are you would too; unfortunately it wasn't for me.
Tuk-tuk to the road
Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent & Joanna Huxster
Two women, one custom-made bright pink tuk-tuk, travelling over 20,000 km from Thailand to England to raise money for charity - what's not to love? This is the ultimate road trip, passing through 12 countries (several of which I knew absolutely nothing about) and running into so many misfortunes that I am in awe that they reached the finish line. The book is obviously a collection of blog articles written separately by the women while they were on the road, making for a superficial and repetitive story that is far from literary genius, but their experience was definitely unique and one to be admired.
Into Thin Air
Climbing Everest is about as extreme as it gets - especially during the deadly 1996 disaster that claimed so many lives. Krakauer, an experienced climber, set off for Everest as a writer for a magazine, and he gives us a firsthand account of the unfortunate series of events that unfolded. The tone is very matter-of-fact and he has no trouble giving his opinion of everyone else on the mountain, most of whom he believes are incompetent and the reason that many people died. The incident itself was incredible and this is what kept me turning the pages, far more so than Krakauer's writing style. It also made me want to go nowhere near Everest. On the downside, the constant criticism of the other guides and climbers made me feel a little uncomfortable, which was further increased when I looked into the controversy that appeared after the original article was published. Plus there were so many characters in this book that I found it impossible to keep up with who had which role on which team. Epic? Yes. Horrific? Yes. Five stars? No.