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I think I’ve mentioned previously, somewhere, that I will read almost any book about Paris or India, but I also love reading books about people walking obscene distances, like along the entire Nile River or across the Gobi Desert, so here I am today sharing some of the best books about people walking long distances with you. There are a couple in here that are primarily walking, but also include other human-powered methods like biking, running, or canoeing.
Even if you aren’t interested in doing any of these crazy (cool) walks yourself, you’ll certainly think you want to do them (like me) even though you don’t really want to. So, put on your hiking boots, or at least pretend to, and get cozy because you’re about to add 24 books to your already never-ending TBR pile. I have read a few of these already and have some on their way from the library as I write this(along with about 25 other books), but I’ll update as I read them.
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Helen Thayer will be opening and closing this list. Polar Dream is about her incredible journey in 1988, at the age of 50, when she was the first woman ever to travel to the magnetic north Pole on foot. She traveled with her husky Charlie to one of the most remote and dangerous regions of the world. This is the story of their trek together facing polar bears, unreal temperatures, and a storm that destroyed almost all of their food and supplies. So buckle up and start your long walk around the world (through books) at the top of it.
Fresh out of college, Jennifer is a little lost, like most people. For some reason, she is drawn to the Appalachian Trail, but her family thinks she’s crazy. So, she sets out to hike the trail alone while she decides what to do next with her life. Over the next four months, she learns that thru-hiking is a lot harder than she imagined, and faces the most physically and emotionally challenging months of her life. Now, she is a student of the trail and has to brave situations she’s never imagined. Thankfully, the trail is full of kindness, generosity, and humor and she learns she can depend on people in times of need.
This is a different foot-powered journey, it’s a bike trip along the Great Divide, the world’s longest mountain biking trail. It follows the Continental Divide and stretches 2700 miles from Alberta to the US-Mexico Border and Nathan is about to follow it. It will feel like you’re on the bike with Nathan getting to know the daily routine along the trail. You’ll learn what it’s like biking in the Rockies, during downpours, through deserts and moments of elation and frustration.
Gail quits her perfect job to set out on the Pacific Crest Trail just before her 40th birthday. Over the next five months, she loses her pack scrambling over scree in the desert, struggles to navigate mountain passes, and wears the soles off her boots on lava fields. While she set out alone, she meets fellow hikers that she can count on for entertainment and life lessons. They just happen to be making the trek in a series of twenty-six wedding dresses or with a pet mouse.
We all know Wild, but here we are. Cheryl Strayed thought she lost everything she knew at 22. Her mother died, her family scattered, and her own marriage soon ended. Four years later she made an impulse decision to hike the PCT alone with no prior experience or training. Here you’ll find the pleasures and terrors of over a thousand miles of hiking through the Mojave and over mountains.
Lori Oliver-Tierney is fifty, asthmatic, overweight, and has arthritic knees but she decides to hike the John Muir Trail anyway. To some, it is seen as the most difficult section of the longer Pacific Crest Trail, but she is hoping to reconnect with the adventurous girl inside. Sooner than expected (the first day) she realizes she may have made a mistake. She is greeted with giant oozing blisters and finds out her hiking partner Debra can barely stand her. She ends up hiking most of the trail alone, puffing on her asthma inhaler when she loses the trail. She is forced to dig deep into her soul to finish the trek.
Robyn Davidson sets out to cross 1,700 miles of Australian Outback with just her dog and four camels. Not only does she fend off the wildlife, but also lecherous men. She learns to care for her camels when they are skittish or injured. She comes out of the trek a courageous woman driven by a love of the Australian landscape, indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away her old self.
Like Wild, A Walk in the Woods has become a classic hiking tale, but on the East Coast instead of west. Bill Bryson sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail and this is a fun tale of the trek mixed with some history and ecology of the trail. Plus we get to meet some colorful characters and bears along the way.
At 57, Rosie decided to run around the world, literally, after her husband died of cancer to raise money in his honor. Oh, and she did the run alone. She left Wales with a small backpack of food and equipment and the rent money from her little cottage. The 20,000-mile journey took five years through Europe, Russia, Asia, Alaska, North America, Greenland, Iceland, and back into the UK. She’d run 500 yards to 30 miles a day in weather up to, or down to, -62 degrees C. 53 pairs of shoes took her on the run of her life.
Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan in January 2002 with just his wits, knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindness of strangers. He passed through mountains covered in snow, hamlets burned by the Taliban, and thriving communities. He shared meals with villagers, slept on their floors, and listened to their stories. He met heroes, teenage soldiers, Taliban commanders, and his new companion, Babur, a retired fighting mastiff named after Afghanistan’s first Mughal emperor since they were following in his footsteps.
Carl and Erin live in North Idaho. It’s far too cold, snowy, and conservative for them so they sell their house and search for a new place to call home. Instead of finding a home, they travel and decide to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, spending months hiking the western US. Their friends thought they wouldn’t last a week and the next thing they knew, months had passed. Soon they started going by Beearclaw and Hummingbird adapting to their new Hikertrash life. The story of the trail is told through Hummingbird’s journal entries and includes maps, photos, Leave No Trace Tips, gear lists, and trail recipes all along with the tale of the trail.
Caroline Van Hemert, an ornithologist in graduate school, was conducting experiments on misshapen chickadee beaks when she started to feel stifled by the lab. She began to worry that she was losing her passion for scientific research when she decided to get back outside and follow the trails of animals. While this isn’t all by foot, the 4,000-mile journey with her husband from the Pacific Rainforest to the Alaskan Arctic is all human-powered. They survived harrowing experiences and moments full of joy and grace. This is a great blend of science, adventure, and personal narrative.
America’s northern border is the longest in the world. It’s also pretty obscure. Like The Sun is a Compass, this is also a general man-powered journey, but this time from Maine to Washington. Northland is a wonderful blend of the area’s history and a riveting account of his travels. His trip begins at the easternmost point of the mainland US and he follows explorer Samuel de Champlain’s adventures across the northeast then follows the 49th parallel from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean.
While Felicity didn’t walk on her journey, she was the first woman and only the third person ever to ski across the entire continent of Antarctica on her own. She did the whole thing without the help of parasails or kites, unlike her two predecessors. She had to face the possibility of hypothermia and unseen cracks in the ice below, along with emotional vulnerability thanks to hallucinations caused by the vast sea of white and lack of stimulation to her senses. This is an inspiring tale of Felicity battling loneliness and her own vulnerabilities as a human.
Levison Wood is a walking maniac. This is just the first on this list of four of his long walks. In this, he walks the length of the Nile from Rwanda to Egypt, 4,000 miles across six countries, over nine months. He faces sandstorms, flash floods, and minefields all while camping in the wild, foraging for food, and trudging through rainforest, swamp, savannah, and desert. Along the way, he has a rap song written about him, he is detained by the secret police, and he escapes a charging hippo and wild crocodiles. He also has to face the death of journalist Matthew Power along the way. In this book, you get to read about what it’s like to walk long distance but also get to learn about the cities and villages he passes through on his way.
Starting in the Yucatan, this time Wood walks through Central America to Colombia. He passes through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama on this 1,800-mile walk. He encounters indigenous tribes and revolutionaries, fellow explorers and migrants headed towards the US, glamorous cities and unexcavated Mayan ruins. He passes natural obstacles like quicksand, flash floods, and wildlife while having dinner with locals, learning to build emergency shelters, and witnessing the surreal beauty of the Central American landscapes. And finally, he attempts to cross the Darien Gap into South America, one of the world’s most impenetrable borders.
Levison Wood and his trusted guides trek 1,700 hundred miles over six months across the Himalayas and the Silk Road route through Afghanistan and the Pakistan/India border. He recounts the beauty and danger as he follows the footsteps of great explorers.
This time, Ed Stafford is the one setting out on a wild trek. He set off to be the first man ever to walk the length of the Amazon River in April 2008. He starts on the Peruvian coast crosses the Andes Mountain range to the Brazillian jungle and the mouth of the river on the opposite coast. On this 4,000-plus mile journey, he meets machete wielding indigenous tribes and negotiates injuries, weather, and his own fear and doubts. His 860-day journey forces him to face deforestation firsthand and the pressure on the tribes he meets. If you want a story that is more about the walking, this is a great option.
The final Levison Wood journey on this list starts in Syria, just by the Turkey border, in September 2017 in the deadliest war of the twenty-first century. This 5,000-mile walk takes him through the most contested region of the world over six months. He travels through ISIS-occupied Iraq, Kuwait, the Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan Israel, and finally Lebanon. His goal is to change perspectives on this often-misunderstood part of the world. We get to see a side of the Middle East that isn’t often shown in the media and how it has changed over thousands of years.
By age 25, Heather Anderson was a Triple Crowner and a few years later she left her job, her marriage, and her dissatisfied life to head back into the mountains. Heather, or Anish on the trail, shares her distinct message of courage. She is willing to turn away a predictable life for what fulfills her the most. While facing the rigors of the trail, she discovers the greater rewards of community and self while conquering her doubts and building self-confidence. She is the second woman to complete the Double Triple Crown, finishing the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail twice each.
On her second night of college, Aspen was raped by a fellow student. Her parents discouraged her from talking about the attack, leading to her feeling confused and ashamed. She stumbles through her first semester before deciding to seek healing on the PCT. This inspiring memoir chronicles her ambitious, dangerous, and transformative five-month trek. She is alone and lost, conquering the desolate mountain passes and facing rattlesnakes, bears, and fellow desert pilgrims. Here, she finds her strength and learns to love and trust again after being forced to confront her sexual assault and her parents’ disappointing reaction.
You don’t have to be young to start thru-hiking. Mary doesn’t start until she is 60 and now she is taking us on the journey with her from the Appalachian Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and finally, the remote grandeur of the Continental Divide Trail. She meets hikers of all ages and walks of life on the Trail Community. She faces some problems (and adventures) with friends, but mostly alone. She shares the challenges of failing body parts and what it was like adapting to the trails before completing the Triple Crown at age 76.
Ken came up with the far-fetched idea to hike the entire length of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline do draw attention to global warming, but also to explore his personal limits. And it was just that, an idea. Until September 2012 when he strapped on his backpack and hitchhiked 1,500 miles from Denver to the Alberta tar sands where he started the 1,700-mile trek to the pipeline’s endpoint on the Gulf Coast of Texas. He would complete the trek all on foot and mostly on private property.
Finally, we have Helen Thayer again. This time, at 63, she is walking across the Gobi Desert with her husband Bill who is 74, and two camels, Tom and Jerry. They walked 1,600 miles in 126-degree heat and faced sandstorms, spilled water, scorpions, and drug smugglers along the way. This is a 60-day journey of discovery and adventure, challenging Helen to keep moving through the inhospitable terrain.
Have you read any of these? Which ones? Do you have any others you would recommend?