almost somewhere

Reviewed by Rick Wallace, Medical Library, East Tennessee State University

27 march 2013       archive

Suzanne Roberts is an English instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe, California. This memoir describes a 211 mile, month long traverse of the John Muir Trail, which is part of the 2,650 mile long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), hiked by the author and friends 20 years prior to writing the book.

As an Appalachian Trail section hiker (1,800 miles as of this writing), I have enjoyed memoirs of long distance hikes. As a matter of fact, it seems sometimes that every other through-hike completed on the Appalachian Trail is turned into a memoir! All of my previous readings in this area have been Appalachian Trail memoirs, until I read the best-selling account of a PCT long distance hike by Cheryl Strayed (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). There are similarities between Ms. Roberts and Strayed's books. They both deal with sections of the PCT, both give a female perspective on being in wilderness, and both described transforming events in the authors' lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I feel that Ms. Roberts achieves her stated purpose of describing "a uniquely feminine way of being in nature, of 'going in,' one that included fears and failings, (and even crying) but also intimacy and community."

As a guy who is about as perceptive of the human female psyche as a rock cairn, the insight on a feminine perspective of nature was revelatory. Suspecting that this might be a "bash men," "men are awful" book (which of course we are!), I found the text to be anything but that.

This tale has a cast of characters to make you cry and laugh. It is a very funny book. As a fellow hiker, I reveled in the folly of the author's serious backpacking technique errors (such as carrying a grossly overweight load), and the concurrent misery it caused, having made all these errors myself. Each chapter represented one day's hike and commenced with a pertinent quote from John Muir.

Although memoirs of hikes are not technical guides, the book does give a well-developed picture of the John Muir Trail. I particularly appreciated this since the John Muir Trail is on my own bucket list.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book to hikers, outdoor enthusiasts and people who have souls. Ms. Roberts makes reference to the outstanding female nature writer Annie Dillard, who is a favorite of mine. Dillard was a master of going from the wonder of our physical nature to the beauty and intricacies of the universe of our inner natures. I feel that Ms. Roberts has successfully done the same.

Roberts, Suzanne. (2012). Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail. University of Nebraska Press, 2012, 262 pages

Copyright © 2013 by Rick Wallace

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