I'm sorry I didn't get around to mentioning "The Creaky Knees Guide" earlier in the year. But author Seabury Blair Jr,, formerly an outdoor columnist on our state's wet side and now an escapee to the dry side, has produced a chipper compendium of recommended hikes that will make you want to get out and enjoy the great outdoors despite the nip in the air.
The first thing you should know, however, is that the book's "100 Best Easy Hikes" subtitle is disingenuous. As Blair himself admits in his introduction, "Sooner or later, we all realize that 'easy hike' is a relative term."
Clearly a jovial fellow (in the cover photo, he even
sports a handsome Santa Claus beard), Blair emphasizes the pleasure of companionship when hiking. But when he intones "never hike alone," it's a matter of safety, too. He emphasizes this even before listing the "10 Essentials" that are mandatory content in any hiking guide.
Ah, if only the author of the second book I'm covering had heeded that advice! But then, of course, Brian Gawley wouldn't have been able to write "Lost 65.5 Hours in Olympic National Park."
This is his harrowing story of survival after he got lost and injured in the Olympic Mountains back country during a day hike.
Gawley, then a reporter in Port Angeles, now a reporter for the Sequim Gazette, also trained for marathons in his spare time by doing strenuous solo hikes up into the mountains. Gawley's aim - to travel light and cover a lot of territory quickly - meant that he routinely neglected to haul along the 10 essentials.
This time it nearly cost him his life.
The title of this book is ill advised, as many readers may fail to appreciate what it really means to be lost in the wilderness for a matter of "mere" hours. Also, Gawley's propensity for looping back and forth in time as he tells his story is disconcerting - in doing this, he diminishes the suspense.
Nonetheless, this unvarnished recounting of an ordeal that might have had a different ending - save for the efforts of friends and rescue workers - makes this cautionary tale a nail-biting read.
As for Blair, , this sexagenarian (and I am referencing his age, not his love life here) makes the case that the effort is worth it. For those who remain dubious, he provides a front-of-the-book index that categorizes hikes from "stroll in the park," to "prepare to perspire" to "knee punishing."
Having hiked many of the trails Blair mentions, I found myself generally agreeing with his assessment of difficulty. I appreciated the little charts that illustrate elevation gain per mile - although nothing ever quite prepares one for confronting those switchbacks in person.
Blair's hike descriptions are lively, but he errs on the side of brevity. We don't want to have the entire experience spelled out for us, of course, but a little more detailed information gives hikers a clearer picture of what they'll be getting into.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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