Man isn’t meant to stay indoors — our weekly “Trekking” column can attest to that. It’s a column dedicated to the adventurer inside of all of us, the one pining to ditch the office humdrum for a quick surf session or seven-week jaunt in the Grand Tetons. One day we may highlight an ultra-light stove and the next a set of handmade canoe paddles. Life doesn’t just happen inside the workplace, so get outside and live it.
The winter months hold their own treasures, whether it be gathering with family or chasing snowfall upon the peaks of our favorite mountains. However, while they certainly offer a multitude of outdoor adventures to be had, they also serve as the coldest time of the year and the perfect opportunity to catch up on books we may have missed while gallivanting under the summer sun. Regardless if you prefer a brilliant memoir recounting the rolling plains and the open road, or a simple philosophical tale of isolation and reprieve atop a tower, there’s a bevy of outdoor-centric books to capture your inspiration while you wait for the snow to melt and the holidays to draw to an inevitable close. Below are five of our current, non-fiction favorites.
You’ve likely heard the story of one Christopher Johnson McCandless before. In April 1992, the young man left his well-to-do life and began hitchhiking his way toward the Alaskan frontier, a trek that ultimately culminated with a moose hunter discovering his decomposing body in a bus months later. Despite your opinion of McCandless, though, Krakauer paints an insightful narrative that sheds light on the 24-year-old’s turbulent relationship with his parents and the events leading up to his departure. It’s a heartbreaking, cautionary tale, filled with societal questions and a keen sense of adventure. Sean Penn’s film of the same name only does it so much justice.
Humorist Ian Frazier may be best known for his work for The New Yorker, but his poignant travelogue of the American West is as captivating as it is insightful. It vividly documents the writer’s 25,000 mile trek through what often seems like the middle of nowhere, rehashing the people he meets and exploring historical figures such as Billy the Kid, Crazy Horse, and the infamous Bonnie and Clyde with an enthusiasm rarely afforded in history class. His sharp, poetic writing is peppered with witty humor, and he melds the past and present in such a way to give you a complete view of the treeless expanse found east of the Rockies. And there’s only so much talk of wheat.
Blehm’s classic work of non-fiction is both a detective novel and a biography at heart. It focuses on the life and sudden disappearance of introvert Randy Morgenson, a seasoned ranger for the National Park Service who disappeared at age 54 while venturing through the unforgiving backcountry of California’s Sierra Nevadas. Blehm paints an empathetic portrait of Morgenson, adorned with thorough backstory regarding his troubled life and the ensuing search-and-rescue attempts to find him. The book is also a historical homage to the Sierras themselves, showcasing their beauty and allure through a human narrative fraught with mystery.
Fire Season is a modern-day Walden. It chronicles former Wall Street Journal reporter Philip Connors’ stay in a Depression-era lookout tower situated 10,000 feet above sea level in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. The author stayed in the structure for six months of the year for nearly a decade, keeping watch upon on what was once one of the most fire-prone forest in the United States. Each chapter encapsulates a month, interlacing a slew of ecological field notes with his nostalgic memories of ’90s New York, creating a contrast that can be seen as a budding naturalist’s commentary on both isolation and our innate obligation to protect the remaining wilderness.
Theodore Roosevelt was a man of many merits, but his role as one of our nation’s founding naturalists tends to get overlooked in favor of his more political achievements. Brinkley’s historical text examines the ecological exploits of our 26th president in full, retracing Roosevelt’s crusade for the American wilderness in the early 1900s with wealth of details spanning everything from his hunts in the Big Horn Mountains to his ranching days in North Dakota. It also talks of his relationships with other life-long naturalists like John Muir and William L. Finley, but more so his role in expanding the national park system and his unprecedented impact on future conservation policy.