By Ariana Crisafulli
One of the best things about a hike or a trek is being disconnected from all our modern devices. It’s just you, your hiking shoes, the wilderness, and of course… a great book. There is no better time to sink into a great story than when you’re experiencing the tranquility of the great outdoors. Here are 10 amazing books about nature that will provide great additions to your trekking experience:
Taking place in the Nepalese Annapurna mountain range of the Himalayas, this narrative weaves together Buddhism, self-reflection, family, cultural background, and Matthiessen’s own vivid account of the months-long trek into the furthest reaches of the Annapurnas to study the blue sheep. With his singular-minded biologist friend, George Schaller, the two face harshening conditions, deserting porters, and their own introspections on impermanence and suffering. Along the way, they also hope to catch a glimpse of the rare snow leopard, as elusive as the true nature of self.
Not content to be a stay-at-home wife in cookie-cutter 1940s, Barbara Washburn broke societal convention and accompanied her husband on the climb to the summit of Mt. McKinley in Alaska, becoming the first-ever woman to reach the peak. Her story is not just about the physical climb, it’s about ascending conventions to achieve personal ambitions against all odds, and the resulting elation. Throughout the novel, Washburn marvels at her break from tradition, and the incredible scenarios she finds herself in, such as being lowered on a rope by her husband to urinate while looking out at the vast expanse of the Alaskan wilderness.
After a battle with drugs and depression following the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed cuts ties with her broken life and takes off for the Pacific Coast Trail. Along with her hefty backpack, provisions, and hiking shoes, Strayed initially carries her old life, including her old name, Cheryl Nyland. As Strayed gains strength and experience on her 2,663-mile trek on the PCT, she also gains perspective, mental fortitude and, ultimately, happiness. By the end of the book, Cheryl has strayed, so to speak, into a new life.
This book details the 1996 Mount Everest disaster that claimed the lives of eight mountain climbers. Initially meant to be a report on the commercialization of the base camp for Outside magazine, Jon Krakauer becomes overwhelmed with the opportunity to realize one of his biggest childhood dreams: climbing Mount Everest. What happened during the climb was a reporter’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but a mountaineer’s worst nightmare. The book details the decisions that led up to longtime mountain climber, Jon Krakauer’s decision to do the full climb and the disaster he witnessed first-hand.
With typical understated humor, Bill Bryson takes us through his attempt at hiking the Appalachian trail with his friend Stephen Katz, an overweight, recovering alcoholic. Starting in Georgia, the two soon realize the trail is too much for them and that they are severely underprepared for an undertaking of this magnitude. But Bryson is not to be deterred. After a break for a book tour, Bryson resume the trail with Katz, hiking various smaller routes and eventually ending up in Maine. Throughout the book, Bryson takes his readers along for the journey with the history of the trail, discussions on relevant sociology, and portrayals of the surrounding flora and fauna.
Jack Kerouac perfectly exemplifies the clash between urban life and the desire to live a life of simplicity in nature–to an extreme. In his rambling style that only furthers the conflict of mind, Kerouac, disguised in the book as Ray Smith, takes us through three-day parties and drunken binges in the city, to the tranquil beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountains. He and friend Japhy Ryder, based on Kerouac’s real-life friend and poet, Gary Snyder, leave behind the urban life of debauchery, to hitchhike the west and live sparsely in the mountains, searching along the way for transcendence and Zen’s four noble truths.
Outdoors lovers will relate to the philosophical musings of John Muir on nature and simple living. A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf is a memoir taken from the journals of Muir as he walked from Indiana to Florida in the aftermath of the Civil War. The journey took him through the darkest sides of humanity during a bleak time in American history, to the most wondrous sights in the American countryside. John Muir balances darkness with beauty, and internal pain with outward splendor, along the way developing a lifelong love of the outdoors.
Famous transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau went to live for two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond in Massachusetts. The self-professed goal was to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.” During this time, Thoreau lives plainly, simply, and with absolute self-sufficiency. In so doing, he clears out all the abstraction of a modern life in the 19th century.
Narcissus and Goldmund is a book about flawed characters and a flawed, but beautiful life. One man, Narcissus, is a monk and a thinker. He lives safely behind the monastery walls and contemplates the nature of life. Goldmund is a man of the heart and he leaves the monastery to live a life of mistakes, hunger, and disease. But he also lives a life of beauty, love, and gritty wisdom. Throughout the book, we’re taken through the course of Goldmund’s life of hardship and we witness his epiphanies on life. Goldmund is not a perfect character, but he lives a life of rich, unparalleled experience and passion. Part of travel is learning about one’s self. Through Goldmund you will realize your own flaws and passions, and accept that life is a never-ending lesson. By the end of the book you will be left with nothing less than a burning desire to live a deeply flawed, beautiful life of pure experience.
A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz
Just like Cheryl Strayed, Kurt Koontz went out into the wild to discover himself while recovering from mental turmoil. In Koontz’s case, he was a recovery addict on a pilgrimage to healing. And what better journey than the spiritual Camino de Santiago in Spain? Throughout the 500-mile walk in the sometimes rough mountain range across France and Spain, Koontz gradually recovers his mind and his body.
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Ariana is a writer and world traveler. Her writing covers her three main passions: women’s empowerment, travel, and culture. The beauty of the world is not just in scenic mountain views or turquoise waters; it’s in doing the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. For Ariana, that thing is stringing words together.