Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days On The John Muir Trail

Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail (Outdoor Lives)
Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail (Outdoor Lives)
Author : Suzanne Roberts
Published : 2012-09-01
Amazon Price : $14.57

Though it's set in the rugged landscape of the High Sierra running from Sequoia National Park to Yosemite National Park, Almost Somewhere could have played out anywhere as three young women go in search of themselves.

If you agree there are "chick flicks," then it's safe to call Suzanne Roberts' book about a month-long trek along the John Muir Trail a chick book. The cast features three twenty-somethings: Two college friends who compete in beauty, athletic ability, and men, and a friend of a friend who was hoping to conquer her bulimia along the way from Sequoia to Yosemite.

Though the author provides a running narrative of the wildflowers she encounters, drops in occasional John Muir quotes to help establish the setting the mood of the mountains, and freely shares her doubts about walking more than 200 miles in a month, you shouldn't buy this book to prepare for your own JMT hike.

This is not a backpacking primer, but rather one on young females in search of themselves as they prepare for life after college. We read about insecurities, jealously, lust, self-esteem, tears, bingeing, self-realization, learning to appreciate oneself for oneself, and interpersonal relationships. And come away with the author's realization that mountains in general, and the JMT specifically, provide a spectacular backdrop to work through these issues and absorb the associated lessons.

You won't read through the 260 pages of Almost Somewhere and come away with the same sense of place that you do when you read Becoming Odyssa, Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis, or selections from The Grand Canyon Reader or the Pacific Crest Trailside Reader. But then, I didn't get the sense that that was the intent of Ms. Roberts.

Rather, her book takes a personal accounting, of herself, her companions, and how they measured up to themselves, their peers, and the mountains.

"...we had come to rely on each other and on ourselves," Ms. Roberts writes near the end. "Luck and circumstance provided the chance to find our 'girl power.' The John Muir Trail was more than a completed goal. We didn't conquer the mountains; instead, we learned to feel safe walking among them, to feel more at home in nature. And with each step we came closer to knowing ourselves."

Amazon Detail : Product Description

Day One, and already she was lying in her journal. It was 1993, Suzanne Roberts had just finished college, and when her friend suggested they hike California’s John Muir Trail, the adventure sounded like the perfect distraction from a difficult home life and thoughts about the future. But she never imagined that the twenty-eight-day hike would change her life. Part memoir, part nature writing, part travelogue, Almost Somewhere is Roberts’s account of that hike.

John Muir had written of the Sierra Nevada as a “vast range of light,” and this was exactly what Roberts was looking for. But traveling with two girlfriends, one experienced and unflappable and the other inexperienced and bulimic, she quickly discovered that she needed a new frame of reference. Her story of a month in the backcountry—confronting bears, snowy passes, broken equipment, injuries, and strange men—is as much about finding a woman’s way into outdoor experience as it is about the natural world she so eloquently describes. Candid and funny and, finally, wise, Almost Somewhere is not just the whimsical coming-of-age story of a young woman ill-prepared for a month in the mountains but also the reflection of a distinctly feminine view of nature.   

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Comments

Hope it was an enlightening read, Trav. Never hurts to delve into the feminine psyche.

I question the use of a book reviewer who seems to be unaware that the derogatory term that he feels he has created, “chick book,” actually exists as “chick lit,” which refers to genre fiction, which this is not. To say that this is “not a backpacking primer” is absurd. No, it is not a backpacking primer, it is creative nonfiction that falls in a long lineage of personal travel narratives.

If this were a story of three men hiking the trail, what would Mr. Repanshek call this? Certainly “insecurities, jealously, lust, self-esteem, tears, bingeing, self-realization, learning to appreciate oneself for oneself, and interpersonal relationships” are concerns not only for “chicks” but for most humans. I’ve certainly seen a mountain make a grown man cry.

Anon @ 11:30,

The book, at least from the passage quoted above, invites the "chick lit" label. Every single phrase in that passage is a cliche--an unoriginal chunk of prose we've all heard before--and which goes through a series of hackneyed themes one finds throughout chick lit. Furthermore, how does its phrase--"our girl power"--not deliberately invite a "chick lit" readership?

I also take offense to the term "chick book." This book is a memoir, a hiking memoir in fact like that of Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. And it seems Mr. Repanshek has not read many memoirs, because he tries to compare Almost Somewhere to books like The Grand Canyon Reader. Wake up, Mr. Repanshek! Memoirs are only becoming more and more popular, they tend to involve self-reflection (or as Repanshek put it "insecurities, jealousy, lust, self-esteem, tears, bingeing, self-realization"), and memoirs are written by humans, that includes both men and women.

Anonymous #3, I was not comparing Almost Somewhere to the Grand Canyon Reader. Just pointing out to readers that they shouldn't expect a similar sort of read.

Becoming Odyssa, though, is a memoir, and it delivers an entirely different read than Almost Somewhere. If you haven't, I'd encourage you to read that one.

Anon @ 1:51,

I suppose you could call it a memoire, but what kind of self-reflection does it exhibit when it seems instead just to reproduce commonplaces--e.g. "relying on ourselves," "being at home in nature," "knowing ourselves" . . . Has the author discovered that she and her companions are two-dimensional cliches?

Dear Anon,

Maybe you should read the book and find out, rather than to base your criticism on one single passage taken out of context.

Anon—Did you read the book? I would hate for you to make generalizations off one passage in a 260-page book. It's obvious that Kurt Repanshek included this quote in the review to fit with his "chick book" theory. And what I find funny is that when men write about their silly experiences in the woods, as Bill Bryson does, it's passed off as humorous. When women do it, it's view as an insecurity, a weakness. When the fact of the matter is, both writers are just being honest. We, as a society, have distanced ourselves from the woods so much so that we made up a term for it: the wilderness. Let's face it. We all are uncomfortable in the wilderness to some extent. I applaud the nature writers who do not hide from this fact, who write about it, and analyze it, so that we may better understand our relationship to nature.

I question Repanshek's matter-of-factness in stating "Almost Somewhere could have played out anywhere as three young women go in search of themselves." Really? Could it really have taken place anywhere? If you read most of the Amazon reviews for Almost Somewhere, they usually end with something like this: "Maybe someday I'll backpack the JMT," or "I have hiked parts of the JMT. I loved reading about and remembering those passes," or even "I recommend it to anyone who has ever backpacked, or backpacks in their dreams!" You see, in nature writing, the place becomes a strong character; it's what readers walk away remembering. So no, this book could not have taken place anywhere, and I find the audience agrees.

Fair enough, anon. I suppose it's possible the rest of the book swerves dramatically away form the cliche-ridden drivel above. Of course, one might wonder what that passage would be doing in the book.

Of course none of those reviews treat place like a character. It's pretty clearly setting.

This chick just finished this book and found it to be a captivating page turner. The author discusses frankly issues women hikers face. From men who think nothing of eating more than their fair share of the rations to men who think women alone in the wilderness must want their company. The trail descriptions are very evocative and the women themselves are memorable characters. I recommend this book to those who love the Sierra.

I think folks are being overly tough on Kurt. He is offering a review and is therefore entitled to an opinion of the book. He could have NOT reviewed the book entirely and you folks wouldn't have anything to criticize him over.