Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days On The John Muir Trail
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."
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.
Watch a book trailer.