Recently I’ve been reading books written by people who went on really big trips and left their cars behind. Reading them is a good way to travel vicariously. These books seem to just jump off the nightstand into my hands at night, and I devour their pages until I’m too bleary-eyed to continue. That’s usually about two paragraphs or so. No matter, I just get to enjoy them all that much longer.
I was so entertained by a book my mother-in-law gave me, One Inch Above The Water: Running Away on America’s Rivers. It was written by Jim Payne, who happens to be the organist at her church in Sandpoint, Idaho. He has traversed some of America’s biggest waterways, solo, in a kayak. Payne is a retired professor who settled in Idaho, and allowed his curiosity of what’s around the next bend in the water to take him to many of America’s most important rivers and lakes. The trip down the entire length of the Columbia River (taken in segments) gave me a brand new perspective of the Pacific Northwest. His self-deprecating humor combines with a sense of wonder about things he encounters on his trips. When you’re alone in a kayak for weeks, I suppose you have time to wonder. His book is hard to find in stores, but it can be ordered online. It's worth getting. You may catch yourself smiling and even laughing aloud as you read his reflections.
I also found a brand new book about a bicycle trip across America taken by Alice and Bobbi, two friends who rode from Astoria, Oregon to Bar Harbor, Maine. They kept an ongoing journal of the places and people they encountered, and turned it into a book, Across America by Bicycle, that is well worth reading. It’s a little bit of everything you’d expect on a long bike tour...leaving your life at home for an extended period of time, putting in long hours of grueling work every day, contending with weather, the beauty and diversity of the landscape, and the stories of each town you pass through along the way.
"A heartfelt account of crossing America on two wheels from a pair of gutsy women. Alice and Bobbi prove it’s never too late to put a dream into high gear, to let the road reveal a country and the true meaning of friendship.”
—Joe Kurmaskie, author of Metal Cowboy,Momentum Is Your Friend, and Mud, Sweat, and Gears
This book just came out in the fall of 2010, and should be available at the local book store or library (well, as soon as I return my copy to the library, anyway).
These kinds of books appeal to a reader’s own personal sense of adventure. We all wonder what big audacious trip we might be capable of taking, and here are some ordinary people who show us it can be done. What really goes through our minds is whether we’ll ever take the same kind of opportunity. I hope I will. Maybe I'll write a book about it, too.
Interestingly, there’s another strong theme that weaves through these journeys. It’s the sense that there are truly remarkable people just about everywhere you go. Somehow, bikes and kayaks seem to bring these folks out of the woodwork. Payne calls them “Good Samaritans,” and Alice and Bobbi describe them as “Road Angels.” Throughout their travels, the writers met people who sincerely wanted to learn about their journeys, and offered genuine hospitality to them. Lasting relationships were created out of these chance encounters, and people got written into the stories that later became books. This is restorative to one’s belief that despite the headlines, a good majority of people are truly decent and generous.
These are books that I really didn’t want to finish. I became melancholy as I realized that journeys must ultimately reach their final destinations, and good books have to end at some point. Still, I put off reading the last ten pages or so until I just couldn’t stand it any longer.
I’m hoping there are more books like these waiting for me to find them at the library. Maybe you’ve got some you’d suggest.