8 Adventure Books to Get Lost In (Especially Now)
Coronavirus has been challenging for everyone, including outdoor enthusiasts. When the news first hit, our collective reaction was to head to the wild places that have given us solace in the past — from the stresses of society, from the hustle-bustle of daily life, a refuge from near-constant requests and opportunities pulling us in every direction at once.
The wild can be a therapeutic place. It gives us time and space to stretch our muscles and our minds. We spend the day getting fresh air in an open, natural landscape — working our muscles until we get back to the trailhead exhausted and gratified. The wild makes our good days better and lends a helping hand to our bad days.
So it’s really hard that during coronavirus — a scary, anxious, challenging time for everyone — we need to socially distance ourselves from the places and people we usually turn to in times of need. Video calls have been the ultimate lifesaver here to keep connected with friends and family. But it’s grown increasingly more irresponsible and inaccessible to find time - or a place - to get outdoors. Some of us are lucky to have uncrowded, safe ways to get outdoors in our backyard, while others don’t even have a literal backyard to enjoy.
I’ve taken this time to try to rest and recharge. At first, I felt a lot of tension and dissonance in not being able to simply get outside like usual. I put a lot of pressure on myself to find new and old ways to “stay outdoorsy,” whatever that means. But once I gave myself permission to just stay home, work, rest, and be ok with where we’re at right now, something released inside me, and I’ve felt my shoulders drop.
I’ve been doing yoga in the mornings and have found myself reaching for more books. And in a personal change, I’ve found myself drawn to books about adventure instead of natural history. Books about people facing big challenges and forging ahead in the uncertainty. Below are 8 outdoor adventure book recommendations to get lost in (plus an extra 19, because you've earned it).
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
This is a classic page-turner about not just how thrilling summiting Mt. Everest is — but how badly it can go wrong. In a sudden storm in 1996, many climbers were stranded at high altitude on the mountain. And wouldn’t you know it: Jon Krakauer, a rad outdoorist with some serious journalism skills, happened to be right there with them. Some passages can get a little challenging to follow if you don’t have a mountaineering background, but overall Krakauer writes does a great job of explaining the details for the general public. If you want some similar books, check out Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.
Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure, by F. A. Worsley
I went through a big polar exploration phase in college, and this is by far my favorite. Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer that attempted to lead his men across Antarctica to the South Pole. Pretty quickly into the journey, their ship, the Endurance, gets stuck in the pack-ice and crushed between two ice floes. What’s even more unbelievable than the challenges they faced in order to survive Antarctica’s bitter cold is how they faced it with composure, positive attitudes, and strength. If you want similar books about polar adventure, check out The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Caroline Alexander and The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
One of my favorite things about this book is that it turns the usual adventure trope of manly-man-heads-into-the-wild-to-do-something-no-one-has-done-before on its head, and it’s so much better for it. Cheryl Strayed left her past behind to do some soul-searching and self-exploration on the Pacific Crest Trail despite having no real experience to do so. Some outdoorists would call that reckless - but aren’t all adventure stories? This is one of the biggest books of the past decade, and it’s a must if you love adventure. If you want other stories about thru-hiking, check out A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn.
The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko
Get this: three friends hop into a small wooden boat to raft as quickly as possible down the Grand Canyon after a record amount of snow melted all at once to fill the Colorado River into a raging, high water superhighway. This one’s another pageturner, and the leader of the crew - Kenton Grua - has become well-known for his depth of knowledge about the Grand Canyon that’s maybe as deep as the canyon itself. For other books about the southwest, check out Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West by Heather Hansman and Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, by Blair Braverman
Blair left her home in California to head to northern Norway and later Alaska, where she learned all about life in the Arctic and how to guide sled dogs — and how to navigate the misogyny in the sport. I first heard Blair’s story on This American Life, where she shares my favorite part of the book: a group of tourists are helicoptered to a glacier to dogsled for the day, but a sudden storm strands the entire group of tourists while the guides pretend like nothing’s wrong. (Blair also has a rad column over at Outside, too). For more incredible books about female adventurers, check out Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide by Jill Homer and Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road by Kate Harris.
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, by Laurence Gonzales
Part-manual, part-adventure-story, part-advice, this rad book shares some amazing stories about how to assess risk and make better decisions under pressure. I’ve always been surprised by how quickly situations can turn from normal to scary in the outdoors — and this book isn’t just entertaining, it might provide you some solid advice in the field one day, too. For other survival stories, check out Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Pears Paul Read and Minus 148 Degrees by Art Davidson.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place (a.k.a. 127 Hours), by Aron Ralston
Yes, this is an intense story — and I think the book is even more engrossing than the movie starring James Franco. Aron Ralston was hiking alone in a deep slot canyon in a remote section of Canyonlands National Park when he suddenly fell off a boulder and a large stone pinned his right hand against the canyon wall. He’s utterly stuck, has limited food/water/clothing, and maybe worst of all: no one has any idea he’s even in Utah. Aron escaped his predicament and lived to tell the tale — and it’s a phenomenal, gripping glimpse into what can go through your head when adventures go wrong. For other outdoor books that aren't this intense but are set in Utah, check out Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and Erosions: Essays of Undoing by Terry Tempest Williams.
The Sun Is a Compass, by Caroline Van Hemert
Ornithologist Caroline Van Hemert got a little restless working her grad school’s lab and found herself dreaming of long days in the wild. So she made it happen. In 2012, Caroline and her husband started a 4,0000-mile, human-powered trek through some of the wildest places in North America: the Pacific rainforest and the Alaskan Arctic. This is a rad story with skiing, hiking, canoeing, and rowing with some beautiful passages about nature, too. For other rad books set in the far north, check out Coming Into the Country by John McPhee and Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez.
Bonus: Walden, by Thoreau
No, this isn’t an adventure book, but it does give great descriptions of nature that help me to cope with being inside so much. Plus, Thoreau really does focus on the small pleasures in daily life that we so often overlook, which is a great reminder to practice these days. Then, check out Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas and Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Don’t have one of these 8 books at home? Try checking your local library’s website to see how you can rent books digitally. (I just found out about Libby, and I love it). Or, you can purchase the ebook or audiobook online to read/listen on one of the devices you already own.
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