A couple weeks ago I was browsing at Powell’s on Hawthorne and a book on that awesome remainder section caught my eye. The Cactus Eaters: How I Almost Lost My Mind—and Almost Found Myself—on the Pacific Crest Trail by Dan White. I loved Bill Bryson’s book on the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, and if this was anything like it, it’d be good, at the very least. I put it on hold the next morning.
Dan White and his girlfriend of several months decide to leave behind their dead-end reporting jobs to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Their hope is that it will deepen their still new relationship, make them stronger people and all that. They spend hundreds of dollars on great equipment and their favorite snack foods, and even though they're getting off to a late start (meaning June) they figure that if they can knock off sixteen mile days for six months they’ll finish before the weather turns—sounds iffy. How many miles will they walk, theoretically? Two thousand six hundred and fifty from Mexico to
They’re given a one-night short-course by a couple of people who’ve already hiked the PCT. They recommend dividing it into twenty-five segments. At the beginning and end of each segment they’ll leave the trail and resupply at designated towns nearby. They will mail twenty five boxes of dried food to themselves addressed to General Delivery at post offices near the trail heads. They’re given a list of “trail angels” who live in the supply towns--folks who let hikers sleep at their house for free, give rides, even schlep water to the desperate. Sounds doable if you’re organized.
So far it’s the funniest book of my still new summer reading season. I’ve forced friends and loved ones to listen to entire paragraphs. The other day I was laughing so hard it actually made my son pause Lego Star Wars II to ask if I was ok. I couldn’t wait to finish it yet I was sad when I did, and in my world that is the sign of an excellent book.
Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that the ending was not what I expected, but it was real and I give Dan White credit for that. The joy of the book for me was in the trek itself. The lesson for me was the reminder that it’s good to be honest and be yourself, even if it’s hard sometimes.