Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Review: "Pathfinder - Blazing a New Wilderness Trail in Modern America" by Ron Strickland

I loved this book. It was offered to me to read and review by the author so it was not one I'd bought for myself. It is a paperback, from the USA, of some 240 pages. It's main theme is the establishment of the Pacific NorthwestTrail - the PNT - a long distance trail. The back cover says it all (or some of it):

"In the early 1970s, Ron Strickland - a young, novice hiker with an audacious idea - launched a campaign to link Glacier National Park's alpine meadows and the Pacific Ocean via a new, 1,200 mile footpath across three national parks and seven national forests. He - along with countless other volunteers - lobbied landowners, raised money, and dug dirt until, in 2009, Congress added the Pacific Northwest Trail to the national Trails System.

Pathfinder, Strickland describes the process of untangling brush and bureacracy to establish one of the world's most beatiful trails. He intersperses colourful portraits of memorable trail characters, insider's tips about favourite hikes, and news about the coming renaissance of hiking. "The adventure," he says, "is just beginning".

Strickland writes well and he is easy to read. He tells of his early life and how he became a dedicated hiker. He escaped marriage at an early age in 1968 and set off to hike the Cascade Crest Trail. After that, he formed a dream of an embryo PNT but lack of experience in bringing it to fruition resulted in miserable failure in 1978. He revisited the idea in the early 1980s and adopted a nomadic lifestyle, spending some ten years living outdoors getting to know the ground in intimate detail and sketching out a route. He tells of the "old timers" whose help he sought, men who had spent their whole lives in the open and who knew the land intimately. He talks of trail angels he met and the trail magic he was the beneficiary of. He also writes about hikers he met along the way who remain impressed in his memory.

He diverts on to other topics. A particularly touching chapter deals with his experience (as a single man) of becoming a "caregiver" or, foster parent", to a profoundly disabled and, ill with leukaumia, girl, Meadow, aged 15. He tells of his life with her over a period of a year. She left to live elsewhere but, sadly, died two years later.

Finally, the PNT became a national trail but not long before then, Strickland found love, somewhat late in life and, surprisingly (probably to his surprise as well) to a non-hiker although her early experiences on hiking trips are quite hilarious. She was also something of a liability as her eyesight was deteriorating through glaucoma.

This book was a great read and I recommend it.