Monday, April 6, 2020

Kira's Adventures

If you’re anything like me, you might be heartbroken that your local climbing gym is shut down for the foreseeable future. You’re probably even more heartbroken that just as winter is letting us out of its grip, all your trips planned to wild and wonderful places (Moab in Utah, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas, The Red River Gorge in Kentucky) have come to a grinding halt.

Theoretically, it might be easy to stay socially distant outdoors, but you don’t want to be the guy who unwittingly brings Covid-19 into small, rural communities, do you? Rather than risk the communities I’ve come to love (I’ve been craving a slice of Miguel’s Pizza for months now), now is the perfect time to catch up on some reading. I’ve broken the list down into books I’ve read and loved, books with a spot on my “read these next” shelf, and a few classics that everyone should pick up, whether they’re adventurous types or not.

I. Tommy Caldwell’s The Push: Probably the best all around climber, Tommy’s memoir is one of my favorite books of any genre. His prose isn’t complicated, but his heart really shines. He’s faced tons of adversity, from being held hostage by terrorists, to losing a finger and almost losing his career along with it, but somehow maintains the most positive, inspiring attitude on and off the wall. He’s also been posting content about how his family is staying local and low-risk for the time being - if he can do it, we can do it.

II. Daniel James Browns’ The Indifferent Stars Above: The most compassionate and well-written book regarding the lamentable Donner Party, in my opinion. The author focuses primarily on one person, Elizabeth Graves, and her immediate family (including her fiancé). The author actually visited every portion of the route the Donner Party took, which is a level of commitment I really respect. I definitely picked up this book for the travel writing and, y’know, the cannibalism, but this book actually left me with a profound sense of what it means to be human and to experience loss. It’s also a good reminder that things could be a whole lot worse for most of us right now.

III. Alex Honnold’s Alone on the Wall: This was written around the same time as Caldwell’s, and they both take place predominately in Yosemite Valley - totally different books though. Honnold cowrote with David Roberts, a prominent outdoor adventure writer, which means the book has a very distinct writing style, flipping between Honnold’s perspective and Robert’s, which echoes the sentiments of the general climbing community. If you’re a climber, I know it gets old to hear “Have you ever seen Free Solo?” but I promise, the firsthand account is worth a read, for climbers and non-climbers alike.

I. Colin O’Brady’s The Impossible First: Normally, I don’t immediately gravitate towards books centered around the poles (north or south, I don’t discriminate). However, Colin is purportedly the first person to cross Antarctica alone, and I read this article online recently about how he ate too many of his rations in a stupor at 2 A.M. one night, and then ended up sh*tting his pants the next morning and having to suffer all day until he got to camp. Is that the only reason I put it on my to-read list? Maybe, maybe not.

II. Mark Synnott’s The Impossible Climb: Not to be confused with The Impossible First, The Impossible Climb is all about Alex Honnold’s Yosemite free solo. I know I’ve already told you to read Honnold’s account, but you’ll want to read this one too. Here’s what the Guardian has to say: “Synnott’s book is also an attempt to understand what drives people such as Honnold to risk their lives on the world’s most dangerous mountains. One climber describes it as a primal experience: 'Everything is more intense.' Although he denies being an adrenaline junkie, Honnold clearly lives for climbing, the only thing that has ever 'lit his fire'. Climbers such as Honnold are only happy when they are hanging from a fingertip jammed in a fissure of rock a thousand feet off the ground.” Right up my alley.

III. Jedidah Jenkin’s To Shake the Sleeping Self: A firsthand account of a bike trip from Oregon to Patagonia. Biking is one of the only ways I’ve been staying sane during the pandemic, so this book immediately got pushed to the top of my list. From Publisher’s Weekly: “Much of his writing focuses on his internal feelings - a mix of emotional dives into his past, present, and future - rather than the physical journey. Still, there’s some fun and vibrant travel writing here, including stories about tripping on mushrooms, seeing a butterfly migration, and exploring Machu Picchu.”

I. Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: What can’t Bryson write about? With virtually no experience and a good sense of humor, the author sets out to rediscover America along the entirety of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. If you’re in need of some much-deserved levity and escapism, this is the adventure book for you.

II. Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild: The account of a fresh college-grad who decides to leave the material world and venture into the unknown. Spoiler – he never comes back out. They find his body some months later in an abandoned bus off the beaten path in Alaska. If you haven’t read Into the Wild but you’re big on cult classics, I’d grab this one. It’s relatively short, but wildly impactful, and my personal copy is full of underlines and little notes because there’s so much to absorb. What started as an article for an outdoor magazine morphed into an obsession that Krakauer couldn’t leave unfinished. Once you’re done reading it, I’d recommend the film adaptation too — it’s directed by Sean Penn, and the score is sung by Eddie Vedder. What’s not to love?

III. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: This is the only fiction title I’m including, but it’s earned a spot on the list. The history of climbing is intertwined with the Beatnik spirit of the 1960s, so it only feels right to include it if alongside so many climbing sagas.

Venture outside my friends, but stay local. Explore those spots you always skip over for bigger adventures. Crack open a good book and appreciate the stillness. Most importantly - stay healthy y’all.

(Ed. note - Does anyone else read this abbreviation and think "who's Ed?" No, just me? Ok. Anyway. Photos by Kira!)

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