Book reviews from the pages of Footnotes
The Sun Is a Compass A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds
By Caroline Van Hemert. Little, Brown Spark, 2019
Book review by Kathy Kelly-Borowski
If you like stories of adventures, have an interest in birds, paddling or the Arctic this book is worth reading. Caroline holds a PhD in biology, and her special expertise is birds. Her husband and travel companion, Pat Farrell, builds homes.
In their early thirties, the couple set out on an expedition of 4,000 miles from the Pacific rainforest to the Arctic coast.
“No roads, no trails, and no motors. We would travel by foot, on skis, in rowboats, rafts, and canoes. We would use only our own muscles to carry us through some of the wildest places left on earth.”
For 176 days, they traveled from Bellingham, Washington to Kotzebue, Alaska. Caroline and Pat spent hundreds of hours in a small tent, with no doors, no privacy and no facilities. They encountered mosquitoes, mountain goats, moose, bear, sea lions, whales, caribou and countless species of birds. They were tired, hungry, and hurting most of the trip, but they had to travel twenty plus miles a day to complete the trek in six months. In the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they learned to trust the caribou instincts.
“And so, crossing this river has become necessary, in the way that it’s necessary to kiss a lover before leaving, to pause and look up when the moon is rising. Our bodies know what is essential and what is not.”
Before starting this adventure on March 17, 2012, the couple had climbed, skied, paddled, and explored together for more than 10 years. They spent a year planning this backcountry expedition. During this time, Pat was busy building the canoes they used at the start of their trip. Caroline was planning and packing their food. By the time they started in Washington, time had run out and the boats had not touched water and they had not had a chance to operate them.
Weather was an issue for much of the trip: snow, strong winds and rain. Due to a route change they were low on food and the weather caused a delay of their only air resupply. When it finally arrived and they moved on, they experienced a view of the western Arctic caribou herd migration. This almost made being stuck waiting for their needed food worthwhile. On September 9, the duo completed what had been a dream for years.
As people find trail magic along the Appalachian and other long distances trails, Caroline and Pat found locals who were willing to help them out with knowledge of the area, equipment, lodging and food. Learning that people are kind was the most valuable lesson I learned when I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Kindness was found in the people I travelled with and that of complete strangers.
For route information and pictures from the trip: https://carolineandpat.wordpress.com/home/trip-overview/
Book website: https://www.carolinevanhemert.com/book
Kathy Kelly-Borowski is a long-distance hiker completing the Appalachian, Long Trail, John Muir and Wonderland Trails. She has hiked in the Canadian Rockies, did a section of the Colorado Trail, walked Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu in Peru along with the Milford and Routeburn Tracks in New Zealand. Kathy has visited Alaska, Scotland, Slovenia, Antarctica and Hokkaido, Japan.
The Unlikely Thru-Hiker An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo
Published by AMC Books, 2020
Review by Kathy Kelly-Borowski
Since finishing the Appalachian Trail in 1989, I have read many books on Appalachian Trail hikes. Just some of them include Walking with Spring, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, A Walk for Sunshine, A Walk in the Woods, Just Passin’ Thru, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail and The Barefoot Sisters Southbound.
It would be no surprise to anyone that I would pick up The Unlikely Thru-Hiker, especially because of its epic cover.
This is the story of Derick’s thru-hike in 2012. What makes Derick an unlikely thru-hiker? Derick is of Puerto Rican and African American heritage, placing him in a distinct minority among thru-hikers. He grew up in New York City, never camping or taking a hike before stepping on the AT.
On March 19, Derick started the Amicalola approach trail, a strenuous 7.8 miles to Springer Mountain, the Southern terminus of the AT. (When I started my AT hike I opted to start at the Springer Mountain parking area and walked one mile south to the trailhead to avoid the approach trail.)
A few days into the hike, Derick is given his trail name ”Mr. Fabulous” because on the trail, as at home, he liked “to stay groomed, fresh and well dressed”.
Mr. Fabulous was the 438th hiker to start the season. He was given the number 438 by the ranger at Katahdin Steam Campground six months later signifying the 438th hiker to finish the trail that season on September 17.
He started his day by touching a white blaze, “showing gratitude and respect for the markers that guided” him through the wilderness.
Mr. Fabulous was true to his thru-hike by hiking every mile of the trail with his backpack and hiking poles. Most hikers including me leave their backpack and poles at the ranger station before the last 5.2 miles to the northern terminus of the trail.
“Free food and showers is definitely the way to a thru-hiker’s heart” is what Derick says about the hiker feed given by the First Baptist Church in Damascus, VA. How true is this statement?
While hiking in PA, Derick gets a text message from his hiking partner for the day, “Can you drown in rocks? Because there is an ocean of them before me!”
Can anyone relate to this? Mr. Fabulous received advice from a guy he meets attending Trail Days in Damascus; “Be kind to all, don’t take your friends for granted, and be memorable.” This is great advice for all of us especially during the current lock down.
This book is well written and entertaining. I had a hard time putting it down. It is a series of short trail stories instead of covering every state he walked through.
Derick remained positive during his trek north. He signed the shelter journals with the phrase “Peace, Love & All That Good Stuff.”
The question the book left me with: Did Mr. Fabulous ever see a moose?
Kathy Kelly-Borowski has led DV Chapter trips for more than three decades. She thru-hiked the AT in 1989. You can read more of her reviews and many other book reviews at amcdv.org/books.html.
You can purchase this book and others and get a member discount at amcstore.outdoors.org/books-maps
The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors James Edward Mills, Mountaineers Books, 256 pages 2014. Paperback.
Review by Susan Weida original article
As our country grows to be increasingly multi-cultural, it is vital that people of diverse racial and cultural groups develop a passion and love for the outdoors in order to protect and advocate for preservation of our wild places.
The Adventure Gap provides an excellent introduction into what is needed to make this a reality. It does this by centering on a compelling story about the first all African-American summit expedition on Denali, Alaska in 2013. Once you engage in the story of these climbers and their personal stories you will find it hard to stop reading.
The author, James Mills, makes a case for the vital role of men- tors to introduce young people of color to the outdoors and help them see themselves as part of this world. The world of outdoor adventure, especially in high skill, high risk areas such as mountain climbing has been represented in the media as a white male’s domain.
Often the history of people of color who did lead in the outdoors has been ignored and forgotten. While taking you step by step with the team through their preparation and climb of Denali, Mills interweaves the background stories of the team members. Although team members have accomplished significant success in both professional areas and in their avocation of climbing, most have faced a variety of life challenges.
Mills draws the line between how an outdoor mentor made a difference in their lives and how they are committing themselves to
mentoring the next generation to connect with the outdoors.
Mills also weaves into his narrative some of the historical role models for the team- the role of the Buffalo Sol- diers in the early days of our National Park system, Charles Crenchaw who was the first African American to summit Denali, and Matthew Henson who reached the North Pole with Admiral Robert Peary. He also tells a touching story about middle school climbing champion Kai Lightner who in turn was being inspired by Expedition Denali.
There were two other additional points of interest for me in this book. One was the story of the author who had a passion to be part of Expedition Denali but was unable to make the ‘cut’ due to physical limitations. Mills went on to be a huge part of the accomplishments of the group by writing their story. The second is the acknowledgment that Mills gives to Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, at that time the Diversity and Inclusion Manager for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), for conceiving Expedition Denali. Aparna is part of the consulting team who is guiding the AMC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan, and I had the opportunity to participate in training with her in 2017.
I would recommend this book as a way to educate yourself about the value of diversity in the outdoors while enjoying an exciting tale of adventure and achievement.
Everything you need to plan a backpack trip in our area
AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic: A Guide to 30 of the Best Multiday Trips from New York to Virginia, by Michael R. Martin Paperback
Review by Kathy Kelly-Borowski original article
Michael Martin wrote a feature article Hills, Hollows, and Beyond that appeared in the May/June issue of AMC Outdoors. Did you happen to see or read it? Michael wrote about the Susquehannock Trail located in North Central PA. This is just one of the trails included in his Best Backpacking book.
Best Backpacking includes just about everything a beginner to experienced backpacker would need for planning one of the trips listed in the book. A map shows the location of each trip and a planner contains location, difficulty, distance, elevation, estimated time, type of trip, if a fee is required, if dogs are permitted, ample water supply available, trips by theme (i.e. waterfalls, big views), and listing by State. Michael gave each trip what he calls “a fun and fanciful title." These titles actually had me looking ahead to see what he named trails I had hiked. Some of my favorites: I Like Big Ridges and I Cannot Lie, (Don’t) Get Lost!, Carrying Water, and Hitting the High Notes.
Michael includes a section on where you should go hiking based on certain attributes about the areas, what you will see, what season it is or spending time with limited crowds. He also gives tips for staying safe and getting equipped for your trip. Leave No Trace guidelines are also included.
Each trail's header includes the following: title, whether you may bring man’s best friend on the trip, water availability, are there usage fees, is camping permitted, location, trip highlights, distance, total elevation gain/loss, length of trip, difficulty, recommended maps and other resources. The description includes: over- view of hike, options for overnight, getting to the trailhead, hike description, other hike options, amenities nearby, and additional information about the trail. The author does include latitude and longitude coordinates in the hike description for reference, plus a trail map
The book is broken into trips by state: Virginia (7), West Virginia (5), Pennsylvania (6), New York (5), Maryland (4), New Jersey and Delaware (3). The author includes backpacks for all levels including a difficulty level: Easy, Moderate, Challenging, Strenuous, and Epic. Epic is defined as “Extended adventures with considerable and constant elevation gain and loss, often in remote regions on challenging trails."
After reading this definition, I immediately turned to “Devil’s Path”, Trip #20. I’ve never hiked this trail, but I was always told it was extremely challenging. I was surprised that the trip was only rated “strenuous." Curious, I had to find one of the “epic” trails that I had backpacked. The Susquehannock Trail was the only one that I completed. Re-reading the authors explanation of the difficulty of the Susquehannock Trail, I have to agree. We did not come across one view point, but we did walk countless ups and downs with considerable and constant elevation gain and loss. We had a stop in Cross Fork that we will never forget.
When we arrived in the small town we found they were preparing for their annual Rattlesnake Roundup. People were camped near the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
office. The ranger on duty said we could find a spot and set up our tents. While at the small store buying ice cream a nasty storm blew into the area. The storm was so bad; we were actually holding our tent down. When the storm blew through, we got out of the tent to find a tree had come down on one of the campers, cutting it and a vehicle parked near it in half. Thank goodness no one was hurt. We spent most of the evening watching as the tree was removed. The owner of the camper came over to us and said at one point during the storm he was feeling really sorry for us being out in the weather in our small tent.
This book is a nice addition to my backpacking reference books. I have been backpacking for many years, but I still picked up tips from Michael in his gear section. After reading this guide there are trails that I have added to my list of those I would like to hike someday. Thank You, Michael.
AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia Four-Season Guide to 50 of the Best Trails in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, Susan Charkes, AMC Books, 2010
Review by Kathy Kelly-Borowski original article
Looking for new hikes, hikes that you can reach by public transportation, hikes you can take with your children or dog? If you would like learn more about berries, birds, meadows, the PA Highlands, spiders, trees, wildflowers, or frogs? This is the book for you.
Susan has grouped the trails listed in the book into three regions: central and southern New Jersey (10 hikes); the Lehigh Valley (14 hikes); and southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware (26 hikes).
She lists hikes, many well known trails and AMC-DV favorites: Appalachian Trail, Fairmount Park, French Creek State Park, Nockamixon State Park, Peace Valley Nature Center, Perkiomen Trail, Ridley Creek State Park, Valley Forge National Park, and Wissahickon Valley Park.
Other not so familiar trails are listed like Clarence Schock Memorial Park, Money Rocks Park, and Neversink Mountain Preserve.
The book offers an “At-a-Glance” chart listing the hike, the page where the hike is described, its location, difficulty, distance and elevation gain, estimated time, fee, whether the hike is good for children, dogs are allowed, good for cross country skiing or snowshoeing, if you can get to it by public transportation, and lists trip highlights.
Each individual trip lists location, difficulty, distance, elevation gain, estimated time, maps, brief description of the walk, detailed directions including GPS coordinates, trail description, small map showing the route. After each trail description is a paragraph listing helpful additional information: park office hours, fees, location of restrooms, address, phone numbers and websites.
Dispersed throughout the book are 17 short nature essays covering topics such as bird migration, deer ecology and Wissahickon schist. These essays will certainly open your eyes to your surroundings on your next hike. ob, one of the many hikes in the book.
Mountains of the Heart: A Natural History of the Appalachians
20th Anniversary Edition By Scott Weidensaul
Review by Eric Pavlak original article
A gunshot and splash of blood on a snowy November day in north-central Pennsylvania in 1867 marked the end of the last of the wapiti, the native elk of the Appalachians. A hundred years later, the majestic bald eagle was all but gone.
Today, the eagles are back, thanks to conservation efforts and a ban on the poison that was killing them. A few western elk have now repopulated a tiny part of their former vast range. Each spring, the trout lilies and May apples still sprout. The land is once again verdant green, though men still rip coal from the earth, dump waste into streams and pump toxic fluids into deep bore holes to extract natural gas. Resplendent with nature’s beauty, rich with trees and water, these mountains have generated great wealth and great poverty. And every year, the snows refresh, the waters flow and the land regenerates.
Once towering to the heights of the Alps and the Rockies, the now-eroded and rounded Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest major mountain chains on earth. Extending from north-central Alabama to Belle Isle, off the northern tip of Newfoundland, they are the defining topological feature of eastern North America. They hold vast natural diversity and wonders, and have shaped much of the history of our nation and our continent.
Reading Scott Weidensaul’s Mountains of the Heart is like many fascinating days walking with an eloquent naturalist, and many evenings with a knowledgeable and genial historian.
Weidensaul takes us not just into the woods of these old hills, but along the creeks and rivers, and the flyways of birds and butterflies. He tells of those settled here and those who’s lives and land the settlers took.
This book was originally published 20 years ago. This is a newly updated edition, with a must-read introduction that includes the latest environmental insults our species is hurling at our mountains, and the conservation efforts to minimize the damage.
An author writing on a topic so vast as a mountain range obviously has to be selective. Your favorite topic might not be included. I was hoping for some mention of the extraordinary story of the American eel. I didn’t find it, but instead learned of the extensive travels of botanists John (father) and William Bartram in the mid-1700s.
Many nature writers are boring to me, lacking the poetry of a Wordsworth or the insight of a Thoreau. Unlike them, Weidensaul has produced a book that is fun to read. It is filled with well-researched information. Learn more about our loss of the great chestnuts, the once great shad runs, vanished bison. Celebrate the resurgence of egrets and ospreys. Learn about a multitude of things you have walked past and never noticed. Celebrate our beloved mountains.
About the Author: Scott Weidensaul is a Pennsylvania native and current resident, who began his writing career with the Pottsville Republican, first as a columnist, than as a full-time reporter. He left that 10-year stint to become a freelance nature writer, with long-running columns in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News. He has written more than two dozen books, including Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize. He is contributing editor for Audubon magazine and writes for, Bird Watcher’s Digest and National Wildlife.
He is an active field researcher studying bird migration, and is one for the few licensed hummingbird banders in the country. Owls are the focus of much of his efforts, and he directs the ornithology program at the Audubon Society’s Hog Island camp off the coast of Maine.
No Regrets, No Apologies by Michael C. Sinclair, MD CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 13, 2014)
World-traveling mountaineering surgeon now hikes with AMC-DV and works with Doctors Without Borders
Review by Lennie Steinmetz original article
Michael Sinclair is a world class mountaineer who has summited Everest, a cardiac surgeon from the Lehigh Valley who has performed more than 4,000 open heart surgeries, a doctor who now travels the world working for Doctors Without Borders, and a member of the DV Chapter of AMC. He recently published an autobiography titled No Regrets, No Apologies which is a most interesting read.
Sinclair was raised in a small town in northern California where athletic prowess was the sole measure of male worth. Inept in all sports, he had a miserable childhood and adolescence. In college he became a nose-to-the-grindstone student and graduated with honors. He completed medical school and went on to become a successful cardiac surgeon. In his late thirties, he was determined to revisit the issue of his apparent incompetence as an athlete. First he ran marathons. Then he began climbing mountains. Mountaineering became a committing avocation which rivaled heart surgery for his attention.”
He launched his climbing career by contacting Rick Wilcox’s climb-
ing school and guide service in New Hampshire. He took private climb-
ing lessons there, then moved on to tackle big mountains like Aconcagua
in South America, Mount Vinson and Mount McKinley in Alaska, and
Mount Everest, to name a few. Some trips were more successful than
others, but his tales about all of them are fascinating. There is a realism
and honesty in his descriptions that is refreshing after reading some climbing books whose only goal seems to be to burnish the image of the climber himself.
After retiring from climbing big mountains, Sinclair continued to do rock climbing closer to home. Unfortunately, one of these trips led to his becoming the poster child for the Good Shepherd Home and Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown. A climbing accident in Delaware Water Gap left him with a collapsed lung, broken ribs, multiple fractures to his back and a broken hip socket. His long and painful, but ultimately successful, recovery led to his being featured on billboards throughout the Lehigh Valley extolling the virtues of Good Shepherd.
He has since gone on to cycle across America, do numerous backcountry ski trips throughout the US and Canada, and join AMC-DV for hiking and skiing adventures. He has also spends much of his time working for Doctors Without Borders with his wife Phyllis. They have taken part in over a dozen international missions, most lasting about six weeks, in places like Libya and South Sudan. The Allentown Morning Call recently ran a lengthy article about Sinclair and his humanitarian efforts, which can be found here. No Regrets, No Apologies is available on line.
Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac
An extensive article by Susan Charkes on this classic.
The Road That Teaches: Lessons in Transformation through Travel
by Valerie Brown, QuakerBridge Media, 151 PP. Paper $14.95
Review by Priscilla Estes original article
“As a traveler, I arrive not once, but again and again.”
Long-time Del Val member Valerie Brown carries you effort- lessly in her backpack through Spain, Scotland, Japan, New Zea- land and India, using the road to answer every hiker’s question: Why do we do it? Why do we travel by foot, an intimate and measured conveyance, enduring privation, fatigue and suboptimum conditions?
A seasoned seeker and unique blend of Buddhist and Quaker, Brown hikes to find herself; to test her commitment; to learn to let go of anger, frustration and dis- appointment; to ease her lifelong battle with impatience and resis- tance; and to embrace acceptance.
Travel’s surprises, hardships and joys peel both a physical and spiritual onion for Brown. She began her first major pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago in Spain, doubting her physical endurance, apprehensive of her traveling companions, and frightened that her “fragile dream of finding true meaning from this journey would go unrealized.”
Clear and descriptive language lets us smell the mud and see the butterflies, learn the history of St. James, taste the figs and anchovies, and feel the blessed relief of unbooted feet as Brown struggles to live in the moment and realizes that her “inner empha- sis on speed is about fear.”
Each chapter describes a pilgrimage that brings her closer to her Buddhist and Quaker beliefs. A pre-dawn mud walk on the banks of the Ganges sends a rush of electricity “through the bottom of my feet to the top of my head,” helping ignite the Light Within, a central tenant of Buddhism and Quakerism.
On a trip to Celtic Iona, an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scot- land, Brown found courage to throw off her need for financial security and align with her heart, balancing desire for intimacy with her fierce independence.
The physical details of travel and cultural history illuminate a wealth of personal and spiritual insights. Nude group baths in Japan break down insecurities; a tea ceremony cultivates aware- ness and openheartedness; honoring the goddess Kannon brings sadness for the choice of career over motherhood.
Chapters begin with a quote and “Lesson” and end with “Quaker Queries for Reflection” and a “Practice Lesson,” creating both prayer book and guide book. Helpful appendices share training tips, packing lists and travel resources.
Travel, for Brown, is a way to heal and grow, to make peace with the head and the heart, and to discover the grace of love. This book is honest, educational and inspirational — handy qualities for any pilgrimage.
Also check out our section on paddling books.
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