I enjoyed Colin Fletcher’s Complete Walker, so figured I’d give this a whirl. By now I’m used to the faint whiffs of sexist writing (also on display here) but I’m a sucker for books about wandering on foot.
The journey takes place in the spring of 1964 over a two month period with snow storms, boiling temperatures, obsessive planning about water sources, contemplating nature, dissolving into the silence and solitude. He’s obsessed with the idea of being the first person to walk the length of the canyon (completely disregarding native people and previous explorers). The idea comes to him after he reads an article by Harvey Butchart who had spent the previous 17 years on a series of 3 and 4-day trips making his way around the National Park. There was one section that Butchart had not yet accomplished and Colin pouts that Butchart tackles that remaining bit while Colin’s on the trail, beating him to the punch. Colin gets his revenge by describing him as a happy and devoted schizophrenic who teaches math. But there are several whiny passages where he bemoans being the second person to pass through a certain passageway, or boasts about being the first without evidence.
I shuddered to read about him tossing his trash into the river as he progressed, especially one passage where he devotes a page and a half to describing the arc of the bottle as it crested over the water, how it exploded on the water. And what did he do with all those empty food canisters and parachutes from food drops? Yet he gives us a grim tsk-tsk when he spots a half eaten orange bobbing near civilization.
Once again, he’s tromping along naked as a jaybird, “freed from the pressure of haste, the tyranny of film, and now the restraint of clothes…” He does seem to slip back into his togs when he dips into society at the Phantom Ranch, where he sneers at the “urbane and attractive blonde from New York” who said in a hushed voice that ‘This is really the end of the line, isn’t it?” whereas for him, he’d been living weeks without any modern comforts.
I didn’t realize there were two commercial airplanes that collided over the Canyon in 1956. The wreckage was there when he clomped through, but he was angry to see helicopters of tourists checking them out.
“If the dream you have dreamed can survive untarnished through a year of doubt and discouragement and frustration and all the drawn-out detail of research and planning and preparation, then you can safely assume that you want to go through with the project.”