Mountain Reads, part 2: ‘Sixty Meters to Anywhere’ by Brendan Leonard

Imagine sinking so deeply into your vices that your immediate future included jail time, and your long-term prospects would likely involve sickness, heartache and succumbing to your addictions.

Then imagine detailing it, warts and all, to anyone willing read about it.

That’s not the entire scope of Brendan Leonard’s memoir “Sixty Meters to Anywhere,” but it is the foundation of this unapologetically open account of how he spent his younger years, and the series of events that turned things around.

Leonard is best known for his popular outdoor blog semi-rad.com, and his debut book, “The New American Road Trip Mixtape” was a hit among the outdoorsy set. And for good reason: That was a book in which he bared his soul while colorfully retelling the journeys he took – literal and metaphorical – across the American West while living out of his car. Leonard’s prose is spare, and I mean that in a good way – absent are the clunky mechanisms that trap a lot of wordy writers, leaving behind sleek, fast-paced storytelling. (You can read a review of that book here.)

In “Sixty Meters to Anywhere,” Leonard’s toolbox is the same and with similar effect: You get a style of writing that is stripped down yet chock full of imagery as he describes his descent into substance abuse, hitting rock bottom, and then slowly climbing out of it during post-graduate studies, far from home and isolated from his family, friends and the demons of his Iowa hometown.

It’s no real spoiler to say that he discovered something to fill the void of the troublesome fun he found too often at the bottom of a bottle – the outdoors. Those familiar with his writing (aside from his blog, he has credits in Outside, Climbing and Backpacker magazines, among others) already know he’s an accomplished climber and outdoorsman. But how he got there is the essence of what lies behind “Sixty Meters.” Baby steps into the mountains, followed by a particularly fortuitous gift (the name of the book comes from the standard length of climbing rope he received), not only gave Leonard a new way to channel his passions, but also a path to fundamentally change who he was and avoid the sad story of what could have been.

Leonard doesn’t shy away from his shortcomings and doesn’t glamorize his accomplishments, and he’s careful to include the ways in which his actions hurt others. You find yourself rooting for him while also appreciating the people who stood by him over the years. It’s that sort of honesty that has won over his fans.

The outdoors has proven to be a haven for people who bottom-out in life, and Leonard’s story embodies that. I’m sure it has — and will — resonate with a lot of readers.

NOTE: This is the second in an occasional series called Mountain Reads. Part one can be read here.

Bob Doucette

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Fighting off your demons by being active

Mishka Shubaly, beat after a race and better off for it. (mishkashubaly.com photo)

I came across an interesting story that’s worth a look, especially if you’re the type that is battling unhealthy patterns in your own life.

The story opens with the tale of Mishka Shubaly, a writer, author, musician and an admitted recovering alcoholic. He took up running and found it to be an excellent substitute for drinking. He’s now an ultra runner and is clean and sober.

It’s a great personal story, but the piece I was reading goes on. It talks about laboratory tests on rats which showed animals exposed to addictive narcotics and other drugs were less likely to consume the drugs when they had access to an exercise wheel.

Exercise, it would seem, can be an excellent way to fight addictive urges.

I’ve never had an addiction to alcohol or drugs, but I can attest to the cathartic and even healing properties of exercise. Physically, the endorphins are just good for the mind and soul. And that’s on top of the physical benefits.

Mentally and emotionally, an exercise habit has similar properties. I know a lot of people who seem to be “addicted” to negativity. They focus on their problems. Or politics. Or whatever. They’re not “happy” unless they have somewhere to direct their anger, fear or sorrow.

Last week I was running trails and not feeling particularly strong or ambitious. So I slowed down, stopped and took a look around. High on a hill but still in the woods, I got a good glimpse of some beautiful countryside. I hadn’t really stopped there to look around before, but I’m glad I did. That was time well spent, and a positive mindset ensued.

Contrast that to the person who is reading about the latest political conspiracy, dire prediction or other piece of bad news on the Internet. Or the person compelled to slam down another shot or take another hit.

Addictions don’t all have to be about substances. But escaping them can, at least in part, be found in being active.

I’m curious to see how these studies evolve. And if we’ll see more stories similar to that of Mishka Shubaly.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088