Books: ‘The New American Road Trip Mixtape,’ by Brendan Leonard

roadtripcover

“What is a life?”

That’s the central question driving Brendan Leonard’s first book, “The New American Road Trip Mixtape,” an honest and sometimes raw look at the forces that propelled him out of what he thought would be a comfortable urban existence into something much more untraditional – that of full-time life on the road, working, travelling and bunking down in his car as he piled on the miles across the American West.

You may know Leonard from his semi-rad.com website, posts on the Adventure Journal or articles written for a number of outdoor magazines. In his book, he explains how the latest chapter of his life was born and where it’s taking him.

Like I said, Leonard is quite frank about his past: A failed marriage, followed by what he’d hoped was a better relationship with a woman whose interests matched his. But when that ended, he found a need to clear his head on the road.

Leonard works through the pain of the breakup as well as the observations and lessons he learns visiting friends scattered across the West while also taking us back to his younger years, the time when he became what he is now – a writer, traveler and climber.

The book is loaded with anecdotes of climbing adventures in the grand peaks of the Rockies, but is also takes us to lonelier moments where it’s just him, alone with his thoughts as he tries to get some sleep in the cramped back-end of a Subaru.

The highs and lows of his journeys are pretty well summed up when he writes, “But a true pilgrimage has to have some struggle, right? If there was no pain or suffering on the way there, was there meaning at the end?”

That resonates deeply with anyone connected to the outdoor community – the relishing of the sufferfest, working out your demons on hard treks, spicy routes or long journeys. Interestingly, Leonard surprises himself that the answer to his central question – “What is a life” – is simultaneously found in his observations of his closest friends as well as the realization that he doesn’t necessarily need to emulate them to find what he’s looking for.

Leonard’s storytelling is solid, and the indictments against many of the trappings of modern living are sharp and, honestly, very revealing.

The book is fast read, and with the weather warming up in time for all those dreamed-about road trips, it just might be the type of thing to get you going. You can get it in print for $9.62 on Amazon or on e-reader for $7.99 on Kindle and Nook.

Bob Doucette

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The Weekly Stoke: Surviving an avalanche, how to spot a bad partner, father-son adventuring and a new outdoorsy book

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We’re just a few days away from Christmas, and my guess is a lot of you have some time off to spend with family or just relax. My hope is that you’ll find some time to ski, board, snowshoe, hike, climb, run, bike, race or whatever it is you do outside while you’re off. Use your time to the fullest!

All that said, here’s an abbreviated version of the Weekly Stoke…

Not long ago, a video started making the rounds about a backcountry skier who triggered an avalanche in Utah. The slide partially buried her, despite her avy airbags deploying. That skier, Amie Engerbretson, tells her story, and does so in a detailed and humble way.

That said, stuff happens. But are there steps you can take to make sure you’re not out with bad skiing or mountaineering partners? This list shows some of the red flags you need to be looking for.

Want to see a great trip report? And the ultimate outdoor father-son adventure? Read this one from Summitpost. Beats Disneyland any day.

Finally, if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for that outdoorsy, road-trip-loving friend or family member, read this excerpt from Brendan Leonard’s new book. The guy can write, and he’s led a pretty interesting life on the road.

Have a great weekend, and Merry Christmas!

Books: ‘The Will to Climb’ by Ed Viesturs

If you’ve followed the mountaineering career of Ed Viesturs at all, you’d know a couple of things: He’s been as successful in the Himalayas as just about anyone else alive, and he has achieved his reputation with a purist style and utmost regard for safety.

So for Viesturs to come back to Annapurna a third time after being turned back twice by the world’s deadliest mountain, you know that he is also a very driven man.

That’s’ the conflict posed in Viesturs’ third book, “The Will to Climb,” which examines his two failed attempts to summit Annapurna as well as his third and ultimately triumphant climb that made him the first American to bag all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks.

True to form from his previous books, Viesturs mixes his own experiences on the mountain with those from mountaineering’s past. The lessons learned from Annapurna echo from its history right through to his own observations while being on the slopes of this massive and incredibly dangerous peak.

Annapurna is not the highest, nor is it considered the technically most difficult of the Himalayan peaks, but it has a track record of being prone to avalanches and bad weather that take the lives of climbers at higher rates than even K2: One out of every three climbers who summit Annapurna die.

Viesturs does a great job looking through archival accounts of early ascents of the mountain — unbelievably, this peak was the first of the 8,000ers to be successfully climbed — while also taking a look at other climbs that were sometimes triumphant while other times tragic. He also dives into the personalities of those who dared to challenge the mountain, be they his friends and teammates or the more storied figures of Himalayan mountaineering royalty.

Like his book on K2, it’s more history than personal. But with “The Will to Climb,” Viesturs finds his voice a little better, and the storytelling is a little richer. I think part of that might have something to do with the fact that his love of mountaineering was born by reading the book “Annapurna,” which describes the harrowing tale of the French team that first climbed it. It also was the mountain that caused him the greatest trouble, planted the most doubt and scared him the most. By summiting it in 2005, he put a major stamp on his career and personal life.

The one common theme with all of his books, however, goes back to his mantra: Getting to the top is optional, getting back down is mandatory. The caution he describes in his adventures has often led to him turning back within sight of several summits, but he always came home safe, ready to return for another crack at the mountain.

And therein lies his key message of mountaineering, that of measuring risk and tackling a challenge while being as safe as possible. If only all climbers would heed this, there would be far fewer accidents and deaths not only in the Himalaya, but on mountains everywhere.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

 

Book review: ‘The Ledge’ by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan

It’s probably best that most of us never have to be tested the way Jim Davidson was in late June of 1992.

Davidson was downclimbing Mount Rainier with his climbing buddy and friend Mike Price after a successful climb of the peak’s Liberty Ridge. But just a few hundred yards away from leaving a tricky glacier, a snowbridge underneath Davidson’s feet collapsed, exposing a gaping crevasse that opened up and swallowed both of them.

Davidson found himself more than 80 feet below the place where the snowbridge collapsed, perched on a tiny ledge that was the only thing stopping both of them from plummeting deeper inside the glacial  fissure and into a sure death.

Price was fatally injured and incapacitated. Davidson, the junior climber of the two, was also hurt and faced with having to undertake the toughest ice climb of his life with a spare amount of gear and an overabundance of fear and sorrow that threatened to immobilize him in what would be the toughest test of his life.

Davidson’s book “The Ledge” chronicles this fight for survival as well as how he dealt with the survivor’s guilt that followed. It’s a crisp, fast-paced read that covers a lot of ground, detailing how he came to be a climber, his friend’s impressive climbing history and the intimate details of how he managed to self-rescue in the most impossible of situations.

Davidson, who co-wrote “The Ledge” with journalist Kevin Vaughan, paces the book well while going back into his past experiences and how they helped him find the path and the will to save his own life and help rescue crews recover his friend’s body.

This is a terribly honest reading. Davidson doesn’t shy away from laying bare the thoughts and emotions he went through. He also spends a good amount of time describing how he dealt with the accident’s aftermath. That makes this more than just a story of adventure and survival. It almost operates as how-to for people who have to confront a disaster in which you survived, but someone you cared for did not. Interestingly, he pays homage to another story of wilderness survival, “Into the Void,” which he credits to helping him muster the mental strength to climb a vertical to overhanging icewall with very little gear and no one around to assist.

Climbers and mountaineers have, interestingly enough, been known to become good writers. “The Ledge” fits that mold, giving the reader great visual detail and a thorough account of what the author was thinking and feeling. Pick it up, and add it to your library.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088