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Check It Out: Take a hike — but read a book first

The cookies and cakes have been consumed, the New Year’s resolutions are being worked on, and you are ready to try a new adventure. Whether you plan to don a pack or enjoy the scenery from your favorite reading spot, here are some helpful reads.

“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed details the author’s solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada, following her personal challenges. She started out in the Mojave Desert, equipped with boots that were too small and a backpack filled with redundant items. Along the trail, Strayed adapted to the conditions and isolation while also processing the death of her beloved mother and her recent divorce.

She writes in a raw, open manner as she deftly describes the hike and the personal challenges. This book was adapted into a feature film starring Reese Witherspoon as Strayed.

“I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail” by Gail Storey recounts hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with her husband. This lighthearted yet heartfelt memoir discusses their adventures and misadventures, deepening marriage and reflections on being irrevocably changed by life on the trail.


She was a novice hiker, while he was an experienced outdoorsman. Removed from their usual routines and living outside in the wilderness for months exposed hidden intricacies in their relationship. She details the beauty and variety of scenery they experience, from lava fields to the High Sierra.

“The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind — and Almost Found Myself — on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Dan White takes a different approach to describe his experience on the trail. He is ill-prepared for the hike with his girlfriend and chronicles their misadventures and challenges. Little time is spent discussing the natural conditions and beauty due to the travails they face. This humorous read may not inspire you to start a hike, but it will keep you engaged in the experience.

“A Blistered Kind of Love: One Couple’s Trial by Trail” by Angela Ballard and Duffy Ballard details the couple’s highs and lows on the trail as they discover how small a tent can be and how to rely on one another. Told from both viewpoints, the book describes the scenery and inner transformations that took place on their hike.

“Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams: Walking America’s Pacific Northwest Trail” by Chris Townsend highlights the beauty of the Pacific Northwest Trail, which runs from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. Townsend, an experienced hiker, treks alone and discusses the jarring transition back to civilization. Along the way, he includes descriptions of the undeveloped parts of the trail, the sheer ruggedness of the landscape and the depressing aspects of his hike. The book contains color photos and maps from his adventure.


“A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” by Bill Bryson is a must-read for armchair and actual hikers alike. When the “middle-aged cupcake” Bryson sets his mind to hike with a friend from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail, he discovers a world unto itself.

He discusses hiking culture, such as entry and exit points off the trail, lodging and the role of the National Park Service. They skip sections of the trail in order to maximize their experience in the limited time they had. The duo reunites to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness in Maine toward the end of the book.

If you are now inspired to set out on an adventure, consider the following trail guides.

“Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California: From the Mexican Border to Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows” and “Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California: From Tuolumne Meadows to the Oregon Border” by Jeffrey Schaffer can help you plan the particulars of hiking the renowned trail. The author discusses trail conditions, seasons and wildlife considerations, among other details.

“AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” by David Miller functions as a travel guide to plan a hike as well as a memoir of hiking the famed trail. He provides insights and expertise on its various legs.

For an easier and local experience, consider “Best Easy Day Hikes, Orange County” by Randy Vogel. This guide features concise maps and easy-to-use directions on hiking 24 trails throughout the county. Great for novices or families with small children, this guide provides access to the natural beauty of our region.

Please visit the Newport Beach Public Library to peruse these titles and other hiking guides to plan your adventure.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.