They were just 18, dead-broke and trying to look after a one-year-old baby on the road. No home. No cash. No real plans other than to escape the urban bustle they were used to.
I interviewed this smiling couple about five years ago when I was still a newspaper reporter. My article was about rising poverty in a remote island community. When I asked the couple why they didn’t just settle down, the scruff-faced young dad was quick to answer.
“Chris McCandless.” He said and then just looked at me and smiled, as if those two words were all he needed to say.
I guess, in a way, they were.
Being a Jon Krakauer fan, I knew the story of McCandless (AKA Alexander Supertramp) well. It’s a tragic tale of a guy who died while seeking out a more simple life. Krakauer’s book Into The Wild, which detailed the life of ‘Alexander Supertramp,’ was a hit. So was the Sean Penn movie that followed in 2007.
Although I didn’t agree with what these kids were doing, I understood their motivation. The story of McCandless had inspired them to seek out adventure at any cost; to shed what society expected them to do.
Our interview went pretty well. Then just as I was about to leave, I asked them if they carried a copy of the book Into the Wild book with them on their travels. They both looked puzzled and said almost in unison: ‘It was a book?’
Adventure books are still better than movies
Even if you’re more inclined to watch a flick than fire up the Kindle, great stories about the wilderness can inspire you to change your life. And despite Hollywood’s best efforts, the most impactful stories are still found in books.
I’ve picked the brains of a couple of veteran outdoor explorers I respect to help me compile this list of five of the best outdoor adventure books (FYI: there are affiliate links below). You’ll also find a free ebook (not included in the best 5 list) designed to help you discover the trails less traveled. Check ’em out and let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
Fed up with what he sees as a shallow upper-middle class existence, Chris McCandless gives away his college fund of $25,000 to Oxfam and starts traveling. He eventually gets to Alaska and sets off into the remote wilderness (with little outdoor experience) in winter. You already know it doesn’t end well.
Bruce Chatwin serves up a combination of fascinating history and unforgettable descriptions in this 1977 classic. Chatwin treks through “the uttermost part of the earth” in search of the descendants of Welsh immigrants and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy. This is a must-read for any aspiring travel writer.
A more recent outdoor adventure book, Cheryl Strayed recalls her amazing solo trek of the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild. At just 22 years old, after her mother’s death, Strayed makes the decision to hike more than 1,000 miles of the PCT alone. She had no outdoor experience, but an incredible amount of willpower and courage. This is a must-read for anyone gearing up for a major challenge.
This book by Keith Tryck takes you on a different kind of adventure. It’s a gripping story about a guy who wants to relive his pioneer grandfather’s route to the Yukon and Alaska back in the gold rush days. He goes straight-up old school, cobbling together a raft with four of his pals and hitting the river. This is a must-read for those who love adventuring with friends.
Much like Into the Wild, Diary of a Wilderness Dweller by Chris Cjakowski is about finding freedom within nature. This inspiring book recalls the story of a woman intent on carving her own guiding business out of a small plot of land in the remote backcountry of B.C., Canada. This is her account of building three log cabins, an eco-tourism business and a life high in the Coast Range mountains. This book is a must-read for anyone who dreams of doing the impossible.
Almost all the best outdoor adventure books are set in the remote wilderness; places that are either tough to find or grueling to get to. A book about hiking the Inca Trail with 500 tourists isn’t all that thrilling.
So to help you find a trek worth writing about, I’ve put together this little 24-page PDF guide called ’23 Awesome Treks That Won’t Stay Hidden for Long.’
The best part is I’m giving this ebook away to everyone who subscribes to this blog. Just click here to get your free guide.