Monday, June 30, 2008

Total chaos (but it worked out at the last minute)

Yesterday, I somehow made it into Anaheim in time for the First Time Author's Panel at the ALA, in spite of a cancelled flight (mechanical failure), a delayed rescheduled flight (horrible air quality), and two missing pilots (they finally rounded up a couple of them somewhere.) On top of everything else, I got a ride from someone whose GPS system went haywire, so we ended up circling the convention center again and again and again and again. As if this weren't enough, someone sent all my luggage to LAX by mistake, which meant that I was the only one at the convention who was dressed like a total slob. In spite of it all, I arrived at the panel in time to deliver my presentation, and it went very well. Next stop is Palos Verdes.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Upcoming Cactus-related events

I am about to head down to Southern California for more readings (and I'm bringing a newly purchased "wicked salamander'' rubber stamp just for the occasion.)

Here is the list.

June 29, 2008
ALA Convention

1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
"First Author, First Book" panel discussion.Anaheim Convention Center, Room 203 A
Authors include Kaya McLaren (Church of the Dog, Penguin), Scott Douglas (Quiet, Please, Perseus Books), Mark Sarvas (Harry, Revised, Bloomsbury USA), Janelle Brown (All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, Spiegel & Grau), and Anya Ulinich (Petropolis, Penguin). Then I will sign and stamp books at the HarperPerennial booth from 4 to 5. At the convention, you will have many book-stamping options: rainbow-colored ticks, Opuntia cactus, yucca, range cow skull, coiled rattlesnake and, at long last, salamander.

June 30th, 2008
2-2:30 p.m., book reading and signing.
ALA Convention,
Anaheim Convention Center. This will be part of "LIVE! @ "Your Library Reading Stage'' at the center (just look for the signs).

July 1, 2008
2 p.m.
Malaga Cove Library
Palos Verdes Estates, CA.(PV is my hometown. This was my childhood haunt and it's one of the most beautiful libraries I've ever seen.)
July 02, 2008
7:30 PM
Discussion and Signing
3700 Torrance Blvd
Torrance, CA 90503
(a sort of homecoming. I was born in this town at Little Company of Mary Hospital.)

Then I will be back in the Bay Area for a while:

July 12, 2008
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA 94925

July 15, 2008
581 Market ST
San Francisco, CA 94105
*Joint Event with Vincent Carrella, author of "Serpent Box.''

There will be more events a bit later on in the summer (and more in the early fall, too.)

Mrs. Dalloway's and Anaheim

Thank you to Mrs. Dalloway's for a thoroughly enjoyable evening in Berkeley yesterday. (Full house, beautiful store, and dozens of people I've never met before.) Better yet, it was welcoming and very comfortable, like reading in someone's living room. After the reading, I talked to a woman who had a situation that was scarily similar to my "cactus bite'' situation (so I'm not the only one!) The turnout was a pretty even split between non-hikers and hikers, although there were a couple of PCT through-hikers from '81, along with several people who are contemplating the trail. I gave them a list of recommended readings, including "The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker's Companion,'' by Karen Berger and Daniel R. Smith, which provides a solid, entertaining overview of the flora, fauna, landscape and history. In the coming weeks, I'm going to Anaheim, California, for the American Library Association conference at the convention center. Also, I'm going on a national speaking tour of sorts without leaving my house. I am doing phone-in radio spots in Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, and will provide more details when the time draws near. If you happen to live in Rochester, NY, a TV station is running a brief bit about "Cactus'' early next week, possibly with some scary photos dating from the trip. I'll keep you posted when I find out more about these things. No news about the crawlspace letters today. And keep sending in those hiking (and non-hiking) stories. Eventually I'd like to set up some kind of on-line anthology featuring your work.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who is the Mystery Woman?

The mystery deepens. Yesterday, I reported on the "Crawlspace Letters'' -- a letter from a lovesick GI in Germany, to a sweetheart that he addresses only as "honey.'' Well, today I was looking through the letter and saw a striking photograph of a woman wearing a mink stole and a furry hat shaped like a pith helmet. In her arms, she holds a bonneted child who looks to be about six months old. Who is the mystery woman and her baby? Is the woman the "honey'' in the letter? To be continued. And, just in case you are wondering, I am making absolutely none of this up.

Editorial reviews: The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind -- and Almost Found Myself --- on the Pacific Crest Trail..

A couple of you asked for this round-up, so here it is. I give these to you straight-up, but warning: Spoiler Alert!

'Cactus Eaters': Rough trail, enjoyable book
Jory John, Special to The San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Cactus Eaters
How I Lost My Mind - And Almost Found Myself - on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Dan White

"I was so tired of feeling weak. I wanted to start my life over by tracking bears through the Cascades and washing my face in a stream spilling off a thousand-year-old glacier," Dan White writes in "The Cactus Eaters," a compelling, often laugh-out-loud-funny account of his time spent traversing the Pacific Crest Trail, an extreme 2,650-mile trek.

Since its designation as a national scenic trail in 1968, the trail- spanning Mexico to Canada - has served as a monstrous challenge for even the most adept hiker. It is renowned for its cavalcade of unexpected difficulties - from lack of water to bad weather, terrain challenges, outdated maps, wildlife, fussy landowners and more - and it crosses three entire states, through high and low deserts, forests and snowy peaks. To White, the trail represents more than just bragging rights. It is an antidote to a life of fear, laziness and second guesses, a chance to replace his modern comforts with self-inflicted hardships, one step at a time. It promises a new identity for a man who is tired of his old one. Plus he can quit his day job.

With his adventurous girlfriend at his side, the 25-year-old is driven to the start of his adventure by his rightfully worried parents. Devoid of outdoor training, starting out late in the year - mid-June, instead of the recommended late April - and carrying far too much gear, the two leave much to be concerned about. To the folks they encounter, many of whom have knowledge of the trail's potential hazards, they are, at best, a joke. At worst, they're a walking tragedy.

When they finally set out into the Southern California desert, a comedy of hiking errors begins, building up to a near-death experience involving a panicked attempt to suck water out of a cactus. This is followed by much cactus-related pain.

White's ability to convey dialogue and his way with internal monologue surpass even Bill Bryson's comic touch. The book is packed with good jokes, often resulting from the lack of a cool head and a clear sense of what to do next. But the consistent action and White's extensive sense of history strike a good balance, rooting the book firmly in the adventure category. White can also write gorgeously, like this description of the desert: "You didn't even whisper when the sun came looking for you like a searchlight. In a way it was glorious, the relentless watching of the red ball as it sank, the feeling that I had outwitted the sun."

Because it's a story about hiking, the plot naturally follows the trail, and it's never quite clear what's around the next rock or cliff or lake - be it hunter, insect swarm, snow, bear or waterborne illness. The trail also serves as a metaphor for the disparate elements in White's life: the unknown territory ahead, a new relationship and an undying unwillingness to deviate from his chosen path.

Throughout all of his encounters, White is hardest on himself, whether he's feeling manic or cocky or making silly errors or pleading with God or arguing with his girlfriend. He holds himself accountable, repeatedly, to the point where the reader forgives him nearly as much as his girlfriend does. He's an unlikely candidate for this kind of expedition, and he's willing to present the bad Dan with the good. Is he selfish? Sometimes. But only those driven by obsession can succeed. He wants something real to be proud of, something full and lasting. His reasoning elicits your sympathy, even if you don't agree with all of his decisions.

White has written a book filled with energy and enthusiasm for its subject. It wouldn't be surprising if this became the Pacific Crest Trail voyager's new must-read.

Jory John is on the staff of 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing center in San Francisco


Summer reads

Salon's staff is recommending summer books that transport you to new places without making you go through airport security.

True confessions: From a trek through the American West to a life filled with music, these memoirs will whisk you away.

By Salon staff

"The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind -- and Almost Found Myself -- on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Dan White

The Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, is one of the longest and most scenic hiking trails in North America. It winds through California, Oregon and Washington, and passes through some of the most rugged terrain in the country. As Dan White's travel memoir, "The Cactus Eaters," makes clear, it's not for the faint of heart or tender of foot: Hikers can go up to 200 miles without encountering signs of civilization, and because of the trail's length and difficulty, only about 120 people complete it every year. More than half of those who begin the trip do not finish it.

"The Cactus Eaters" is White's spirited and amusing account of his journey along the Pacific Crest -- equal parts adventure story, history lesson and relationship log. For White, the ruggedness of the trail offered an escape hatch from the doldrums of adult life. Before embarking on the trip, he was dreadfully bored with his job as a reporter at a newspaper in Torrington, Conn., where the paper's lax editorial standards allowed for, among other errors, the printing of two consecutive Wednesday issues in the same week. Upon hearing about the trail, he persuaded his girlfriend, Allison, to join him as he quit his job, abandoned his apartment and set out on what he called "an American safari."

The trip, however, seemed troubled from the start. Setting out in Southern California, the two were clearly overpacked -- their baggage included a John McPhee anthology and a kite. They were also frightfully inexperienced: Their previous hiking experiences had involved little more than day trips and an aborted attempt to walk the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail. Most ominous, Allison succumbed to food poisoning on the journey's first day and quickly began throwing up. In the weeks that followed, the couple's fortunes improved. But they still managed to run out of water, get lost and have their water filter sexually assaulted by salamanders. They also spent an inordinate amount of time bickering about each other's commitment. To his credit, White paints a remarkably unflattering portrait of himself, as a childish companion and boyfriend whose grand visions of the hike often threaten to tear the duo apart. It doesn't help that he's a frightfully poor decision maker, who, at one point, tried to extract water from a cactus (an attempt that ended with several dozen spikes embedded in White's face).

Although the act of walking doesn't often recommend itself as a topic of long-form nonfiction, "The Cactus Eaters" manages to be both eminently readable and fun. White breaks up his narrative with colorful tangents about the trail's history, and describes the couple's misadventures with witty, vivid prose. Although some of his epiphanies (about the spiritual nature of hiking, for example) seem a bit contrived, his breezy tone keeps his momentum from sagging, and the couple's happier moments balance out their more dire predicaments. All in all, "The Cactus Eaters" is the perfect summer read for those of us who love being outdoors, but don't mind, every once in a while, letting somebody else do the walking. -- Thomas Rogers

Boston Globe

A writer answers the call of the wild
By Steve Almond | July 22, 2008

The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind — and Almost Found Myself — on the Pacific Crest Trail, By Dan White, HarperPerennial, 374 pp., $14.95

Anyone who has ever daydreamed about embarking on a spiritually transformative odyssey into the wilderness, but hesitated owing to a lack of experience, or an excess of neuroses, should count "The Cactus Eaters" as a kind of prophetic text. It is a funny, frequently harrowing, and altogether mesmerizing memoir about just how wrong a backpacking expedition can go.

As the subtitle suggests, the book recounts the journey of Dan White and his long-suffering girlfriend Allison, who trudged from Mexico to Canada along the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. The book opens with the pair waylaid in a remote patch of desert, a broken water filter all that stands between them and the buzzards. Herein lies the central source of suspense in this debut: Will White and his Girl Friday actually survive the trip? The answer is yes, though just barely.

Among the various degradations they endure: dehydration, giardia, vicious cactus thorns, and killer ticks. Oh yes, and bears. Several hundred miles in, White runs smack into a slumbering black bear -- though he's too frightened to recognize the situation initially. Instead, he convinces himself that it's merely a sculpture. "Why would someone take the time to sculpt and sand down and set up this marble lump and plant it right in the middle of the PCT, where a hiker might run right into it," he writes. "And what, exactly, was the sculptor trying to prove? Was the artwork an expression of guilt? I was getting myself all worked up and annoyed when the statue, suddenly, moved."

This passage provides a flavor of White's humor, which is, like the author himself, both goofy and indefatigable. Throughout his saga, he comes off like a suburban nebbish with an obsessive streak that far outstrips his competence. The PCT becomes both his white whale and his straight man.

But White is more than just a survivalist joke machine. He's also a deeply self-reflective writer, who traces his psychological compulsion for hiking back to his childhood idol, the naturalist John Muir. It was Muir, he explains, who "sold me on the notion that a man could internalize the beauty and harmony he finds within nature and bring those qualities home with him. He might even use these qualities to mend the broken pieces of himself."

White also writes, with great eloquence, about America's pathological relationship toward wilderness, in particular our national penchant for commodifying the great outdoors. He conjures up figures such as James McCauley "perhaps the creepiest showman in the history of backwoods tourism" who amused gawkers in Yosemite more than a century ago by flinging objects off a 3,200-foot cliff.

More lovingly, he evokes the various hiking fanatics he meets on the trail, all of whom seem hellbent on escaping the artificial reality of civilized life. By the end of his own journey, White has joined their ranks. He's a certified trail rat who's lost his own bearings, not to mention his girl-friend.

And yet his descriptions of the natural beauty he encounters are so vivid, so rhapsodic, that it's easy to see why he's seduced. "The desert commented on its own dryness," he writes at one point. "The wind rushed like water. A mirage washed up against a pile of rocks." Further on, he describes "the watery flavor of a salmon berry," baby mountain goats "floating up [a] cliff face" and lizards that appraise him "like insurance adjusters."

"The Cactus Eaters" is far more than a Sierra Club-approved romp. It's gorp for the soul, a fascinating and surprisingly moving testament to the call of the wild.

Steve Almond's essay collection, "(Not that You Asked)" is just out in paperback.


A trek up the West Coast from Mexico to Canada.
By Susan Salter Reynolds
The Los Angeles Times
May 18, 2008

The Cactus Eaters

How I Lost My Mind -- and Almost Found Myself --

on the Pacific Crest Trail

Dan White

HarperPerennial: 374 pp., $14.95 paper

"The word Sierra conjures images of mountains, glaciers, rivers, and charming marmots. Scratch those pictures from your mind. Replace them with dust and dirt and sweat, canyon oak, piñon pine, and in the middle distance, blunt-topped crags the shape and color of an old dog's teeth. . . . [F]or the most part the scenery is pale beige, the color of stucco, the color of gefilte fish."

Dan White is not in the habit of romanticizing. He and his girlfriend, Allison, left their jobs in Connecticut to walk the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. The book opens not quite three weeks into the trip, and both travelers are a little the worse for wear. What with the ticks ("Walkers whip off their clothes to find forty or fifty of them at once, looking like M&M's with legs") and other perils, it's a trail that "extracts a toll for a glimpse of its pretty places. . . . More than 50 percent of the people who walk the trail give up in despair, often within the first week."

On the day the book opens, Dan and Allison have run out of water. "I have a degree in English with honors from Wesleyan," White writes with mock incredulity. "You're the smartest guy in the room," he tells himself -- but he's run out of water, and he can't find any. Still, there's great joy in the couple's escape from the rat race. He and his girlfriend worked for a newspaper that had "a hate/hate relationship with its readers. People in town never said they 'subscribed' to the paper. Instead they said they 'took' the newspaper, as if it were a pill or a suppository."

Through the Angeles Forest, Tehachapi, the high passes on the John Muir Trail, the Range of Light, the Pacific Northwest, the Lois and Clark Expedition, as White calls it, picks up characters and bits of lost history.

The two explorers have strange dreams. They contemplate marriage and careers and compromises. "Every step toward Canada was a step toward manhood," White writes, in that voice you will grow to love. "I feared that the trail, if I never finished it, would leave me stranded in a permanent kindergarten. . . . "

Susan Salter Reynolds is a Times staff writer.


Traversing broiling deserts, snowy mountain passes and dank rain forests on its crooked way from Mexico to Canada, the Pacific Coast Trail is an epic challenge for die-hard backpackers. White and his girlfriend, Allison, set out, late in the season and bereft of experience, to tread all 2,650 miles of it, leaving behind lousy reporting jobs and hoping to find self-definition and a deepened relationship. (They call their trek the Lois and Clark Expedition.) Hilarious greenhorn misadventures ensue-including the author's ill-advised chomp, while dizzy with dehydration, into a reputedly moisture-laden prickly-pear cactus-that tested their survival skills and commitment as a couple. The trail becomes less an itinerary than a world unto itself, full of squalor, discomfort and majestic scenery, and peopled by charismatic misfits and an austere cult of ultra-light speed-hikers, as the couple rely on arcane camping gear and bizarre gummy-bear-and-marshmallow diets. The wilderness authenticity the author seeks proves elusive; all journey and no destination, the story itself eventually trails off with the hero even more callow and confused than when he started. Still, White's vivid prose and hangdog humor make readers want to keep up. (June)

Journalist White and his girlfriend Allison tackle the Pacific Crest Trail, Mexico to Canada and all the many miles and weather developments in between. They both worked at a small newspaper in Connecticut. He was a book-smart nerd with a deep-seated need to rebel; she was professionally ambitious but with an appetite for adventure. They fell for each other and, in an act of sublime ignorance, decided to knock off the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in one summer-long act of youth and bravado. That was ten years ago, which has given White time to recover from their trail-trial-by-fire and to find some humor in the story. White and Allison encountered a typical gallery of blowhards, weirdos and good Samaritans on the trail. They desert-fried and snowfield-froze. They found scorpions in their boots and swarms of ticks everywhere. The food was scary (and so was the diarrhea). But they also saw peach-colored mornings and lavender evenings; they skinny-dipped and made love. Drawing on diaries he kept at the time, White polishes up these memories, serving them forth with brio and dash. But he also unsparingly portrays his selfish ways as he gradually descended into an edgy and anxious frame of mind. He was raw: a buffoon, quixotic when not churlish. Readers will laugh with the author as he delivers one-liners ("It changes you when you bite your first cactus"), but they will also steam at his solipsistic antics and become unnerved when they see him making critical decisions with decidedly impaired judgment. No wonder Allison broke up with him after the big hike. Brings a fresh perspective to the timeworn adventure-travel genre.''

“In the well-written, laugh-out-loud, self-deprecating spirit of Bill Bryson’s Walk in the Woods and Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally, Dan White takes us along for a walk on the wild side of adventure and love. I couldn’t put it down.” — Eric Blehm, National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of The Last Season

“Dan White forges miles past travelogue to carve a poignant, uproarious, and deeply compelling love story between man, woman, and the land between.” — Franz Wisner, NY Times bestselling author of Honeymoon with My Brother

“Think Into the Wild with a touch of Annie Hall, as told by Woody Allen, and you begin to get the picture of Dan White’s riveting account of a long, life-altering walk most of us will never take. White’s tale of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail’s grueling 2,600 miles, from Mexico to Canada, is by turns funny and achingly painful — physically and emotionally. As White and his long-suffering girlfriend encounter a cast of extraordinary characters — as well as bears, rattlesnakes and nasty bugs — you feel like you are with them every step of the way. A wonderful read — even if your longest hike is usually out to the driveway.” — Kenneth C. Davis, NY Times bestselling author of America’s Hidden History and the "Don't Know Much About ...'' series.

... and this just in: Elle Magazine chose The Cactus Eaters as its top readers' nonfiction pick of August 2008. (The other two books look great; I've added them to my must-reads for the month. For the record, those books are Doreen Orion's Queen of The Road -- just started it; hilarious so far, and John and Jean Silverwood's Black Wave, which I have just ordered.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Crawlspace Letters

I live in an extremely old apartment --- it predates the SF earthquake. It has some strange features that you don't see in buildings these days, including a potato storage basin and a flour bin. Today, I was reaching into a dark and dusty crawlspace behind my bookshelf, which is deadbolted to the wall. I was just trying to get to a couple of pictures and books that had fallen way back into the crawlspace-- but when I reached back there, I found a clutch of old, yellowing papers. It turned out to be love letters that an American G.I. sent to his girlfriend (or wife -- I can't tell...) from Europe in World War II. I'm hoping to use my research skills to track down the author of the letters (or the descendents of the author) and send these back to their rightful owner. More later.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mrs. Dalloway (and Anaheim.)

This Thursday, I'm speaking at a beautiful (and well-run) bookstore called Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts, in Berkeley's Elmwood district. I will read two short pieces at 730 p.m. and answer any question that you might have. Also, I will bring some items from the trip, and a wide assortment of commemorative rubber stamps reflecting the flora and fauna of the western wilderness -- including the "Psychedelic Range Cow." The book store is located at 2904 College Avenue, Berkeley. Come here early to browse the shelves and check out their author's events listings. You will love this place. I would hang out there all the time if I lived just a little closer to Berkeley!

If you happen to be in the Southlands later on in the week, I will be at the American Library Association conference down in Anaheim. I will take part in a panel discussion called "First Author, First Book,'' at the Anaheim Convention Center, Room 203 A, with the authors Kaya McLaren (Church of the Dog, Penguin), Scott Douglas (Quiet, Please, Perseus Books), Mark Sarvas (Harry, Revised, Bloomsbury USA), Janelle Brown (All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, Spiegel & Grau), and Anya Ulinich (Petropolis, Penguin). An enormous signing will follow. Then, next day, (June 30) from 2 to 2:30 p.m., I will have a book reading and signing at the convention center.

And if you're reading this in Denver, Colorado, I will have a radio broadcast there very soon (I'll give you the details when they come in.)Come to think of it, I will be doing radio broadcasts just about every day, in various places, for the next week and a half.

And finally --- don't miss Zoe Ferraris's SF reading this Thursday! (for info, see the blog entry below the one about the bison.) Get there early, or only the nosebleed seats will be available. Seriously.

Also -- I'm sure you've all heard the sad news about Cody's Books closing in Berkeley after a 52-year run. The store -- a true pioneer in the book world -- shut down on June 20. This landmark store will be missed.

Golden Gate bison.

I live within walking distance of the bison paddock in Golden Gate Park. I'm proud to have them as my neighbors. If you want to see them, they hang out in a field along John F. Kennedy Drive (across from the Anglers Lodge.) Just remember that these bison are built for comfort, not speed. They like to hang out, and, to be honest, they don't move a whole lot. They mostly just sit there, sunning themselves, or wiggling their hairy ears, and who can blame them? Apparently, someone transported the first bison into the park more than 100 years ago, when these shaggy creatures were facing extermination in the wild (although I am glad to report that the current bison population in the U.S. is now close to 200,000.)
These park beasts trace their lineage back to three bison named Sarah Bernhardt, Princess, and Ben Harrison. And that's not all. Now I hear that a family of coyotes has moved into the park. I'm not sure how they got there. There is a lot of open space in SF, but it's quite fragmented at this point. If you see the coyotes, don't try to lure them with food, and don't pretend that they are dogs. Coyotes are wild to the core. Chase them off and give them plenty of space. (and keep a watchful eye on your small dog or cat.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cactus Eaters: Number One travel book on Amazon. plus ...Capitola Book Cafe reading (and did I mention that Fogheads Rule?)

Last night's crowd was stupendous --- the group included family members, Santa Cruz friends and a former Santa Cruz Sentinel colleague, a high-school pal, members of my Santa Cruz writing group, a former student and many other folks that I'd never met before. A big bunch of people followed my sister and brother-in-law to an after-party at a funicular-accessible restaurant in Capitola By The Sea.

Also -- I am very grateful to this blog's readers for sending all your crazy adventure stories. Keep rolling them in. (and one last thing -- "Cactus'' was the number-one travel book on Amazon yesterday --- a shock to my system to say the least; thanks for passing this around and letting me know about your own explorations and adventures.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Zoe Ferraris

Don't miss author Zoe Ferraris, who is giving two readings right here in the Bay Area. The author of the critically acclaimed "Finding Nouf'' will speak on Tuesday, June 24, at M is for Mystery and More, San Mateo 7:00 pm. She will also speak on Wednesday, June 25, at Books Inc, Opera Plaza, San Francisco (601 Van Ness, SF 94102) 7:00 pm. Both events will feature readings, signings and discussion.

Fogheads Rule --- plus Capitola

Thanks to KFOG and all the Fogheads who called in during my in-studio interview this morning. It was a great conversation. One of the callers asked about the disgusting food that one often eats on cross-country adventures. I told her to steer clear of home-baked granola (it goes bad quickly, and the nuts rot and become very bitter. Of course, I made 23 pounds of that stuff in advance, and sent it all ahead to myself in supply boxes throughout the trail, meaning that I had to eat that nasty granola for months on end.) Looking forward to Capitola Book Cafe tonight at 7:30 p.m. I will be there early, eating pizza next door, if you want to stop by and say hello.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pacific Crest Trail/Pacific Coast Trail

I'm getting a lot of questions about the "Pacific Coast Trail'' and why the thing is so darned steep if it just follows the western coastline. Actually, there is no such thing as a "Pacific Coast Trail.'' (someone correct me if I'm wrong about this.) I think that people are mixing up two major trails --- the Pacific Crest Trail, which never comes close to a beach, and mostly stays up high on the mountainous spine of California, Oregon and Washington, and The California Coastal Trail, a network of public trails that spans the entire California coastline and is now about 50 percent finished. If you want climbs, views, bears, snakes and deserts, do the PCT. If you want beaches, shifting sands and crashing waves, walk the CCT.

Capitola and KFOG

I'm very excited about this Thursday's reading in my former hometown. See information below. As I mentioned before, the Capitola Book Cafe is one of my favorite bookstores on the planet. It's well-lit and spacious, the staff is whip-smart, the coffee is good, and there's a silver-colored elephant sculpture on the wall. And, best of all -- it even has a movie marquee out front advertising the latest readings. I can't tell you how many pots of tea I've swilled there while working on an earlier version of this thing.
Just for the occasion, I have unearthed some scary artifacts, including a couple of Chewbacca-esque photos of myself from the Cascades section of the walk. I will also bring your choice of archival stamps --- horned lizard, Opuntia cactus, yucca and rattlesnake --- with a brand new "rainbow-colored bloodsucking arthropod'' stamp that I acquired just yesterday. Feel free to ask me any question you want. One question that I'm hearing a lot lately: "Why did you call the book The Cactus Eaters when only one of you actually eats a cactus, and, to get technical about it, you didn't actually eat the thing at all? You just chewed it for a short while and then you spat it out?'' Um. Good one ... I will attempt to answer tomorrow.

I am speaking at the Book Cafe on June 19, 2008
7:30 PM. It is located on 1475 41st Avenue, Capitola (in a shopping center just a few blocks off Highway One. Look for the bookstore with the movie marquee.)

also, if you happen to be in the southlands this afternoon, (June 18) I am doing a live radio interview on KKZZ-Am Radio, "Evie's Talk Show.'' 6:15 p.m., PST. (covering Ventura and surrounding communities)

And ----- if you're right here in SF tomorrow morning (june 19) I will do a live in-studio interview at 730 PST on KFOG F.M. I'm actually showing up to the studio for this one. I sure hope that the MUNI is running nice and early tomorrow. I'll bring my running shoes just in case.

And, finally --- I will be speaking in Berkeley on June 26, 2008
7:30 P.M.., at the beautiful Mrs. Dalloway bookstore, on
2904 College Avenue. (check this place out if you haven't seen it before; it's one of my very favorite new-ish bookstores in the area.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Meeting my doppelganger!

This week I had a chance to meet my doppelganger at a reading (his reading, not my reading.) I said, "I just want you to know that every time I go into a book store, people think I'm you.'' He agreed that we look very much alike -- even though he is actually a few inches taller and has a different color of hair. I agreed to be very polite and careful to everyone from now on so people don't blame him for my misdeeds. Also, I apologized for leaving his book at home, meaning that he couldn't sign it for me. "No problem,'' he said. "I'll just sign one of yours.''

Thursday, June 12, 2008

High Sierra

I've been hearing from a few hikers who have reached Kennedy Meadows and are now getting a bit closer to one of my old haunts, Mammoth Lakes, in the Eastern Sierra. In case you missed this one, here is a story I wrote for the New York Times Escapes section about Mammoth Lakes last year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Interview on KPFA

Listen to my interview with Denny Smithson on Cover to Cover KPFA Berkeley by clicking here

Dust off those fanny packs and get out on the trail

It's great to open up my inbox and see messages from readers who are heading out to hit the trail this week (I'm glad I haven't scared you off!) In fact, I've heard from a bunch of folks who say they are amped to go out into the backcountry and stomp around for a while. By the way, I took a "sneak preview'' hike of sorts on a Kentucky section of the 1,800-mile under-construction "Great Eastern Trail,'' which parallels and in one section overlaps the Appalachian Trail. I can't wait to through-hike this thing when it's all done. It might even end up as America's newest national scenic trail at some point. Stay tuned to find out more about the "G.E.T.''

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Cactus'' --- Updated list of readings and appearances

Here is the most updated list, as of today. I will, of course, bring photographs and other materials to share, along with your choice of flora/fauna stamps. It will be great to meet all of you. As you can see, I've added some dates, and I'm getting quite a lot of emails because of Salon's selection of The Cactus Eaters as part of its recommended summer reading list .

Their other selections are When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris, The Importance of Music to Girls by Lavinia Greenlaw, and Swish: My QuestTo Become The Gayest Person Ever, by Joel Derfner, and Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life by Neil Steinberg. Now I'll have to read all the books on the list (except, of course, for mine, which I've read about 134 times.)

And here is that list of interviews and readings:

June 11
National Geographic Weekend
a weekly syndicated talk show. This will be broadcast at a later date at 120 stations nationwide.(I'll provide updates and a list of participating stations when it's about to be aired.)

June 18
Ventura, California(phone-in live interview)
KKZZ-Am Radio, "Evie's Talk Show.''
6:15 p.m., PST.

June 19, 2008
Live, in-studio interview
KFOG FM - San Francisco
7:30-8 AM

June 19, 2008
1475 41st Avenue
Capitola, CA 95010. Very excited about this. This is my adoptive home town, and I wrote an early, early draft (actually, some of the diary entries) right here.

June 26, 2008
2904 College Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705

June 29, 2008
1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
"First Author, First Book" panel discussion.
Anaheim Convention Center, Room 203 A
Authors include Kaya McLaren (Church of the Dog, Penguin), Scott Douglas (Quiet, Please, Perseus Books), Mark Sarvas (Harry, Revised, Bloomsbury USA), Daniel White (The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind—and Almost Found Myself—on the Pacific Crest Trail, HarperCollins), Janelle Brown (All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, Spiegel & Grau), and Anya Ulinich (Petropolis, Penguin). A book signing will follow.

June 30th, 2008
2-2:30 p.m., book reading and signing.
ALA Convention,
Anaheim Convention Center. Room TBA.

July 1, 2008
2 p.m.
Malaga Cove Library
Palos Verdes Estates, CA.(PV is my hometown. This was my childhood haunt and it's one of the most beautiful libraries I've ever seen. I used to hang out at the fountain and count the goldfish when I was six years old.)

July 02, 2008
7:30 PM
Discussion and Signing
3700 Torrance Blvd
Torrance, CA 90503
(a sort of homecoming. I was born in this town at Little Company of Mary Hospital. Wondering if any of the nurses will be present.)

July 12, 2008
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA 94925

July 15, 2008
581 Market ST
San Francisco, CA 94105
*Joint Event with Vincent Carrella, author of "Serpent Box.''

September 24, 2008
2:30-3:30 p.m., and 730-830 p.m.
2008-2009 Creative Writing Reading Series and afternoon conversation
Saint Mary’s College of California.
Moraga, CA.

Early Fall, date to be announced --- looks like I will have another speaking engagement in the East Bay. I will provide updates when this is all firmed up.

November 2008: date to be announced
reading/reception at San Jose State University

My SF doppelganger

Apparently I bear a striking resemblance to another San Francisco-based author. Twice, I've gone into bookstores and have had employees launch into fandom freakouts --- "oh my goodness. How fantastic that you would just drop in on us out of the blue. Let me get the manager! Oh, this is such a privilege. Would you like a coffee or something?'' And then I've had to explain to them, sorry, I'm not that person, and then they slink off into various corners of the store. I'm thinking of shooting the guy an email to see if we can pose for a photo together. Then people will see that we don't look completely alike. Or maybe I'll just pretend to be him and try to steal his fans.

Monday, June 09, 2008

My Pacific Northwest sojourn

What an incredible three days. The last time I was up in your area, I arrived on foot and left on the Green Tortoise hippie bus (which all of you should try at least once in your lifetime. It's crazy.) I started out in Bellingham, where I spoke at Village Books in the historic Fairhaven area. Bellingham is one of those towns that pays tribute to its past without ever looking like a 'museum town.' It felt very alive and real to me. Then I drove on to Seattle, where the Secret Garden bookstore and Ballard Branch of the Seattle Public Library organized a fantastic reading night --- killer turnout, great questions, and I hope I convinced at least five or six people to try a through-hike on America's greatest long-distance footpath. Then I rolled on to Portland, which was one of the biggest surprises of all. Of course, I stopped by the legendary Powell's book store, which did a Q and A with me this summer. Downtown has an ingenious running trail that weaves across, beneath and around the historic steel bridges and shipyard. After a great reading at the B & N in the Clackamas center, I explored downtown, and had beers at a crazy bar with motorcycles dangling from the rafters and a long-haired band shrieking away on stage. It was like being 19 all over again (but with a depressingly real, not fake, I.D.) P.S. --- Today it was great to see a mention of "Cactus'' in Salon, which put the book on its recommended list of summer reads. The review is up today. Anyhow, it was great to meet all of you. Keep sending those pack-weight/camping horror stories and give me a heads-up if you're coming to one of the upcoming readings.

Friday, June 06, 2008


I will see you all at the reading after my urban trail run through this beautiful town. Tomorrow, leaving the city might be a slight problem. Aside from the fact that I will be leaving reluctantly, there is, apparently, a huge parade going right past my hotel around 8 a.m.!!

Seattle and beyond

Everything is elevated to a whole new level of quality in this city. Even the meatloaf is good out here. I had a fantastic reading at Seattle Public Library's Ballard branch, sponsored by the Secret Garden Bookstore. The library itself is something you have to see. (It's all green construction. There is a field of actual grass growing on the roof!!) The audience was fantastic. More about all this later, but I'm leaving for Portland this very second. (look for my interview in today's Portland Oregonian. I'm speaking tonight at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 12000 S.E. 82nd Ave, Portland.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Camping and backpacking horror stories

Thanks to all of you for sending me your stories about backcountry mishaps and truly enormous pack weights. You are doing wonders for my backpacking and camping self-esteem. I'm thinking of having some sort of contest for the best stories about overpacking, getting lost, etc. Stay tuned on that front. Meanwhile, I hope to see you all at the Ballard Branch of the Seattle Public Library tonight at 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


What a beautiful town. The people here are all smart and engaged with the world -- and they all look about 20 years younger than they are. (I guess everyone eats well and does a lot of trail running. No swilling of double martinis out here.) I had a very good time reading at Village Books. I'll crash for about 13 hours now and then I'm heading off to Seattle.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

From the Cactus archive

For this week's readings up in Oregon and Washington, I've unearthed some trail artifacts and a couple of really scary photographs and journal entries dating to the "Lois and Clark Expedition.'' I'm looking forward to sharing a few trail stories with you (and hearing yours, too.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Radio interview, and details about my visit to the Pacific Northwest this week --- without smelly pack

If you are in the Bellingham, Washington area, and happen to be awake on the early side, switch on your radio and listen in on my brief live interview on KGMI at 7:15 AM PST. Immediately after the interview, I will board a plane and fly up to one of my very favorite places in America, the Pacific Northwest, where my "Cactus'' tour will begin. However, I will most likely leave my backpack behind because he's picked up a terrible odor from my last outdoor sojourn in the Southeast. (bear scat? Whatever it is, it won't go away.) Anyhow, I'm looking forward to meeting readers and hikers up there. Many of the loveliest sections of the PCT are right there--- Crater Lake, the Goat Rocks, the Pasayten Wilderness. The list goes on and on. Out in the Pacific Northwest, I ate too many huckleberries, stomped through pumice flats, and stayed at an absurdly cheap, now-non-existent bed and breakfast in Snoqualmie Pass. (If you were a Pacific Crest Trail hiker, they would let you stay there for about eleven bucks a day. No kidding.) I also spent some time in gorgeous Stehekin, Washington, where I ruffled a few feathers by eating an entire pie during a slide presentation about mountain goats. Anyhow, I look forward to meeting you all up there. I will read from my book, answer questions, and share a couple of trail artifacts. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions about the readings or would like to stop by and say hello. I only wish I had more time so I could visit my favorite hiking spots. (oh well; maybe next time!)

Date & Time Location

June 4, 2008
6:45 p.m.
1200 Eleventh Street
Bellingham, WA 98225

June 5, 2008
Ballard Branch
5614 22nd Ave. NW
Seattle, WA 98107
(this event is being sponsored by the Secret Garden bookstore)

June 6, 2008
12000 SE 82nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97266

Also -- it was great to speak with another Pacific Northwest resident this week -- Lisa Haneberg --- who has posted her 'fireside chat' podcast interview with me about "Cactus'' on her popular site, Managementcraft. Here is that link:

Aside from my reading events, I will be doing a taped in-studio interview on Evergreen Radio in Seattle on Thursday, June 5, at 3:45 p.m.