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Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days On The John Muir Trail

Author : Suzanne Roberts
Published : 2012-09-01

Though it's set in the rugged landscape of the High Sierra running from Sequoia National Park to Yosemite National Park, Almost Somewhere could have played out anywhere as three young women go in search of themselves.

If you agree there are "chick flicks," then it's safe to call Suzanne Roberts' book about a month-long trek along the John Muir Trail a chick book. The cast features three twenty-somethings: Two college friends who compete in beauty, athletic ability, and men, and a friend of a friend who was hoping to conquer her bulimia along the way from Sequoia to Yosemite.

Though the author provides a running narrative of the wildflowers she encounters, drops in occasional John Muir quotes to help establish the setting the mood of the mountains, and freely shares her doubts about walking more than 200 miles in a month, you shouldn't buy this book to prepare for your own JMT hike.

This is not a backpacking primer, but rather one on young females in search of themselves as they prepare for life after college. We read about insecurities, jealously, lust, self-esteem, tears, bingeing, self-realization, learning to appreciate oneself for oneself, and interpersonal relationships. And come away with the author's realization that mountains in general, and the JMT specifically, provide a spectacular backdrop to work through these issues and absorb the associated lessons.

You won't read through the 260 pages of Almost Somewhere and come away with the same sense of place that you do when you read Becoming Odyssa, Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis, or selections from The Grand Canyon Reader or the Pacific Crest Trailside Reader. But then, I didn't get the sense that that was the intent of Ms. Roberts.

Rather, her book takes a personal accounting, of herself, her companions, and how they measured up to themselves, their peers, and the mountains.

"...we had come to rely on each other and on ourselves," Ms. Roberts writes near the end. "Luck and circumstance provided the chance to find our 'girl power.' The John Muir Trail was more than a completed goal. We didn't conquer the mountains; instead, we learned to feel safe walking among them, to feel more at home in nature. And with each step we came closer to knowing ourselves."


Hope it was an enlightening read, Trav. Never hurts to delve into the feminine psyche.

I question the use of a book reviewer who seems to be unaware that the derogatory term that he feels he has created, “chick book,” actually exists as “chick lit,” which refers to genre fiction, which this is not. To say that this is “not a backpacking primer” is absurd. No, it is not a backpacking primer, it is creative nonfiction that falls in a long lineage of personal travel narratives.

If this were a story of three men hiking the trail, what would Mr. Repanshek call this? Certainly “insecurities, jealously, lust, self-esteem, tears, bingeing, self-realization, learning to appreciate oneself for oneself, and interpersonal relationships” are concerns not only for “chicks” but for most humans. I’ve certainly seen a mountain make a grown man cry.

Anon @ 11:30,

The book, at least from the passage quoted above, invites the "chick lit" label. Every single phrase in that passage is a cliche--an unoriginal chunk of prose we've all heard before--and which goes through a series of hackneyed themes one finds throughout chick lit. Furthermore, how does its phrase--"our girl power"--not deliberately invite a "chick lit" readership?

I also take offense to the term "chick book." This book is a memoir, a hiking memoir in fact like that of Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. And it seems Mr. Repanshek has not read many memoirs, because he tries to compare Almost Somewhere to books like The Grand Canyon Reader. Wake up, Mr. Repanshek! Memoirs are only becoming more and more popular, they tend to involve self-reflection (or as Repanshek put it "insecurities, jealousy, lust, self-esteem, tears, bingeing, self-realization"), and memoirs are written by humans, that includes both men and women.

Anonymous #3, I was not comparing Almost Somewhere to the Grand Canyon Reader. Just pointing out to readers that they shouldn't expect a similar sort of read.

Becoming Odyssa, though, is a memoir, and it delivers an entirely different read than Almost Somewhere. If you haven't, I'd encourage you to read that one.

Anon @ 1:51,

I suppose you could call it a memoire, but what kind of self-reflection does it exhibit when it seems instead just to reproduce commonplaces--e.g. "relying on ourselves," "being at home in nature," "knowing ourselves" . . . Has the author discovered that she and her companions are two-dimensional cliches?

Dear Anon,

Maybe you should read the book and find out, rather than to base your criticism on one single passage taken out of context.

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