Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wilderness Classic: "A Long Trek Home"

This book is destined to be an Alaskan wilderness classic in the literary sense of the phrase.

Not only was Hig and Erin’s packraft and walk journey immense, epic, and original but her story is told so much better in this book than in their on-line blog. It’s no wonder that “A Long Trek Home” is already in its second printing.

While I am not really a big reader of first person adventure narratives (so can’t speak with much authority), I would put the book in the same class as “Arctic Wild” by Lois Crisler, the 1950s story of a couple who spent a year in the Brooks Range filming caribou and raising wolves. Perhaps, and depending on how important Hig and Erin’s non-profit activism turns out to be, “Long Trek” might some day land in the same class as “Two in the Far North”, the autobiography of Margaret Murie.

“A Long Trek Home” is a chronological collection of vignettes of Hig and Erin’s 4500 mile trip that stretched over a year -- and into a pregnancy -- from Seattle to the Aleutians. Erin expends most of her text as emotional and detailed landscape and weather description at all scales, from boot-tip and arms length to as far as the eye can see. More interestingly, she does a wonderful portrayal of Hig, who is one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. She captures him well, but as a reader of the book, and as a fan of Hig, I long for more of him in her narrative. In fact, I’d like more human life and description of the interesting characters they meet and interact with along the way. Finally, she describes -- rather unevenly -- a host of environmental issues that are at the heart of “Ground Truth Trekking.” With the exception of the Pebble Mine project, I found the treatments mostly superficial with few new insights, although her personal realization that guided trophy hunting on the Alaska Peninsula is actually a good way to value the land, in contrast to the logging on the other side of the Gulf of Alaska in Southeast AK and BC, is refreshing.

But the book really shines in its details of camp and travel life as a husband and wife crossing wild landscapes. Erin’s book offers up the best modern descriptions I have read of couples-style wilderness travel, something Peggy and I have done a bit of in Alaska and elsewhere. In 1986 we walked and packrafted for a month across the Gates of the Arctic National Park in one boat. She was two months pregnant with Cody Roman. Reading Erin’s accounts of snuggling with Hig, of showdowns with curious grizz, of perpetual hunger, of staying comfortable in worn-out gear and sharing a two-person bag inside a floorless shelter, of reading the landscapes – those vignettes brought back strong memories of our own adventures.

Indeed, I got my signed copy of the unpretentious little paperback on a Wednesday afternoon and by that night I’d read the first two sections, “Summer” and “Fall”. The book is a nice size, with evocative B&W photos. Hig’s maps are superlative. I finished “Winter” and “Spring” over the following weekend in another push. Erin's writing is breezy and easy, with some interesting viewpoints and fresh phrases of an activity as old as humankind – one man and one woman together, surviving, living, even reproducing as they cross wild landscapes.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone with a packraft, a spouse, and an interest in slow-motion adventure.


  1. We have been reading this book out loud as a family and absolutely loving it. We just started the Winter section. Erin is a a wonderful writer and writes with a very optimistic tone. She is really good at seeing the bright side and beauty in what were probably some very trying situations.

  2. Reading it out loud seems like a great idea! It allows you to slow it down and savor it and share it too.

  3. Just finished my copy, couldn't put it down once I started it. Totally absorbing, thought provoking and inspirational.

    I got the impression before I read this book that there would be a lot of weight given to environmental issues but as you noted this isn't the case but then maybe these issues are too big, too diverse to be dealt with in this format and require further investigation. Erin's comments on trophy hunting also struck me as open-minded and well thought through despite at first seeming out of step with my perception of the couple's environmental ideals. Proof maybe that future custodianship of the wilderness is a tangled web and that changes in one sphere of our impact has far reaching consequences in another.

    The photos that are here are fantastic but I was left wanting a lot more. It must have been hard choosing the few published images from a year long journey that possibly shaped a whole lifetime.


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