Back in the early 1970s a young backpacker named Ron Strickland had an idea for a trail from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. Decades of work followed, during which Ron campaigned for the trail, recruited supporters and trail builders and went out and worked and hiked on the route himself. Finally, in 2009, the Pacific Northwest Trail was designated a National Scenic Trail. Ron’s latest book Pathfinder is in part the story of the creation of this trail. However it’s not an account of endless meetings and masses of paperwork, tediously essential though these must have been, but rather a series of snapshots of various events and experiences that occurred during those years plus some digressions into hiking lore and literature (with a chapter on favourite backpacking books, which include one of mine – thanks Ron!). It’s a thoroughly entertaining read which can be enjoyed by anyone who loves backpacking and wild places, even if they’ve never been near the Pacific Northwest. Ron tells tales of hiking the PNT, including “bucking the brush” (an esoteric pleasure that I had a taste of during my PNT hike last summer), and of trail construction in tough conditions. Throughout the book there is a parade of larger-than-life characters from homesteader Ralph Thayer and gold miner Glee Davis and even a would-be terrorist who was unwittingly recruited as a trail builder through to modern day adventurer Andrew Skurka, the first person to hike the Sea to Sea route across the northern USA, another of Ron’s ideas. Interwoven with these people and a variety of wilderness adventures is Ron’s own love story, which makes the book a very personal story in a different way.
Overall this is one of the most enjoyable outdoor books I’ve read in many years. It really captures the experience and camaraderie of the outdoors and Ron’s love and devotion for the wilderness and hiking. I highly recommend it.