BOOK: The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind — And Almost Found Myself — On the Pacific Crest Trail by Dan White

I really enjoy “adventure memoirs” like this one — books like Tracy Johnston’s Shooting the Boh or Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. I like reading about people overcoming outdoorsy challenges and becoming better people from the experience, I guess. This is the first time I’ve read an adventure memoir, however, where the hiker actually became a WORSE person because of his time on the trail. But, hey, it’s good to have balance, right? And we can’t all be improved by our hardships, after all — some of us must turn into poopheads instead. Such is the way of humanity.

The Cactus Eaters is about author Dan White and his girlfriend Allison, and their attempt to hike the entire Pacific Coast Trail, which stretches over 2600 miles from Mexico to Canada along the West Coast. It starts with brutal deserts, moves into agonizingly high mountains and hills, and then ends in rainy, damp woodlands. Sounds like fun! Dan and Allison are rookies — I don’t know much about hiking, but even I could tell when they were making a biiiiig mistake (for example, the time they dumped half their food and water, despite the fact they knew getting MORE food and water was going to be extremely difficult to do. Such a bad plan, guys!). And throughout most of the book, it’s really fun hearing the stories about their trek, as they stumble their way up California and manage to keep going every day despite the incredible odds stacking up against them. I really enjoyed hearing about the places they walked through, the people they walked with, the people they desperately did NOT want to walk with, etc. Dan is an entertaining writer, and though I will say this isn’t a terribly well-written book, he’s funny and honest, and also good at describing settings and people, and that goes a long way towards keeping the whole thing readable.

The problem with Dan, though, is that he becomes so obsessed with finishing the trail that, when Allison has to abort before Oregon due to a sudden, life-changing medical diagnosis (I won’t say of what), his reaction is to say, “Whelp, good luck with that, Ally! I’m heading back to the PCT now! See ya later!” And then he’s astonished when Allison later dumps his lame ass. I started the book really liking Dan and ended it thinking he was a complete wanker. I’m glad Allison figured that out before it was too late herself — you go, girlfriend.

In any case, if you have any interest at all in adventure memoirs or the Pacific Coast Trail or the spectacular transformation of a good man into a total doofus in 2600 miles or less, this is definitely a book I think you’ll enjoy. Recommended!


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2 Responses to “BOOK: The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind — And Almost Found Myself — On the Pacific Crest Trail by Dan White”

  1. Melinda Says:

    Might I just add that the southern Oregon portion of the PCT is very nice indeed? And if you don’t mind a couple extra hours hiking, you can visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. I hiked a little bit of it this summer (like, evening hikes, nothing spectacular) with some friends and it’s really pretty! And I’ve met people who have been hiking the PCT at the Shakespeare Festival, sooooo it must be a popular side destination.

  2. megwood Says:

    Very cool! I would love to hike a chunk of it in OR or WA sometime. And a detour to Ashland would be great! Thanks for the tip, Melinda!

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