Archives for category: – Books


Natalie and I like to read books together, aloud. Our last one was a book by Cheryl Strayed. In her 20s, after losing her mother to cancer, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Washington State border. Though she read and researched the trip, her lack of practical knowledge (or experience) left her sometimes dangerously, sometimes comically, unprepared. And Strayed writing brings you along. You feel as if you’re with her as she faces the reality of what she’s set out to do.

Her writing is good, at times sad, at times funny, but descriptive and enjoyable. It’s a great story. We highly recommend it.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Atlas of Remote Islands • WCXC

Here’s a book you may be interested in: Judith Schalansky’s beautifully designed Atlas of Remote Islands. It introduces to the reader 50 of the world’s most remote islands, and offers a 1-page story about each. Schalansky’s writing style is cool and removed, not as remote as the islands she describes, but close.

Still the stories can be fascinating. There is Howland Island, Amelia Earhart’s last destination in the South Pacific. There is Pitcairn Island, home to the mutineers of the HMS Bounty. And Taongi Atoll, where motorboat was found that had left Hawaii nine and a half years earlier with five men aboard. A single grave was found nearby.

While this might not be the best book to read to your kids before bed, it does offer a light shined on the far corners of the earth, so different from our own.

See the cover after the jump.

Amazon: Atlas of Remote Islands

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I recently added Four-by-four driving to my book collection. If you’re not already familiar with previous editions, they’re classics in 4×4 circles. The newly revised 3rd. edition was released this year.

The book starts by defining the basics 4×4 systems in plain, conversational language: differentials, the basic types of 4-wheel-drive systems, and then goes into detail describing the different systems used by 12 different manufacturers—including (in this edition) makers of “soft roaders,” i.e., Freelanders, Rav4s and the like. This is extremely handy for slicing through marketing jargon. What does Quadra Track or 4-matic really mean? This book tells you.

The book then goes into off-road driving techniques for various types of terrain, addresses recovery, advanced techniques, expedition basics, and finishes with how to load a truck.

It’s informative, well-photographed and well-illustrated. My only criticism is that sections of the book, and page numbers, are both numbered in a decimal format (i.e., 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 for chapter 1; 2.1, 2.2 for chapter 2 and so on) and Section 7.2 isn’t on page 7.2, for example, which can get confusing because the book frequently references other parts of the text. Was that Section 7.2 or page 7.2?

That said, it looks like quite a good “do it all” book, explaining both how our rigs work and how to use them. New copies are available solely through Desert Winds Publishing.

4×4 Driving from Desert Winds Publishing
Jonathan Hanson’s full review of the 2nd. edition, on Overland Tech & Travel

I came across this neat book recently. It contains over 50 plans for small cabins and also goes into the logistics of getting one built. Consider it a general survey on the subject rather than an in-depth treatise. There’s sample spread after the jump.

Compact Cabins: Simple Living in 1000 Square Feet or Less, by Gerald Rowan
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We’ve been reading Finding Your Way Without a Map or Compass by Harold Gatty, first published in 1958. It’s a fascinating collection of navigation skills gleaned from the world of pre-Western and native explorers, in which one’s own five senses (and memory) are the guides, instead of compasses, maps, or GPS.

In the book, Gatty furthers the theory that early Polynesians first found their way across the Pacific by following the routes of migratory birds. Once the islands were known, they followed the stars. For example, if you hold a forked stick at arm’s length, and position the North Star in the crook of the fork, then note it’s height by marking the horizon along its length, you will travel along a constant latitude. If the North Star rises against the horizon, you’re heading north. If it falls, you’re heading south.

It’s quite an interesting read. Hat’s off to my girlfriend, Natalie, for finding this one.

We just finished reading We Took to the Woods, by Louise Dickinson Rich. She wrote it in the 1930s while living in the backwoods of western Maine with her husband, son, and a friend of theirs. It chronicles their day-to-day lives, on the shore of a river near Umbagog Lake, in a place so remote that there was no road out.

She tells stories about preparing for “freeze-up” in the fall, when the lakes (their route to the outside world) were too icy for boats but not icy enough to support vehicles, essentially cutting them off. She tells of coming across the odd bear while picking blueberries from an endless patch. She tells of log drives and hurricanes, and how to make the best baked beans. She tells of adopting a baby skunk, who made a very civilized house pet, until he grew up and took to the woods himself.

The writing is so fresh it could have been written yesterday, yet it’s so clearly a window into another time. We liked it so much we put off reading it, because we didn’t want it to end. Read the rest of this entry »

We finished this lovely little book a few weeks ago. It’s a collection of stories, told by Wylie Blanchet, of cruising the coast of British Columbia in the summers of the 1920s, with her five children (and sometimes a dog), in a 25-foot motorboat.

They traveled at a time when the BC is coast was changing from a traditional land to a modern one. They came across Indian villages abandoned for the summer, remote inlets with perhaps a single cabin and a sole occupant, and, at one point, a bear, which the children mistook for a man standing in the forest watching them.

These days you don’t often read about adventures as told from the perspective of a mother and her children but there they were cruising up the coast of Vancouver Island, a woman and her five children setting off every summer and coming back with adventures to tell.

Link: The Curve of Time


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We picked up this book recently while browsing the shelves of a bookstore in Fairhaven, Washington, Bellingham’s historic downtown.

It tells the story of Polly Bemis, who, as a young woman, was sold by her starving, rural, Chinese family for two bags of seed and shipped by traffickers to San Francisco in 1872. There she was sold again, sight-unseen, to a Chinese merchant living in the remote mining town of Warrens, Idaho, for the considerably larger sum of $2500 (about $46,000 today).

Some years later, as legend has it, the merchant wagered her in a poker game, with a local saloon keeper named Charlie Bemis, and lost. She ended up living with Charlie, ran his boarding house and, in 1890, saved his life when he was almost killed in a gunfight. Four years later they would marry and move to an even more remote ranch, 17 miles out of Warrens, on the banks of the Salmon River.

Well, Natalie and I thought this sounded like an amazing story and began to read when, to our utter surprise, we realized that we’d been to Warrens, Idaho!

Today Warren, as it’s now known, is mostly a ghost town, though Wikipedia lists its current population as 16. Below are some photos of our trip there in the fall of 2010.

If you’re interested in other places to go in Idaho, check out these posts:

Burgdorf Hot Springs (in business since the 1870s)
Ghost town of Silver City (founded 1864)
Redfish Lake Lodge (built in 1929)

Update 2/11/2013: I found the location of the Bemis house and mapped a possible route to Warren. See the map after the jump.

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Here’s what we’re reading at the moment: a travelogue called Blue Latitudes: Boldly going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before.

The author, Tony Horowitz, follows in the footsteps, or rather the wake, of 18th-century explorer Capt. James Cook, whose voyages were pretty much responsible for taking “Thar be monsters” off the map and inserting some of the Pacific’s most popular locals: Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia just to name a few. In Hawaii they had never seen then likes of a square-rigged bark and took Cook to be some sort of god. They also ended up cooking him, literally (oops — spoiler alert!) but we haven’t gotten to that part yet.

For authenticity’s sake, the author even signed up as crew on the replica of the HMS Endeavour, Cook’s ship, to get a taste of life as an 18th-century seaman. Yarg.

So far it’s been an entertaining and informative read. The author even has a Pulitzer Prize. We’re looking forward to working our way through this one.

As you plan your summer trips, it’s always good to brush up on your outdoor skills. To that end, here are a few volumes for your consideration. Some are vintage and interesting for their presentation of skills from an earlier time. Some are recent and more easily accessible. They all make great reads.

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