Book Review: Walks of a Lifetime: Extraordinary Hikes From Around the World
by Robert and Martha Manning, Falcon Press, 2017.
Hurrah! Another elegant invitation from the Mannings to ordinary folks to try long distance walking!
Walks of a Lifetime (2017), like the Manning’s first guidebook, Walking Distance (2013), alternates compelling descriptions of 30 exceptional walks around the world with brief essays on aspects of walking. With these intelligent companion volumes, Robert and Martha Manning are now firmly established as discerning and trusted guides to some of the world’s best walks. Their approach goes way beyond your typical “trail guide”.
Essays in Walks of a Lifetime delightfully amplify themes in the walk chapters, connect the reader to the larger world of long distance walking, and inspire closer attention to the world we walk. The 30 topics include trail angels, pilgrimage, urban walking, philanthropic walking, place, and the philosophy and ethics of walking. The authors celebrate the joys of advance research, discuss how to prepare and how to enjoy serendipitous “misadventures” along the way, and offer advice on answering the inevitable question, “how long will it take?”. Further, they explore the expanded field around walking by musing on ecotourism, health, walking as political statement, walking as art, and they contemplate the existential conundrum of journey vs. the destination.
Each walk portrait presents the sort of information that never goes out of date, for example natural and cultural history, land management context, weather and terrain. Descriptions are useful, satisfying, but hardly exhaustive. Instead, the reader will be stimulated toward further research, and to embrace walking as a process of life-long learning. Robert contributes knowledges honed by decades of research and teaching on national parks around the world, and he also provides hundreds of high quality photos. Martha, an artist, speaks and writes as an astute observer full of practical advice. Both husband and wife have an eye for natural beauty, topography, and unique landscape features. They also share their infectious enjoyment of people, culture and cuisine. Specifically, the walk descriptions include:
- Orientation to the landscape and its natural history, including geology, wildlife, botany, weather, soils, bodies of water, etc.;
- Cultural highlights of each area, including history, archaeology, museums, culinary traditions, agriculture, architecture, language, thermal baths, and local lore;
- The context of the trail/traverse: how the trail came to be, how it operates, nearby and connecting trails, the challenges and unique features of the parks and natural areas it traverses, the broader trail system and walking culture of the nation/region in which it exists; and
- Photographs that visually define each experience.
And, of course, practical information and advice is included:
- Getting to the trail head and back, getting around in the region;
- Availability of food, water, accommodations, bathrooms, campsites, etc.;
- How to hike the trail in sections, other possible modifications, and adjacent trails;
- Level of difficulty, type of terrain, safety considerations, and tips about gear;
- Trail protocols (important do’s and don’ts) and environmental ethics.
In Walks of a Lifetime the authors expand our concept of long distance walking beyond hiking remote woods and tramping distant fields to include sauntering through some of the world’s most populous cities (Sydney, New York, Paris and San Francisco). They also include a range of bucolic to backcountry walks in places like Arizona, Hawaii, Georgia, Utah, Colorado, Maine, N.H., China, France, New Zealand, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Scotland, England and Wales. And they take us on treks in some of the most isolated locations in the USA such as Denali in Alaska, Havasu Canyon and Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness in Arizona, and Popo Agie Wilderness in Wyoming.
The Manning’s continued emphasis on long distance walks for ordinary people is a refreshing corrective to the current craze for “through hiking” on such trails as the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trail. Such hikes, requiring months of time and almost superhuman effort, are not for ordinary people. This book is a tonic for the rest of us. In fact, in Walks of a Lifetime, the Mannings offer even gentler and more accessible walks than in their previous guide. They include four urban saunters, and also describe a higher proportion of domestic (U.S.) walks (seventeen) than in the 2013 volume (twelve). As to level of difficulty, this latest guide includes seven walks of low challenge (compared with two in the previous book) and eight that are categorized as high challenge (compared with twelve in the previous book).
The latest volume is published by Falcon Press, a specialist in trail guides. The earlier guide, published by Oregon State University Press includes an index, further reading suggestions at the end of each chapter, a bibliography, and a sprinkling of sparkling quotations throughout. The Falcon Press publication omits these extras. I missed these.
One quibble: the maps in Walks of a Lifetime are extremely rudimentary. While providing the highly detailed topo maps necessary for walking the walk is clearly not within the scope of this guide, better maps would definitely aid in amplifying the author’s text and in supporting the walker’s planning. Falcon Press is capable of doing better by its authors and readers.
Readers new to long distance walking will find themselves in good hands as they select a walk and plan for their first trip. Experienced walkers will enjoy perusing the options shared by the well-travelled and insightful authors. Written with intelligence, grace and gentle humor, the Manning’s two guides are perfect gifts for friends and family. Each volume effectively encourages new readers to get off the chair, take a long walk, and savor the wonders of nature and culture at a slow pace. Both guides are also highly recommended for libraries serving communities with interest in outdoor recreation.
Sam Demas, October 2017