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4.0 out of 5 stars "Organisms themselves are relatively transient entities..., 29 April 2011
This review is from: The Man Who Walked through Time (Paperback)
... through which materials and energies flow and eventually return to the environment." In a footnote towards the end of this book, Colin Fletcher says that he would like the subject quote to be his epitaph. It is one way of saying `you gotta do it now, we don't have forever.' He is now at least eligible for that epitaph, having led a full life, dying at the age of 85, in 2007. One of his "epitaphs" is that he is the "father" of the modern backpacker movement. Perhaps his most famous book is The Complete Walker IV. He also wrote The Thousand-Mile Summer: In Desert and High Sierra which told the story of his walk over the length of California, from south to north. The reviewed work is his account of his solo walk from the west to the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park, in 1963. He was 41 years old, and his claim to be the first to have ever accomplished this remarkable feat is almost certainly true.

This book is equal measures of a straight account of the programmatic and logistical issues involved in such an undertaking, coupled with philosophical musings on the meaning of life and our place in the universe. Overall, the combination worked for me. His journey was a solo one; he was also of the school that "the pleasures of travel do not go to the swift." It took him two months to complete his journey, and, as he states, if he was in a race, the trip probably could have been done in a month. But the more leisurely approach allowed for a number of "down" days lolling around camp. Since one cannot carry enough food for two months, and with problematic water sources, he pre-positioned two caches of food and water for a week, arranged for three airdrops of weekly supplies, and was able to refurbish at Phantom Ranch, the one permanent tourist accommodation on the floor of the canyon. Because of the 5000 ft differential between the rim and the floor of the canyon, the optimum timing for the walk falls within narrow windows: too early, and you are fighting snow along the rim; too late, and you have the intense heat to contend with along the floor. He started in April, and did experience some snow squalls. In that pre-internet age, Fletcher was most fortunate to connect with the one person who had walked much of the canyon, but in 2-3 days segments: Dr. Harvey Butchart, of Arizona State College in Flagstaff. Dr. Butchart was most generous with his maps and advice, and as it turns out, walked the one remaining section to ensure that the entire passage was possible.

In terms of the philosophical musings, sometimes they worked; sometimes they seem quite strained. Certainly a central premise is the possibility of seeing life from a different perspective when one's routine in the so-called civilized world is left behind. The definition of time itself changes. Few places on earth can help inspire some free associations with our place in the universe, as the Grand Canyon, with the exposed rocks at the bottom being 1.5 billion years old. And he was willing to risk some "anthropomorphism," in relating to beavers, snakes, et al., and concluding that the pendulum had swung too far against attributing some human characteristic to animals in the field of zoology. It was all good stuff.

However, there were portions in the book that I had to wonder about. With no one around, on some of the esplanades (you can't walk the whole way along the river due to the sheer cliffs), he walked in the nude, save for boots and socks; claiming it was the coolest way to go. Sounds like a Welshman to me! Long term residents of the desert go to a great extent to keep the sun OFF their skin, and therefore cover in light cloth. No mention of sunburn in sensitive places, which seemed impossible. I was also puzzled that, while he was camped along the river, which he did for several days, that he did not meet any rafters. I rafted down the river in 1978, and the traffic seemed relatively "heavy." Could there have been no rafters in 1963? I'd love some comments.

Colin Fletcher was a true pioneer of a wonderful outdoor activity. His solo walk through the Grand Canyon remains an impressive achievement. As with many pioneers, he had a few quirks, most understandable with a dollop of empathy. Overall, this is a very worthwhile read; still, consider it 4-stars though, due to lost opportunities.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on December 26, 2010)
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