[Book Review] Adrift on the Pacific Crest Trail: A Thru-Hiking Story by Clay Bonnyman Evans
Author: Clay Bonnyman Evans
Publisher: Pony Tales Publishing
One of my “indoor” hobbies is reading books on hiking, more often than not a tale of hiking one of the Big Three (AT, PCT, or CDT). I’ve read over 50 on the subject and so was glad to get a copy of Adrift on the Pacific Crest Trail. Spoiler alert, Evans’ book is one of the better ones (and he completes the trail).
Now I admit to feeling a bit of kinship with the author; we’re both in our 60s, both runners, and both started thru-hiking with the Colorado Trail (he in ’15, me in ’16). However, this new work should appeal to a variety of audiences.
Detailing his 2021 hike from Mexico to Canada over four months, Evans’ writing is deeper than many I’ve read. While there are plenty of daily specifics for those looking for a “journal-type” read, the book includes much more than “On day 15 I walked 22 miles, climbed 3,000 feet and saw a snake.” Evans paints pictures that draw the reader into each scene. “I enjoyed the misty, moisty morning air infusing the dense coniferous forest as I made my way up the ridge. Wet, cold air razored off a vast fogbank to the west whenever the trail left the shelter of the trees.”
Warts and All
While the vast majority of the book is positive, the trip is realistic and not all rainbows and unicorns. He provides an accurate portrayal of both the joys and the difficulties of long-distance hiking. Beyond describing the physical challenges, Evans includes the reader in his struggles to hike his own hike, his ADHD, loneliness, and drifting away from his wife due to the long separation.
As much as any hiking book I’ve read, Evans is honest about himself personally, warts and all. If I ever “sharted” myself (and, to be clear, I haven’t), you would never know. With Evans, though, we get the full, humorous story. When he acts like an asshole, which he does a time or two, there’s no sugar-coating of his behavior. During the final split with another hiker he’d spent hundreds of miles with, he describes his own outburst. “You’re so goddamn selfish you can’t be bothered to show up when you’re supposed to, you have no resilience, you’re a pathetic stoner who doesn’t give a flying fuck about anyone else.” And his immediate regret afterward. “It wasn’t kind. It wasn’t true, at least not all of it. It wasn’t necessary…This was just abuse.”
On Staying Connected
For those hikers considering a trip where they’re leaving behind a family or significant other, the book provides insights into that difficulty. In fact, the title of the book is a reference to how he became emotionally adrift from his wife, Jody. The reader will most likely see the problem develop before Evans does. When Jody mentions he is distant when they talk, Evans’ response is to feel “defensive and yearning for sympathy after a brutal harrowing day” of hiking. He spends much of the journey focused strictly on the hike but eventually realizes his relationship needs more attention. “The most important lesson I learned from the PCT: Staying connected with my wife during a thru-hike is as important as what gear I take, my base weight, how many resupply boxes I send, and all the rest.”
As mentioned before, though, the trip is mostly an optimistic tale. Evans is a person that truly loves thru-hiking and the thru-hiking culture, even through difficult moments. He shares that love and enthusiasm throughout the book. “I’ve never woken up unhappy on trail, even when I’ve gone to bed sore, sick or sour….The PCT had mysteriously transformed me into a glass-half-full sort of guy, and I like it….Just after sundown, I heard the approaching whistle of big wings. I sat up just in time to see a bald eagle skimming the water no more than 20 feet away. Though gone in an instant, she set my heart aflutter.”
Overall, Evans weaves a great story of a long-distance hike, the people he meets, and how it truly is a life-changing experience; mostly good, some not so much. Sometimes life changed in ways he may not have wanted, but to get that full story, you need the read the book.
The journey itself is set in 2021, so it’s as fresh of a hiking story as you will find. Purists be forewarned: he does not hike every foot of the trail, mostly due to fire issues. However, it is very minor mileage and, in my mind, negligible in the scheme of things.
As a bonus, Evans shares the make and model for all his equipment as he uses it during the hike. To a non-hiker just looking for an adventure story, it may be a bit much. However, since you’re reading The Trek, my guess is this level of detail will be seen as a plus. In fact, he provides his complete gear list as an appendix, specifically pointing out gear disappointments. It’s great intel for those considering the hike. He also provides a detailed comparison between his AT and PCT hikes as well as a glossary of the terms used by thru-hikers.
Whether you’re just looking for a well-written adventure or specifically considering hiking a long trail, especially if you’re juggling family responsibilities, “Adrift on the Pacific Crest Trail” will be well worth your time.
Featured image: Clay Bonnyman Evans / Pony Tales Publishing.
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