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The Last Englishman by Keith Foskett

The Last Englishman

by Keith Foskett

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Foskett - known as Fozzie on the trail - is a thru-hiker. In this book he tells the story of his hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada. Actually he didn't hike the entire trail in one stretch. He skipped most of Oregon and then after reaching Canada came back and finished the Oregon part, but going South Bound and also walking along roads instead of the trail proper because of the snow covering the trail. This sort of cut-and-paste approach to hiking the PCT seems common enough, from the stories Fozzie tells of other hikers.

This is a Lulu.com book, i.e. in the broad category of self-publication. Mostly the story comes through but there were some mildly annoying failures of copy editing, rough transitions, etc. But these were all minor and didn't stop the story from getting through.

Fozzie tells a good story. I enjoy reading travel and adventure books and while Fozzie's is not high literature, it is a fun read and the narrative flow keeps one turning the pages. Fozzie introduces us to a dozen or so other hikers along with brief introductions to many of the trail angels he meets along the way, people that house and feed hikers etc. He doesn't tell us much about the history or geography along the way. For Fozzie the hike is mostly a challenge that he is determined to meet. It is also a bit of a rolling party, too. He starts at the same time with many other hikers but is quite late in finishing. His lateness isn't so much a result of major mishaps. It'd be interesting to look at statistics on the progress of various hikers - the distribution of miles per day across the trip. I must say, just today I hiked about 8 miles with a 2000 foot climb, carrying maybe 8 pounds. Fozzie, along with other successful PCT thru-hikers, need to average something like 4x that hike, per day, every day, for months on end. That is really quite a feat! A lot of what kept Fozzie off the trail extra days was his work writing. My guess is that most successful thru-hikers don't try to keep up part-time work along the way!

In a final chapter Fozzie tells some stories about the experiences thru-hikers have after leaving the trail, their re-entry into a less adventuresome routine. Fozze also tries to answer the question, "Why hike the PCT?"

This is a really fascinating question. Fozzie opens up a few dimensions but he doesn't explore them in any depth. For example, what is the relationship between adventure and challenge? Maybe adventure requires challenge, some impetus that pushes us out of our comfort zone and tests our limits. What about spontaneity, what about just enjoying experiences along the way? Adventure can have that flavor, exploring side trails even if that risks missing mileage goals. So that is a bit of tension with the challenge dimension.

Is there something special about the wilderness that makes wilderness adventure a special kind of adventure? One curious puzzle: to what extent is wilderness adventure a return to the natural human experience. Surely our evolutionary heritage is some kind of tribal hunter-gatherer. But this might not be a wilderness adventure! Probably our ancestors did what they could to play it safe and avoid unnecessary adventure. So then: what about adventure and danger? Probably it is always dangerous to test one's limits. But there are many ways to fail and many are not fatal. I wonder, thinking more about PCT thru-hiker statistics, what sorts of failures people experience. I imagine a few hikers must have died one way or another out on the trail.

Fozzie's story is good food for thought and also a very good sketch of the experience of a PCT Thru-Hiker for anyone considering that particular adventure! ( )
  kukulaj | Jul 21, 2013 |
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