Rob's Blog Archive

July 5, 2015

Colin Fletcher, My Hero










The first adventure book I read was The Thousand Mile Summer by Colin Fletcher.  The book describes his backpacking the length of California in 1958. 

By the time I read the book, I had done some backpacking, but just overnight trips.  I hadn’t yet gone on one of my Boy Scout Troop’s fifty milers, no less anything remotely resembling Fletcher’s 1,200 mile walkabout.  I had no car, not much gear, and not much experience. I couldn’t do much.  I could, however, do one hike from my home.  It was a fourteen mile round trip across the Palos Verdes Peninsula and to the ocean. In the spirit of Fletcher’s hikes, I took a long route to the ocean rather than the short hike I knew well.  Along the way, I even glimpsed bits of wilderness---these are hard to spot in suburbia, but they’re there.  And, there was the ocean.

Fletcher’s second book, The Man Who Walked Through Time, makes National Geographic’s list of all time great adventure books.  The trip itself was the first time anybody had backpacked the length of the canyon in a single continuous hike.  David Roberts, in his compilation: Points Unknown:  The Greatest Adventure Writing of the Twentieth Century includes a chapter from that book titled “Transitions.”  In the chapter, Fletcher describes how watching a lizard moved him from the outside world that he had left only a week earlier to a world far more real than anything in our cities and suburbs. 

With this, not to mention how much I enjoyed all of Fletcher’s writing, I decided to re-read The Man Who Walked Through Time.  I had read it a little over 40 years ago, and it was time. 

Between my needing reading glasses and the ease of getting books for my Kindles, I prefer Kindle books over others.  There are still books I choose to read that are not available as Kindle books, but not many.  The Man Who Walked Through Time wasn’t available electronically, but it was a re-read, and so I decided to wait and see.  Checking every few months over a couple of years finally paid off.  I downloaded the book about a week ago. 

While I’ve found myself plodding through some of the books on the “best of lists,” I’m savoring The Man Who Walked Through Time.   I am also understanding why Fletcher caught my imagination with his writing and adventures. 

Since my initial readings of Fletcher’s books, I did understand that he had an undeniable effect on my approach to hiking, climbing, and skiing, as well as writing about them.  How I write about gear is a conscious mimic of his most popular book, The Complete Walker.  One thing that I had not realized, or perhaps forgot, was a mimic was to sometimes leave my camera behind.    About a third of the way up the canyon, Fletcher dropped his camera in the Colorado River and destroyed it.  At first very upset with himself, he quickly realized that photography interfered with contemplation.  I have sometimes intentionally left my camera behind and used only the “emulsion of memory” so that I could contemplate without worrying about taking pictures. 

Unlike Fletcher, however, I’ve usually regretted doing this.  My memory is quite good, but there’s a very real part of me that loves documentation---you should see my workout and dogs’ workout databases.  Photographs serve to document trips.  I do enjoy sitting down and going through old photos of past adventures.  Conversely, not having those photos, particularly of something spectacular---crossing the Argentiere Basin in the Alps on a crystal clear day would be an example---bothers me more than the photography disturbs my contemplation and I now always bring my camera and take photos. 

Since reading Fletcher’s books, I’ve climbed many peaks in the Cascades, Sierras, and Rockies.  I’ve tried skiing the Haute Route in the Alps and did ski the High Route in the Sierras.  I’ve done long backpacking trips in the Sierras and the Rockies.  The big difference, however, between my reading The Man Who Walked Through Time before having these adventures and now is my perspective as a writer.  Fletcher captured the Grand Canyon, from the layers of rock to the river to the lizard, and how he interacted with it.  That’s what made his book so compelling.  For me, the lesson is simple:  If I capture my interaction with my dogs and my interaction with the winter and my love of both, my writing will be compelling too. 

I’ve been fortunate to have many heroes during my life.  Among these is The Man Who Walked Through Time, Colin Fletcher.

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