Strange Trips

On the road or at sea, it's all about the journey

Jun 15, 2006
Outside Magazine

By Robert Sullivan
(Bloomsbury, $25)
HAVING DRIVEN ACROSS America 27 times, Robert Sullivan—author of 2004's natural history Rats—is somewhat of an authority on interstate-iana. Here he packs up his family for a trip from Oregon to New York, determined to explore our mania for long-haul drives. Ditching folksy blue highways for the multilane behemoths he argues are "the real America," Sullivan uses the long stretches between bathroom stops to hold forth on Lewis and Clark's slog to the Pacific, the road-obsessed Beat poets, and the seventies heyday of the Cannonball Run. While his ruminations on coffee-cup lids and motel breakfast bars can be tedious, his historical detours are engrossing, and his Woody Allen–in–a–Chevy neuroses keep things lively. "I see another Impala, or at least I think it's an Impala, but, anyway, it's a cop at the top of the hill," he notes in the Dakotas. "I slow down and am cool, or think I am cool. God, I think, please let me be cool!" A lot of the time, Sullivan, you are.
—Jason Daley

Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting
By T. R. Pearson
(Crown, $25)
WHEN THOR HEYERDAHL and his five crewmates crossed the Pacific in the balsa-wood raft Kon-Tiki, in 1947, they entered the pantheon of great explorers. When 61-year-old William Willis repeated the voyage, solo, seven years later, his name became a footnote in the annals of sailing miscellany. Now, in the strange-but-true history Seaworthy, Virginia- based novelist T. R. Pearson gives the fearless New York merchant seaman his due. Falling somewhere between intrepid soloist and full-on nutcase, Willis survived on raw fish, olive oil, and a daily cup of ocean water as he rafted across the Pacific twice (and attempted the Atlantic three times), periodically hanging upside down from ropes to relieve a nagging hernia. "Willis was essentially an extreme sportsman well in advance of the phenomenon," Pearson writes. "In the context of his era, he made for a gaudy curiosity, a sort of accomplished crackpot." By turns inspiring and hilarious, Seaworthy is an entertaining ride along the thin line that separates boldness from folly.
—Bruce Barcott

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