Courtesy of National Park Service, via National Parks Traveler
When planning a National Parks vacation, you probably go to the nps.gov Web site to find a campground, map prospective hikes, and check for warnings. Former National Park Service director Roger Kennedy, who died this past Friday at his home in Maryland at the age of 85, made sure the parks had an online presence that catered to all. The head of the NPS from 1993 to 1997, he added eight parks and expanded two. After his time as chief, in a 2002 interview, he stood up against proposed NPS budget cuts that might reduce attention given to minority accomplishments.
By the time you read this, I’ll be 5,000 feet down in the Grand Canyon, rafting the Colorado River from Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch. My husband and I have been dying to do this trip for years, but it was only in the last month that the stars aligned and a couple of spots opened up on a commercial dory trip with O.A.R.S. and my mom agreed to babysit our daughters. I’m a big believer in serendipity—listen up, it’s trying to tell you something. In this case, leave the kids at home and reacquaint yourself with the person you were before they were born, the one who had seemingly unlimited time and zero conflicting loyalties, a bottomless supply of travel funds with which to finance spontaneous junkets to the farthest, most exotic ends of the earth, and no fear whatsoever of dying in freak ways or getting malaria. Yeah, right.
It’s easy—but maybe not all that productive—to idealize who we were before our offspring crashed the party. We may have had a longer leash, with less at stake, but we also didn’t feel the sweet, irresistible pull of home and pudgy fingers clinging to our leg while we’re trying to fry an egg or get out the door for a trail run. Parenthood may be the biggest adventure of all, but we still need to shake loose its talon grips and get gone. On our own, for adventure as we used to know it: a three-hour mountain bike ride, a long weekend reliving your dirt bag climbing days in Yosemite, or a week’s surf safari in Costa Rica. Because no matter how dedicated you are to raising intrepid outdoor kids, sometimes you need to leave them at home to do it.
This begs the question: Do you have to be a ripper to raise a ripper? Thankfully, no. But it helps to be sane and grounded, with a healthy perspective, and your own interests and goals, and if that’s best achieved by going out and letting your formerly-awesome-but-now-maybe-merely-OK adventure self rip from time to time, without having to tote along a backbreaking supply of diapers, wipes, battery-operated white noise/miracle-napping machines or worry about whose feet are cold or whose stomachs are grumbly, then by all means, go.
Steamboat was the only town awarded both a USA Pro Cycling Challenge start and finish. Photo courtesy of David Dietrich Photography.
I was skeptical when I heard that Steamboat Springs, the low-key ski town in the rolling hills of northwest Colorado, is christening itself Bike Town USA. Colorado is chock full of both great riding (from the laugh-out-loud desert tracks in Fruita to miles of trail strung over Crested Butte's high alpine) and devoted bike towns (Colorado Springs has the Olympic Training Center, and Boulder just finished its state-of-the-art bike park). No matter how good the riding, it was hard to imagine that Steamboat could out-bike the rest of the state. But I'd never ridden there, so late this summer I headed north.
There’s no better way to learn about a country you plan to visit than reading about it, and local writing is the most authentic storytelling you’ll find. Until now, it’s been difficult to find translations of works written in places like North Korea, Iraq and even Europe. Words Without Borders changed all that when it started publishing international literature online in 2003.
Eight years later, wordswithoutborders.org has gathered one of the largest collections of contemporary international literature in the English-speaking world. The group has published well over 1,000 works from 114 countries and 80 languages. Submissions are organized by country, language and author—including fiction, poetry, nonfiction, book reviews, graphic lit and interviews. With 10 new works a month in its online magazine and five anthologies already to its name, WWB is bringing international writing back into the mainstream.
Susan Harris is the Editorial Director of WWB, and took a few minutes recently to tell us about her organization.
This review is the first for my list of the 34 best travel books you've never read, posted in no particular order. Up first, Poets on the Peaks, a travelogue that chronicles the varied routes the Beats took on their way to meeting in San Francisco in the 1950s.
#18 Poets on the Peaks by John Suiter Counterpoint (April 16, 2002)
One of the greatest travel books published in recent times mirrors another, smaller book—that wasn't a travel narrative at all. It was a small novel published in 1958 that’s become a vade mecum for drifters, backpackers and train hoppers around the world. The first chapter of Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, in particular, plants the reader in the scene with such precise language and meditative rhythm, the experience is not so much of reading as it is watching scenery slide by—the taste of tobacco in your mouth, a half-finished bottle of Irish Rose in your pocket. Reading it aloud, I’ve been told, is the only way to truly get lost in the story:
Hopping a freight out of Los Angeles at high noon one day in late September 1955 I got on a gondola and lay down with my duffel bag under my head and my knees crossed and contemplated the clouds as we rolled north to Santa Barbara. It was a local and I intended to sleep on the beach at Santa Barbara that night and catch either another local to San Luis Obispo the next morning or the first class freight all the way to San Francisco at seven p.m. Somewhere near Camarillo where Charlie Parker’d been mad and relaxed back to normal health, a thin old little bum climbed into my gondola as we headed into a siding to give a train right of way and looked surprised to see me there. He established himself at the other end of the gondola and lay down, facing me, with his head on his own miserably small pack and said nothing. By and by they blew the highball whistle after the eastbound freight had smashed through on the main line and we pulled out as the air got colder and fog began to blow from the sea over the warm valleys of the coast.
The book continues in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Berkeley, and at the famous Six Gallery reading where Ginsberg first read Howl and Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure and Philip Whalen performed. From there it follows Snyder and Kerouac up California’s Matterhorn Peak and through Kerouac’s musings of a rucksack revolution—as the two writers trade Zen wisdom on the summit, eat peanuts and raisins and prance back down the mountain high on enlightenment and starvation.