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The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind—and Almost Found Myself—on the Pacific Crest Trail

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  805 ratings  ·  146 reviews
The Pacific Crest Trail stretches from Mexico to Canada, a distance of 2,650 grueling, sun-scorched, bear-infested miles. When Dan White and his girlfriend announced their intention to hike it, Dan's parents—among others—thought they were nuts. How could two people who'd never even shared an apartment together survive six months in the desert with little more than a two-pe ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published May 20th 2008 by Harper Perennial
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Into Thin Air by Jon KrakauerA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonInto the Wild by Jon KrakauerThe Call of the Wild by Jack LondonKon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
Tales of Adventure
88th out of 278 books — 315 voters
Wild by Cheryl StrayedSkywalker by Bill  WalkerDances with Marmots by George G. SpearingI Promise Not To Suffer by Gail D. StoreyThe Cactus Eaters by Dan White
Hiking the PCT
5th out of 16 books — 4 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,692)
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Diane
This is a decent hiking memoir, but the writer is such a selfish, whiny, inconsiderate jerk that I had to dock a star because I almost gave up on it a few times.

During a lull in his journalism career, Dan White became obsessed with hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile trek that starts at the southern tip of California and runs north all the way to the Canadian border. (This is the same trail that Cheryl Strayed wrote about in her bestselling book, Wild.) Dan is thrilled that his girlfri
...more
John Pedersen
Sep 16, 2008 John Pedersen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: hikers outdoors-types seekers
This book blows hot and cold for me. I love descriptions of this sort of lonely struggle. I really have trouble getting behind folk who are foolishly and dangerously unprepared. I grew to like the Lois and Clark Expedition, but as the book wore on I lost patience with the author who just can't seem to get his sh*t together.

The part that rings the most true is the ambiguity when it is all over. There are books out there that, after the Great Feat is complete, the scales fall from one's eyes and
...more
April
Aiieeeee, the author of this book comes off as totally unbearable. He is, by his own admission, colossally self-absorbed and woefully ignorant of even the basics of backpacking. There were some choices he made along the trail that really raised my eyebrows, but the one that took the cake was dumping out HALF HIS WATER SUPPLY on the morning of a dry desert crossing WITHOUT TELLING HIS HIKING PARTNER. Oh. My. God.

So if you could handle reading about that little caper without flinging your computer
...more
Michael
A very poor cousin of Bill Bryson's far superior A Walk in the Woods, Dan White's memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is just more irritating and hollow than interesting or fun to read. White comes across like a douchebag with nearly everyone he encounters, and his anecdotes ring completely false. He's also not nearly as funny or endearing as he seems to think he is. But mainly I just can't get over the feeling that White is a liar.

He claims to have grown up in California and had a guidebo
...more
Tammy
Since I am unlikely to ever hike the Pacific Crest Trail myself, I have to live vicariously through others. Hence my strange appetite for poorly written, boring tales of people walking dusty miles for months on end. And I’ve read every such account I can get my hands on.

Enter Dan White’s book “The Cactus Eaters.” Without a doubt this is one of the best-written, funniest, and most thought-provoking accounts of a long-distance hike I’ve ever read. It outpaces and outclasses other dry accounts of P
...more
Jeremy
A less funny, less informative West Coast version of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Dan White is an inexperienced, casual hiker who decides to hike the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail (which runs from the Mexican Border, through the San Gabriel mountains, Mojave desert, Tehachapi mountains, Sierra Nevadas, Shasta, Lassen, Cascades on up to Canada). His girlfriend comes along for most of the ride. What he lacks in know-how, he makes up for in arrogance. Did I mention he's kind of an ass? What' ...more
Turi
Jun 07, 2008 Turi rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: pct, travel
This is one of the best (and most well-written) PCT books Ive read. While my two main criticisms of PCT trail log books apply here, too, I can understand why. 1. The authors, a la Bill Bryson, head out into the wilderness woefully unprepared. OK, a big part of the reason it's an interesting read is that it's a voyage of discovery for him; if this were an ultra-experienced hiker setting out, there wouldn't be as much to write about. 2. The California section of the trail is covered in depth, and ...more
Danielle
A great one to read with my husband and backpacking partner. We got to snicker at their early ignorance, commiserate with the trials of the trail (not the PCT, of course, but backpacking in general), and generally live their experience vicariously so that we never have to do it ourselves (fact: the phrase "Why would you ever want to do that?!" was uttered by one or the other of us during the course of this book exactly 2,368 times). We like backpacking, but spending months on a national scenic t ...more
Christina
I had really high hopes for this, especially since I loved "Wild." However, I had a hard time understanding WHY "Cactus Eaters" needed to be written. There wasn't anything especially compelling or awe-inspiring about this author's PCT trek, aside from the fact that he has a very rough time adjusting to regular life after leaving the trail. Also, the author weaves in a LOT of historical information, which is helpful at first but then just becomes an annoying interruption to what one could call a ...more
Benjamin
Interesting book, but I'm one of those who can't handled self-centered, unprepared idiots "finding themselves in the woods." Also echo the sentiments of other reviewers in that NOT including the year is a big issue with this book. The rest are mostly: too much time spend on self-discovery, the author's sexual conquests (I really feel sorry for his ex-girlfriend!!), his complete incompetence on the trail, his disregard for others, etc. It seems like the author spent so much time worrying about hi ...more
Liz
From the perspective of thru-hiking the PCT, this was interesting. Dan White discussed gear, solitude, fear, tiredness and hunger pretty well. He went a little too far into self discovery for me. Not that he shouldn't do some self discovery...we probably all need a little more of that. It's just that he wrote more about his journey of self discovery than I wanted to know. I like books about thru-hiking, the actual hiking part with a little self discovery thrown in so we know the author is human. ...more
Kathy
The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. Dan White has penned this brutally honest and highly entertaining tale to describe how he & his girlfriend hike the PCT. It would be hard to find two less-prepared backpackers which is what made the story so interesting for me! Without giving too much away, let me just say that the title is quite accurate. I enjoyed experiencing the transformation that takes place within Dan & Allison on all levels during the hike. Whether y ...more
1.1
Dan White can write, and in this book he writes about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which he does with much honesty and some verve. However his hike is not a 'pure' one, for reasons which are too spoilerish to include here. It was an interesting read, though, and the PCT was my favorite character. Him and his GF are your average white twentysomething careerists who want a break to find something 'real' and also a challenge to test themselves - they get more than they wished for.

It's almost un
...more
David
It's hard not to compare this book to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Both books employ self-deprecating humor as well as historical details and anecdotes. However, as White points out repeatedly, the PCT is far more physically demanding and, thus, attracts far fewer through hikers per year.

I loved Part One, which is roughly the first three-quarters or so of the book, during which Dan and Allison make their way through most of the very long state of California and leave the trail in Ashland,
...more
Tom M
The author, Dan, and his girlfriend Allison embark for a journey along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PCT is like a trail on the order of the Appalachian Trail, but much more difficult. It stretches 2600+ miles and connects the border of California and Mexico to the border of Washington and British Columbia. Dan & Allison are reporters for a newspaper in Connecticut, meet at that job, and after a series of personal events, travel the trail.


It's a a bit difficult to describe the slightly
...more
Danielle
Another ALA book; oh man, I seriously can't decide how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I'm always a sucker for a long distance hike story (loved both A Walk in the Woods & A Blistered Kind of Love), but on the other, I hate when characters do stupid things on purpose. And this books was filled with both. I'm kind of amazed the author is still alive what with some of the choices he made on the journey.
Kate
Dec 04, 2008 Kate rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: memoir
I loved all this book's descriptions of the realities of the beauty and dreariness of the Pacific Crest Trail--and I found myself looking forward to relishing Dan White's hilarious (and often deceptively poignant) riffs on what all of this means to him. FYI, this is a memoir, not a travel guide, which the subtitle ("How I lost my mind and almost found myself on the PCT") makes clear.
Bryon
I did like reading this book for the most part(2.5 Stars), even though the author/main character comes off as a complete idiot. If I were put in his girlfriends shoes he wouldn't have made it off that trail...I would have left him with a mouth full of cactus. Maybe that's why I continued to read this book, I wanted to see what idiotic thing he would do next.
Emily
While I really like reading backpacking narrative, this book made me want to bang my head against the wall. I mean, after walking up to a bear that roars at you, you really go off and chase it? Really? That seems like a good idea? The author spends a lot of time proving that he thinks he is one special snowflake.
Owlcat Mountain
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“The Pacific Crest Trail stretches from Mexico to Canada, a distance of 2,650 grueling, sun-scorched, bear-infested miles. When Dan White and his girlfriend announced their intention to hike it, Dan's parents—among others—thought they were nuts. How could two people who'd never even shared an apartment together survive six months in the desert with little more than a two-person tent and some trail mix? But when these addled adventurers, dubbed "the Lois and
...more
Dana
I found this book extremely hard to read. The author comes across as an arrogant jerk, without the wit, charm, or good writing skills to make it bearable. He finds fault in every person adn situation he comes across.. would not recommend.
Amanda
Although annoyed by the narrator's selfishness and unfortunate references to his sexuality, I couldn't put this book down. A great attempt to capture an experience that few readers will ever share.
Marybeth
Although the book had a few funny sections, the author spent way too much time whining, complaining, and blaming everyone else for his troubles - including John Muir! Unprepared and just plain stupid! While I appreciated the historical facts woven into this retelling of his hiking adventure, this really had nothing to do with the PCT. I found the author to be single-minded, whiny, and self-absorbed. (Apparently still is as I didn’t even see a thank you to his trail companion in the epilogue). I ...more
Katie Vinzinski
The Cactus Eaters by Dan White, is a narrative of sorts, a memoir of his time spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It delves into the drudgery of through hiking a national scenic trail and the struggle of man and nature. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, often abbreviated as PCT, connects Mexico to Canada by stretching through California, Oregon, and Washington.

In The Cactus Eaters, Dan White chronicles his often anything but smooth, unlucky trip. On a whim he and his then girlfriend dec
...more
Mark
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kris Madaus
This was an excellent book that kept me laughing out loud almost the entire time. I have to compare the style to that of Bill Bryson's in A Walk in the Woods, but a little more edgy and raw. There is a bit more bad language than Bryson, but this didn't offend me at all since the author is obviously a talented writer. One example was how he named his backpack, "Big Motherf**ker" and his waterbag "Betty the Whore". Although this might not be funny on the surface, it was funny when you hear the rea ...more
Christina
May 28, 2008 Christina rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Backpackers
Shelves: 2008, nonfiction, hiking
I almost didn't get past the first few chapters -- I was turned off my the author namedropping his undergrad school and the fact that he and his girlfriend were going to undertake one of the toughest trails with no idea what they were doing. I hate pretension and I LOATHE idiots who are unprepared for the wilderness but think they need to accomplish whatever adventure they've dreamt up as a way of proving something. But I kept reading, and ended up getting totally sucked into this book -- in fac ...more
Abbe
From Publishers Weekly

Traversing broiling deserts, snowy mountain passes and dank rain forests on its crooked way from Mexico to Canada, the Pacific Coast Trail is an epic challenge for die-hard backpackers. White and his girlfriend, Melissa, set out, late in the season and bereft of experience, to tread all 2,650 miles of it, leaving behind lousy reporting jobs and hoping to find self-definition and a deepened relationship. (They call their trek the Lois and Clark Expedition.) Hilarious green

...more
Nick
I don't know what I really expected from this book. Until a few days ago I hadn't even heard of it.

I loved the whole first part, and was actually crying by the end of the second. I think I see too much of myself in the author, what he did, and how his relationship with Allison went. I'm a bit of a mess right now.

Some quotes:

p.25: "In the early stage of my infatuation with this epic western journey, it never occured to me that I might be falling in love not with a trail but with a vision of it...
...more
Becky Johnson
Disgruntled with their lives as small-town reporters, Dan White and his girlfriend, Alison, crave to do something adventurous and noteworthy — walk the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail in a single season. To prepare for this epic journey, they go on a 1-night overnight backpack trip near their home in Connecticut. Their anticipated start date is delayed a bit longer than expected, and finally they set out on the trail just south of Los Angeles in mid-June, the supposed last “through hike ...more
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