Bailed at pg.50. Even though Gatlin is 37 and the nubile college student is 19, it wasn't the age gap that squicked me out, but the fact that Gatlin i...moreBailed at pg.50. Even though Gatlin is 37 and the nubile college student is 19, it wasn't the age gap that squicked me out, but the fact that Gatlin is clearly a dirty old man. Maybe living in a fire tower for 6 months of the year makes a person nuts, or Gatlin's just an asshole. Hard to tell. The writing was choppy - it was like Abbey was going for "no more than 5 words per sentence" and that never sits well with me. Also I couldn't tell what was really going on and what were Gatlin's fantasies. So.... eh. I much preferred Fire On The Mountain in terms of plot and description. Although a lot of words were spent on the scenery and wildlife around the fire tower, it didn't seem as vivid.(less)
After a couple years backpacking with traditional (read: heavy) gear I really need to get into ultralight, especially when I go on solo trips and the...moreAfter a couple years backpacking with traditional (read: heavy) gear I really need to get into ultralight, especially when I go on solo trips and the gear weight can't be divided with the BF. As the author points out several times, ultralight is not just a matter of gear weight but a mindset: Do you NEED this item, or do you just WANT it? He does encourage "crossing the line" into scary territory, such as only taking just enough food that you need and possibly going hungry the last day. I was astounded at his "rule" of carrying no more than 1 liter of water at a time (and really questioning the entire book as a result), but then was somewhat mollified when he finally addressed the issue of desert hiking (and carrying as much water as you could). I'm in New Mexico and those "springs" on the maps are hardly ever running. You do not bank on those springs.
Although he frequently came across as a fanatic, he didn't proclaim this book as The Word on ultralight and directed the reader to the book Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backpackin' Book: Traveling & camping skills for a wilderness environment which I'll need to locate, because Clelland didn't really address the issue of sleeping in bear country... OK, it's a clear night so you don't have a tarp tent, you're just laying there in your sleeping quilt (not even a bag) on your Tyvek footprint and.... a bear comes up to check you out? What do you do? He mentions to "have the bear spray handy" when you sleep, but the actual encounter was never presented. I guess Allen and Mike will tell me the proper bear spraying protocol, because that possibility scares the crap outta me.
So despite its shortcomings, I really enjoyed this book and starting to digest all the tips. My backpack could stand to lose some more weight (I've already cut off a lot of the "strap diarrhea"), and I'll look into homemade alcohol stoves and Heinie pots. I may end up employing my sewing skills and making my own ultralight pack so my future trips into the wilderness will be lighter and much more enjoyable. My knees will thank me, I'm sure.(less)
The fire tower lookout (aka "the freaks on the peaks", as they are called by the Forest Service) is a dying breed and Philip Connors gives us a tantal...moreThe fire tower lookout (aka "the freaks on the peaks", as they are called by the Forest Service) is a dying breed and Philip Connors gives us a tantalizing glimpse into that isolated existence - which only last 3-4 months, but can feel like a year of misery depending on the hardiness of the person. This is a life that he embraces, considering he has done it for 8 seasons, and his descriptions of the joy of solitude, the contentment of watching and listening to the mountains, experiencing all the nature around him with all of his senses was very vivid. I've read some reviews where people took issue with his "tone" - condescension of those who quickly realize that a fire lookout life is not for them, that they crave the social atmosphere and fear being alone and in the dark. I can see some of that tone, but he also points out his own weaknesses, when he's craving a return to civilization for even just a couple days after a 10-day stint on a mountaintop in one of the most remote parts of the Gila with only the occasional hiker passing through for social contact.
This book wasn't all about him, however. I really enjoyed the tangents he took into the history of the failed fire policy of the Forest Service and how nearly a century's worth of suppressing every fire is now the culprit for the explosive conflagrations that we're seeing all over the West. I previously had only the briefest understanding of it, but it's a topic that I will be reading up on and exploring more.
He also takes many opportunities to opine about the current range policy (a prisoner to "tradition") and how cattle and ranching has also led to the disintegrated state of the ecology of the West which doesn't help the land deal with wildfires like they would have in a more untouched and undeveloped condition. If you're on the side of the ranchers, or think that the New Mexican wolf should be eradicated because they do what predators do and attack cattle, then I can see how this book would come across as excessively preachy. But to me he was singing to the choir so it didn't bother me at all.
I'm knocking this down a star because I thought the tangent to 9/11 was unnecessary. He brought it in when talking about the closest he's been to fire and smoke, but what does the incinerated dust of collapsed skyscrapers have in common with the crown fires of ponderosa pine? I'm tired of every book written by someone who happened to be in NYC that day having it shoehorned into the narrative. It comes across to me as an obvious emotional ploy, and it falls short every single time.
But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought there was a pleasant balance between the history of the Forest Service, Aldo Leopold's transformation from Forest Service utilitarianism to wilderness advocate, fire policy, previous famous fire lookouts like Kerouac, Victorio's raids, and his own personal story of self-enforced solitude in what has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the Gila of southern New Mexico.