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

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  1,139 Ratings  ·  180 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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Tina Cipolla I started poking around on the web for info about Allison today. The author won't say too much, but he DID updated the Acknowledgements section of the…moreI started poking around on the web for info about Allison today. The author won't say too much, but he DID updated the Acknowledgements section of the book to add a new third paragraph that reads:

Thanks to all the folks who inspired the work. A big thank you in particular to "Allison," and not just for being such an essential and good-humored part of the crazy journey, keeping a clear head and persevering on the trek itself (and choosing the PCT as the L&CE's expedition of choice, after considering several other options, including the AT and the Camino de Santiago). Allison also read and reviewed a number of my emails in regard to several essential scenes, most notably the cactus-biting incident, which was, as it turns out, even more perverse and horrible than I even remembered. Allison's feedback was incorporated into the section involving a tick attack (which was also worse than I remembered). In case you are wondering, Allison is doing very well. That's really all I can say about that for now.


Community Reviews

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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
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
John Pedersen
Sep 16, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
Tina Cipolla
Sep 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
What is it with these long distance PCT hikers who go on to write a book? Are all of them such noxious personalities? I disliked Cheryl Strayed's book Wild for the same reason I disliked the Cactus Eaters--the author is a jerk (although Cheryl Strayed was not nearly as annoying as this guy). I will admit, I finished this book, but I really detest when I am not rooting for the author in a book like this.

I wanted that trail to smack this guy down hard, and satisfyingly it does, many times. The ti
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
May 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pct
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
Aug 21, 2008 rated it did not like it
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.
Jul 20, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Nov 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
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.
Lisa Eirene
I REALLY wanted to like this book. And in some ways, it WAS a good book. But god, the author was a major douche.
Growing up in the NW I knew about the PCT a little bit and when I read "Wild" a few years ago I was struck with how amazing the book was, how emotional the experience of the PCT was and I was just enthralled. I got "The Cactus Eaters" and it started out good, pulled me in, and I wanted them to be successful in their quest. But chapter after chapter I just got annoyed.

First: the bigges
Katie Vinzinski
Aug 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoirs
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
Tim Mcmacken Jr.
Sep 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
I love hearing about the PCT but unfortunately tales of the trail were few and far between the constant whining and neuroticism of the author. I thought that this book would end up being "A Walk in the Woods" for the the west coast with good observations, tips, and a bit of merry misadventure but it just doesn't lighten up.... I don't think the author is a better person for the experience and I really couldn't stand him after a while.

There are better books about hiking the PCT, you can skip thi
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Karen Kaiser beggs
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
A few problems with this book, the writing could seem forced at times and the main character is unlikable. He is not quite self deprecating enough to laugh along with and so self absorbed that it's hard to be on his side. Some good adventures and characters along the trail, but not enough to make it a good read .
Rita Ciresi
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
I was looking for a well-written memoir to use as a point of comparison to Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Sadly, The Cactus Eaters did not fit the bill. Or maybe it did. Reading this account of the author's journey on the Pacific Crest Trail reminded me of how important it is for the narrator of a travel memoir to grow and/or change.
Jul 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
Ugh, what a dick.
Jun 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Richard Shelmerdine
Sep 30, 2014 rated it did not like it
It's rare that I don't finish a book. Too whiny.
Aug 03, 2013 rated it liked it
I wish Allison had written the book.
Carl Nelson
Aug 31, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: outdoors-memoir
One star. To make it through their physically and mentally demanding PCT thru-hike, author Dan White and his girlfriend Allison shared a soundtrack of songs. I too found myself with a mental soundtrack while reading The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself on the Pacific Crest Trail: "I can change, I can change!" "What if you remain a sandy little butthole?" from South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, in honor of Dan's overbearing selfishness, total lack of decency to his ...more
Mar 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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...
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not clean. Lots of bad words, sexual innuendos. Funny stories mixed with history of the PCT. Takes a realistic downer turn near the end. Really enjoyed this perceptive of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Enjoyed the facts and the crazy tales. The Gingerbread Man was my favorite.
Kris Madaus
Dec 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 29, 2015 rated it liked it
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
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Dan White is the author of The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself on the Pacific Crest Trail, a NCIBA bestseller and Los Angeles Times "Discovery" selection. He has taught composition at Columbia University and San Jose State. He is a former contributing editor of Catamaran Literary Reader and received his MFA from Columbia University. He lives in Santa Cruz, California with ...more
More about Dan White...

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