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Almost Somewhere

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You might reasonably expect Almost Somewhere: Twenty-eight Days on the John Muir Trail to be a trail guide, a documentary instruction booklet on how to hike through some of the most beautiful country on Earth. And it is that in a sense, but author Suzanne Roberts has a more ambitious plan.

Almost Somewhere employs a diary format to tell the story of three young women who in 1993 hiked the Muir Trail from Mt. Whitney to Yosemite. That’s a distance of 211 miles along the spine of the High Sierra in California. Walking the entire length of the JMT presents a challenge to any hiker. For instance, you can’t carry enough food for the trip so you have to arrange to have comestibles carried up and dropped at key points along the trail. Then you have to keep it from the bears.

Roberts and her companions, the experienced Erika and the sickly Dionne, intend their adventure to be less a conquest and more a creation of community. This puts the enterprise in feminine rather than masculine terms. And this is the real theme of Almost Somewhere.  As they embark on their journey, the young ladies seem singularly unprepared. They tire easily at first, they don’t have adequate food, and when they get into difficulty, they instinctively try to form relationships with the numerous young men they meet along the way just to get the help they need. For Suzanne, these potential link-ups are typically couched in terms of romance. This clearly runs counter to the stated purpose of the expedition. It’s probably for the best that none of these “crushes” develop into anything. The men on the trail are mostly a collection of colorful oddballs.

But read on. Almost Somewhere turns out to be how Roberts and her friends overcome these obstacles including their own worst instincts. At the end of the 28 days, these women do achieve their original goal. The young hikers transcend their physical and emotional weaknesses and become better persons for their experience.

At the beginning of this review, I cautioned that Almost Somewhere is not a trail guide. But you do learn about the Sierran topography as well as the plants and animals seen along the way as the trail leads hikers from lake to lake. Following the trail teaches you a lot about yourself. That’s the real value gained from reading this book. As for the author, Suzanne Roberts landed not too far from the nest. Twenty years later, she teaches English at Lake Tahoe Community College and Sierra Nevada College.

As someone who has done some day hiking in the vicinity of the John Muir Trail, I can vouch for the vivid descriptions of what it’s like to be in this magical place. Reading Almost Somewhere brought it all back to me.    –Dan Erwine

Also available by Suzanne Roberts: Shameless; Nothing to You; Three Hours to Burn a Body; Poems on Travel, and Plotting Temporality

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