7 Inspirational Non-Fiction Books for Outdoorsy People

This summer has been a weird one. Or maybe one that is so simple we don’t know what to do with ourselves without unnecessary opulence. The ‘back to basics’ approach we are experiencing here in British Columbia is really working: lots of cooking at home, time with family and close friends, no big crowds, and tons of outside hiking time. And lots of time to read through the ever-growing backlog of books! The more I read, the more I find things I want to read. Here are seven particularly inspirational books that challenge you to follow your own avenue to adventure:

The Push by Tommy Caldwell

The Push is Tommy Caldwell’s autobiography about a life dedicated to pushing himself farther and farther. With eloquent, thoughtful, and poetic prose, Caldwell describes his origins in a mountaineering family and as a rock climbing prodigy, insane climbing adventures, and personal turmoil. Throughout is the common thread of his superhuman ability to persevere, and the reader can not help but be inspired and encouraged to push a bit farther and harder.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild has become a bit of a cult classic, and for good reason. The story follows the footsteps of Chris McCandless as he eschews a comfortable, middle-class life in suburban Virginia in favour of a meandering hiker and tramping lifestyle. What results is a portrait of a young man deeply troubled who finds deep comfort in unbridled freedom, even though it cost him his life. It’s hard to not be moved by the lengths to which McCandless goes to feel unencumbered and encourages the reader to reflect on their own assumptions.

Essential Muir: A Selection of John Muir’s Best Writings Edited by Fred D. White

A list of inspirational writing about outdoors is incomplete without some John Muir. Muir was committed mountaineer, naturalist, advocate for protecting wild spaces, and is sometimes known as the Father of the National Parks in the United States. His writings about meandering through the world convey a euphoria of exploration for the sake of discovery, and remain unparalleled classics. His writing is poetic, evocative, and leaves the reader with a deep sense of longing to wander through the mountains and marvel at every sight. I’m a particular fan of Essential Muir, because the selection of writings touches on many phases of Muir’s life and contains some of his most iconic commentary.

Land of Lost Borders by Kate Harris

Harris weaves a poetic story of her journey re-tracing the Silk Road by bicycle and ruminating on big questions. What is the purpose of exploring when all corners of the map are filled in? And how do the borders on the map and in our mind serve us? Part adventure story, part travel journal, and part deep reflection on arbitrary and imposed boundaries, the story is uplifting and hopeful.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run examines what it takes to be world-class ultra-marathon runners, and finds that the most successful runners are those who run for the joy of pushing and challenging one’s self, rather than the pursuit of an accomplishment. The story follows the author as he seeks to learn from an ancient tribe of long-distance runners, the Tarahumara, how they became such exceptional athletes despite lacking ‘modern advantages’. I am not a runner, and I doubt I ever will be, and that being said, I could very much relate to the central themes of the story.

Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill

Eating Dirt resonates deeply with me because it couples beautifully evocative and poetic descriptions of winters and summers on Vancouver Island and the surrounding coast with the challenging realities of tree planting. Gill works her way through a season tree planting on the British Columbia coast, and the history and motivations of silviculture and tree planting. Although a departure from the previous adventure books on this list, Eating Dirt is a beautiful window into the people and personalities of an unseen industry that is tightly intertwined with everything outdoorsy in British Columbia.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

In 1996, Jon Krakauer (an accomplished mountaineer as well as journalist) was part of the horrendous Everest disaster, in which 8 people lost their lives in a blizzard and was, at the time, part of the deadliest season on Everest. The books goes on to explore both the commercialization of mountaineering and the unbridled drive to summit at all costs. The writing is visceral and deeply personal. Although I’m certain I have no interest in climbing Everest, the glimpse into the mindset and attitude of the participants is inspiring an compelling.

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