Life-changing journey along John Muir Trail
December 28, 2012
“Almost Somewhere: Twenty-eight days on the John Muir Trail” is a thought-provoking memoir commemorating the coming of age of a young woman who hikes with two female companions over 200 miles on the John Muir Trail.
The journey evolves into an unexpected life-changing experience. Views about nature as well as her perception of self are forever altered. Lake Tahoe’s Suzanne Roberts, an English professor at Lake Tahoe Community College, memorializes her adventure in a beautifully written citation using fine-tuned writing skills and extracting details from her trail journal. She exposes the expedition in full living color creating scenic visions the reader will inhale.
You will follow her and her hiking companions through the breathtaking beauty of the high Sierra, through desolation wilderness, along the banks of Alpine lakes and to the top of Mount Whitney and Half Dome. You will also be exposed to a darker side of such a feat; great fear, intense hunger, prolonged exhaustion, mosquito bites, blisters and bears, not to mention blinding rain, freezing cold and snow. Roberts eventually comes to understand the profound state of connectedness. Like the metamorphic changes of a butterfly, she sheds the skin of the young girl that sets out on the dusty path and emerges a strong woman at trails end.
Unsure about what direction to take after graduating from college with a degree in biology, and flapping against the wind in the floundering economy of 1993 which provided few job prospects, Suzanne hits the trail with Erika and Dionne to distract herself from it all. Strapping “Big Heiny” on her back, a name she affectionately calls her backpack, was only the first step.
Overstuffed, unorganized and heavy, “Big Heiny” mimics her state of mind upon departure. Not long into the ascent to Mount Whitney, the first leg of the trip, she realizes the scope of the undertaking. Is she up to it? Erika, an athletic superstar, her trail name being “The Commander, “is in stark contrast to Dionne, a wisp of a girl with a life-threatening eating disorder and a first-time hiker. Roberts, somewhere in-between in terms of athletic prowess, learns quickly to be self-reliant.
Feminism is a cornerstone topic in “Almost Somewhere.” Twenty years ago it was rare to find females hiking under such strenuous circumstances without male escorts. Some may even say impossible. But the three wise women, as they later coined themselves, proved them wrong. Of course there were issues. Competing for male attention, differences in endurance levels and the ever-present group dynamics, but at the end of the day the real battle was none of that. It was an internal struggle for self-understanding and acceptance.
No photographs were included other than a front cover photo. I personally would have enjoyed seeing a few; Dionne hiking in men’s underwear her chosen trail attire, Erika, leading the pack reading her trusty trail map and Roberts sitting on top of Half Dome eating Pop-Tarts. Also not included were sketches Roberts drew that I believe would have provided additional charm. The map, drawn by Phyllis Schaffer, was a visual depiction of the trail and a bonus.
Other than these omissions “Almost Somewhere” will not disappoint. It is a wonderful read for outdoor lovers and inspirational for anyone experiencing self-doubt. The message that resonates is as Roberts says, “It’s not just in the having done but in the doing … being “Almost Somewhere.”
– Gloria Sinibaldi resides part-time in South Lake Tahoe. Her short story “A Means To Survive” appears in “Tahoe Blues.” She is a job coach, trainer and author. She contributes monthly to the business section of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Contact her at: glorialinda16@