“We’re with each other. Us three women together” (100).
Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts won the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award in Outdoor Literature. Roberts tells the story of the hike through part of Yosemite National Park that changed the life of her and her friends. They encounter bears, strangers, and extraordinary scenery. Each traveler makes her own discoveries along the way through injuries, personal battles, and victories great and small.
I really enjoyed the book, and as someone who only hikes every couple years and only for a few hours at a time, I admired her gusto for hiking for a whole month, especially her honesty about her own weaknesses, both physical and mental. Roberts quotes Thoreau: “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” and she laments that many people confuse ‘wildness’ and ‘wilderness.’ “Wildness can exist both outside and inside of us, whereas the very definition of wilderness seems to be the absence of humans, further separating us from our wild places and our very own wild natures” (64). Throughout her journey Roberts shows the struggles of all three girls and how they adapt in the ways they weren’t accepting the wildness inside themselves.
Throughout the hike they were surrounded by beautiful mountains, lakes, and wildflowers, which they all seemed to appreciate. “I wanted to study the landscape, to look at it long enough, until it entered me and I could carry it with me, inside my body, always… I wasn’t ready to leave the view. I wasn’t sure what the questions were, but I was certain these mountains contained the answers” (106-107). I’ve had many moments like this in nature and I thought Roberts described it beautifully.
I really enjoyed the “where are we now” paragraph at the end of the book. I spent the whole book wondering about what they are all up to and I was glad I didn’t have to go googling to find out. I also wondered about all her detailed memory of conversations and tiny details all these years later. I know that she kept a journal, but it seemed that most of the time she had writers block and drew pictures of her surroundings rather than write. I’m not one to make a big deal of re-created dialogue in creative non-fiction, but I’m curious to know how much of the dialogue was in her journal, written shortly after, or written decades later.
“Memory sometimes acts as a corrective lens, allows us to say the things we never said, take back the things we regret, but the truth is I don’t remember what I said to my father at the end of that phone conversation. Did I tell him I loved him? It’s possible, but in truth I can’t remember” (258). This is an honest admittance, which I appreciate. I know the feeling of foggy memories, especially when it was something that I only wished had happened. It make me wonder if she couldn’t remember that conversation exactly, how realistic was the rest of the dialogue throughout the book. Again, not a huge concern to me. I would have enjoyed the book almost as much if it had been a complete work of fiction. Her comment in the acknowledgments is this: “Although the memoir adheres to the truth of my fallible memory, some of the names of minor characters have been changed” (xii). It seems to be acceptable in modern memoirs to be open about what is absolute fact and what might be only based on what happened, and I think her acknowledgment could have been more detailed regarding the narrative throughout the story.
There were many references to the group of women being affected by the presence, or absence, of men. Here are just a few: “Every woman who has ever been out camping alone knows that bears are nothing to fear compared to predatory men” (52). “It started to seem that whenever one of us started crying, men would appear, thereby solidifying the wimpy woman stereotype” (90). “Would I find a version of myself not dependent on the male gaze?” (150). Some fellow hikers expressed their concern that the “girls” were hiking without men, and others called them an inspiration. Roberts is clearly pleased that the group ended as just the three women. She seems to reconcile some of the gender frustrations by the end of the 28 day hike, feeling safe amongst her girlfriends.
“And I realized I was no longer obsessed with how I looked to a man, whether he liked me or not. The irony is that it made me more likable, both to others and, more important, to myself” (258). After spending years following men around, trying to attract their interest, or being afraid of them, Roberts finds the “wildness” in herself among her other inner strengths. And years later in yoga she learns that “the journey from pose to pose is the feminine, the pose itself, or the destination, represents the masculine, and we must honor both as equally important” (259). Its nice that she ends on a note of equality, rather than smug girl power; honoring the greatness in both genders.