Armchair adventuring: best books and films for the sick, longing adventurer

Sometimes I keep telling myself, I need to take a rest day… and then I put that thought away, because Grouse Mountain, or the mountains in Squamish want to play.

The nice thing is that I can’t out-trick my body, so eventually it just tells me what I need to do, and overrides all plans and ambitions with a sick day. (Or four.) Sick days are annoying, until you just give in and become an armchair adventurer. Just let other people take you on adventures… while you stay in and drink delicious tea! Sure, it’s not the same as real life. But I love how a great adventure book can bring me along with the characters and introduce amazing places, and it’s like I develop this special bond with the places we travel in the book, even though I didn’t physically attend. I love how, when I do go to these places in the physical world, I feel like I already had an experience there, a special connection to the place.

Here are some great adventure books and movies I’ve enjoyed on sick days in the past couple of years:

Books

I’ve just started this book and it makes me so excited to get back outside. While it does drift into some long-ish tangents about particular runs, there’s some great inspiration between the stories. For example, Kilian addresses what winning is all about, and the mental state he uses to push his mind and body to achieve a dream. Reading it all makes me reflect on my own experiences, and wonder if I’ve ever really pushed myself to my limit?

Major learning: the mind is the gatekeeper of our dreams, and the difference between performing within expectations, and into a whole new realm of possibility. Also, Energy Cake sounds delicious.

This is a book about the massive 2003 avalanche in the Selkirk range of BC, which resulted in 7 fatalities. The author Ken was the Assistant Guide on the trip, and this book is his story about the decisions that led to the avalanche, and his life afterward. I really, really enjoyed the chapters about the avalanche, as the story was fascinating, and I learned quite a bit about decision-making and snow safety from his story. I found myself less attached about three-quarters through the book when the narrative switches to tell the struggles he faced in his personal life following the avalanche, and I almost found this part to be more painful to read than the avalanche portion of the book. I would definitely recommend the book for its first half if you’re interested in skiing and avalanche safety.

Major learning: social dynamics can be deadlier than any avalanche.

I picked this one up from a shop in Zion National Park a couple years ago, and I really enjoyed it. In the book you get to join Brendan as he moves into his station wagon after a breakup, and meanders across the most scenic wild places in ‘Merica– as he ponders life’s big questions. This book was a fun read because I’ve been, or plan to go to most of the places Brendan describes, and his stories really bring those places to life. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong with a good dirtbag dream story.

Major learning: if you move into your car and dirtgbag around the US, you may not solve all your problems, but you should definitely write about it.

Though this is not an adventure book per se, it really is from an entrepreneur standpoint. In this book, Phil Knight, Founder of Nike, describes the crazy journey he took to start and build Nike to where it is today. If you love your running shoes and you’re interested in entrepreneurship like me, this book will have you all-consumed for the next little while. Throw in interesting stories with idols like Steve Prefontaine & Michael Jordan, and you can’t go wrong.

Major learning: entrepreneurship involves more endurance than the most extreme endurance sport.

 

Films

This is my favourite adventure film. The film is about a group of three climbers who dream to climb The Shark’s Fin route of Meru in Northern India, a peak that’s eluded climbers as one of the toughest in the world.

“The layout of the 21,000-foot mountain’s perversely stacked obstacles makes it both a nightmare and an irresistible calling for some of the world’s toughest climbers. Hauling over 200 pounds of gear up 4,000-feet of technical, snowy, mixed ice and rock climbing is actually the simple part of this endeavor. After crossing that gauntlet you reach the Shark’s Fin itself: 1,500 feet of smooth, nearly featureless granite. There are few pre-existing fissures, cracks or footwalls. It is simply a straight sheet of overhanging rock.” (Source: Meru Film)

Expect the amazing scenery and intensity of a typical mountaineering film, plus incredible characters and a great storyline.

Major learning: Jimmy, Conrad and Renan are my idols…

This movie is such a spin from a typical hard-core adventure film. It’s adorable. Set in New Zealand, it’s a tale about a trouble-causing adoption kid, and an unlikely adventure with his new foster uncle in the NZ backcountry. The film is heart-warming and humorous, and loaded with beautiful imagery of the NZ countryside. Watch it if you’re in the mood for something out of the ordinary.

Major learning: #1 Fat kids are funny. #2 NZ is beautiful. #3 Trails create great friendships.

I devoured this book in 2012 and still hadn’t watched the movie until last year. What a classic. I was really impressed with how closely the movie followed my vision from the book. Plus it’s got an amazing soundtrack, and beautiful imagery of all those places you’ve been and loved, or plan to go: Grand Canyon, Lake Mead, California Redwood forests, a shady downtown LA scene, Fairbanks… I loved having read the book first for this one, because it made the story seem less sad, having already gone through the emotions during the book.

Major learning: don’t go into the wild alone unless you know the place really well. Don’t ever feel too cocky to bring a map. And, perhaps, bring extra rice?

I rented this movie two weeks ago and watched it in segments during study breaks. Based on Into Thin Air, I thought for sure the movie would be amazing. (Although, I haven’t read the book.) I spent the entire movie on an emotional spectrum wavering between immense excitement to see what would happen next, and huge frustration at the climbers and their decisions. By the end of the movie, I was frustrated at the climbers and their whole reason for being. And, for that matter, Everest climbers in general…

Major learning: #1 don’t climb Everest. #2 respect turn around times. #3 beware of summit fever. #4 if you MUST choose to die on a mountain, at least do it while talking to your significant other on sat phone.

I loved the book, and quite disliked the movie. I found the book to be a fun roller coaster to read, with some short dramatic and depressing parts, but overall a lighthearted and funny book. On the other hand, the movie seemed to focus more on the dark/depressing/serious elements and so the movie had a much darker, more serious tone. Still some great imagery of the iconic PCT, so I find the movie worthwhile just for that. If you’re choosing, I would choose the book over the movie.

Major learning: turn to the PCT if ever undergoing life crisis / breakup / encounter with hard drugs. Or perhaps there is something more broad here… a grand adventure can soothe the soul?

Those are just a few that have given me entertainment and inspiration during healing. What about you? What are your favourite adventure movies?

Alicia reading.

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