I stumbled on a garage sale where the folks were ditching the 4,000-sq-ft house for an RV, and in the downsizing a bunch of printed matter had to go. Besides picking up a dozen quad maps for $10, I also snagged (for a dollar)
a first-edition, 2nd printing, hardbound copy of Eric & Tim Ryback's trek
on the Continental Divide Trail
. The book's titled, "The Ultimate Journey"
and is a great
and easy read.
The book was published in 1973. I'm about the same age as the younger of the two brothers, Tim. While they were out hiking the CDT I was still in the 'burbs learning how to ride my ten-speed; I could only wish someone had given me this book back then.
The story is told from Eric's perspective, since (hoping I'm not giving too much away) Tim bailed on the trip in Colorado. But while he was along, I think Tim comes off as the most amusing -- and likable -- hiking partner since Bryson's Steven Katz in "Walk in the Woods."
When Eric hit the Mexican border alone that fall, he made quite the mark in long-distance hiking. He completed the CDT at age 20. He had completed the PCT two years earlier (*)
at 17 in 1970, and chronicled his thru-hike in "The High Adventure of Eric Ryback."
He had done the AT before that, which of course makes him the first person to do America's Triple Crown of Hiking.(*)
The asterik, used here like in baseball, is explained later.
Eric, at 5'8", was a hiking machine, especially when you think of the weight of that old pack he was caring. And he was probably as slick a talker as he was/is a writer, because he convinced his 17-yr-old brother, a gangly 6'1", to come along on his CDT trek.
The writing reflects the times and their ages, yet it's really refreshing, even those moments that cause Eric to wax poetic
I guess what is most impressive about the book is that they were pioneers, and kids at that. They had so little infrastructure to base their trek on. The shot of them in their turtlenecks and cotton blue jeans around their campfire is a classic.
My how attitudes change in 35 years. Some of us have come to look at the National Parks as rare havens of nature -- at least Ken Burns would have us think so. But for Eric, his walk through Yellowstone provided for some comic relief as he suddenly faced civilization and bureaucracy. It must have been something to travel NFS, BLM and private land before so much of the development of vacation homes and all their trappings (like "Keep Out"
and "No Trespassing"
signs) sprung up in those intervening years.
In closing, a bit on that asterik (*)
. After his PCT hike -- what is considered the FIRST
hike of the length of the CDT, by a teenager, no less, the powers that be in long-distance hiking found people to say that Ryback had accepted rides for parts of that inaugural PCT trek. Eric & Chronicle Books
, his publisher, sued for libel. Eventually the suit was dropped. Controversy remains.
It's interesting that in "The Ultimate Journey,"
Ryback readily admits to accepting a ride in New Mexico -- he was being escorted off an Indian Reservation for not having a permit. That event also sums up the difference in his and the modern hiking era. When the three Native Americans in an old land yacht told him to get into the car to be driven off the reservation, they told him the tribal council had sent them out to find out what this crazy kid walking alone was doing out on the desert. One of his hosts told him:"You have become the talk of the reservation. . . . we don't see many people walking through here. You're about the biggest news we've had here since Custer."
I find it hard to say that Eric didn't deserve the titles that, through his sweat and toil and courage, he earned.
So where is Ryback today? He appears at an occasional long-distance hiking reunion where he's been regarded as a very affable celeb. He went on to be a well-regarded stockbroker, and was manager of the famous Lindner Fund a decade ago. No matter what he has done or become, it would be hard to top what he did at twenty.Image from the front cover of the hardbound.