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May 19, 2013

Skiing in Maine: Books provide thrills for those unable to play

By Josh Christie

Praise the Lord (or Mother Nature or the Gregorian Calendar) -- spring is here! Now that the days are longer and the temperatures warmer, we can finally get outside and enjoy one of the four best seasons that Maine has to offer. It's time to put the boat in the water, air out the hiking boots and dust off the golf clubs.

With the wonderfully mild weather we've had recently, every one of my friends has been venturing out to hike, bike, golf and kayak. Usually, I'd be right there with them. Unfortunately, I kicked off May by catching the nasty flu that's been circulating around southern Maine.

If you find yourself laid up like me, don't fret. Recent years have seen the release a number of books that offer wonderful outdoor adventure, vicarious though it may be.

In the new hiker's guide "In High Places With Henry David Thoreau," Hallowell's John Gibson traces the routes that the famous naturalist followed in the 19th century. The guide combines excerpts from Thoreau's writing with precise directions and maps, allowing modern hikers to literally follow in the writer's footsteps. The hikes in Gibson's book dot New England, and two of the best -- Kineo and Katahdin -- are here in Maine.

Steve Pinkham's " Old Tales of the Maine Woods" holds stories that build a bridge between Thoreau's day and ours. The book reprints dozens of magazine articles and stories about the Maine woods from the late 1800s, culled from Pinkham's collection of over 22,000 articles. "Old Tales of the Maine Woods" is a treat for anyone who enjoys the Maine wilderness, but the stories -- many culled from old fish-and-game journals -- will hold a particular appeal to the sportsman.

"Suddenly the Cider Didn't Taste So Good," published in 2012, puts readers in the shoes of John Ford Sr. A retired Maine game warden, Ford uses the book to detail his 20 years patrolling the woods of Waldo County. It's a fun, funny read, but it also paints a picture of the animals and people of Maine (sometimes barely distinguishable from one another) that will appeal to any adventurer. A sequel, "This Cider Still Tastes Funny," is due out this month.

Ford's books are published by Islandport Press, a Yarmouth publisher with a catalog full of great tales of the Maine wilderness. Two more highly recommended outdoorsy titles from the independent press are "Tales From Misery Ridge" by Paul J. Fournier and " Where Cool Waters Flow" by Randy Spencer. Both are memoirs by former Maine Guides -- the former focuses on Maine's North Woods, while the latter is mostly concerned with eastern Maine. All the books, written by masterful storytellers, do an excellent job conveying the wild appeal of the Maine outdoors.

Jumping over the border into New Hampshire, Tom Ryan's "Following Atticus" details the author's quest to climb all 48 of the Granite State's 4,000-foot peaks twice in a single winter. Ryan, a former newspaper editor, undertook the hiking challenge to raise money for charity. Hiking with his miniature schnauzer, Atticus M. Finch, Ryan and his partner raised thousands of dollars for the an animal medical center. The heartwarming memoir, aided by Ryan's lyrical prose, rises above what might seem like a hokey premise to be something truly special.

While I wanted to keep these armchair adventures contained in New England, there is one new release that's so good I need to reach to the American West. Kevin Fedarko's "The Emerald Mile," billed as "The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon," is just that good.

In 1984, a dam release on the Colorado River sent one of the greatest floods in history through the Grand Canyon. A trio of rafters used the release to ride a dory down a 277-mile stretch of the river, straight through the canyon. It's an amazing tale, and Fedarko is smart to use the book to tell a history of American rafting and the Grand Canyon along with the epic trip.

As anyone who's ever caught a virus or broken a bone will tell you, there's not much worse than not getting to the outdoors when the getting is good. If you add a few of these books to your library, you'll at least be able to pretend you're out exploring while you heal up.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

joshua.j.christie@gmail.com





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