Sean Dietrich and his wife Jamie’s collective world was shaken when their doctor said the C word. Cancer. The emperor of all maladies, the ticking timebomb in each of us. Rather than crumbling into a weeping ball of woe-is-me, Jamie looked at Sean and suggested that now was the time for them to do Something Big. Something like cycling the Great Allegheny Passage. Nevermind that neither were cyclists, let alone campers, and that Sean’s back problems limited him to a recumbent bicycle. If there was ever a time to seize the day, this was it – and so they took it. You Are my Sunshine is the memoir of that journey, of the arduous trek through mountains blasted by a hurricane, the couple weighed down by gear and the thoughts of what the future might bring, but buoyed by the beauty of nature, the strength of those they’d met who had overcome similar battles, and the joy of their daily little triumphs over the mountain – snakes included. This proved a quick read, and I liked the mix of travel and personal reflection. Dietrich’s honesty about his and his wife’s past and present sufferings was more compelling than the humor, which ranged from the slightly corny to the genuinely amusing. Dietrich’s accounts of his repeated interactions with another cyclist on the trail who was fighting cancer, as well as his talks with a traveling priest, were especially touching. As a hiker and sometimes-cyclist, sometimes-camper, the travel accounts were interesting all around. I was greatly amused by the thought of a recumbent bike tackling mountain trails, and it holds up about as well as one might expect – -poorly. I’d never heard of Dietrich until he appeared at my library to a sell-out crowd, and after listening to him on a few podcasts will be trying some of his other works in the future to see what the buzz is about him.
Back in 2020 I stumbled on what would become one of my favorite books, Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy. The collection invited readers into a young boy’s childhood, one spent roaming the woods and coasts of the Carolinas in the twenties and thirties, absorbing lessons on life – from philosophy to the best approaches to hunting duck. The book’s star was the Boy’s grandfather, who could be both comic and stern at the same time, dispensing both folk wisdom and dissecting Montaigne over a single snort of whiskey. Although he’s the Boy’s guardian, he takes young Robert seriously, as the young man he might become. Ruark seems to spend most of his childhood in the company of the Old Man and his hunting friends, which is just as well: the one time he goes out on an adventure with his school friends, they end up with a live deer in a Tin Lizzie. The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older consists of a few more similar stories, this time in conjunction with Ruark’s own tales of his hunting expeditions in India and Africa, as he connects life lessons the Old Man imparted to his adult adventures. In this mix it’s rather like The Lost Classics, as each combined boy-Ruark and adult-Ruark adventures and connect them with wisdom from the Old Man – -but Lost Classics was far more dominated by the overseas adventures. The Old Man is as funny and insightful as ever, and I especially enjoyed Ruark’s account of determining to buy his grandfather’s house and restore it after a foreclosure, so that it might bring future generations the joy he found as a boy.
Okay, you’ve convinced me! I’ve added Ruark to my list.
Wonderful! If you’re able to find a copy, I hope you enjoy.
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