I was grounded from reading several times throughout grade school. My parents, exasperated by my obsession with reading late into the night, skipping homework, and having my nose in a book for the entire duration of family vacations, eventually took all of my books away. What they didn't realize was that, during these periods of literary confinement, they had forgotten to remove the family collection of encyclopedias from my knowledge-crazed grasp. I made it through the letter "M" before they caught on to my brainy book binges, which sparked a love for a whole new genre of books: nonfiction. Real stories, real people, real places. These books, along with an insatiable desire to explore, led me down an unconventional path to world travel, exciting (and sometimes insane) adventures and an active lifestyle that I parlayed into a career as a Backroads Trip Leader.
So which stories have inspired me to explore, seek adventure, change the world for the better and do so confidently? Here are my top five:
1. Into the Wild - John Krakauer
A must-read for anyone who considers themselves adventurous. This tragic story of personal discovery, pushing limits and seeking the unknown was my original incentive to get outside and explore the world. Our Alaska Multisport trips give insight into the awe and beauty that would drive a young man on his brilliant, and perhaps reckless, journey.
2. Bikenomics - Elly Blue
I'm terrible at math, much to the dismay of my CFO accountant mother. So imagine her surprise when I couldn't stop talking about the multifaceted economic impact of financial investment in bike lanes. Even skeptical non-cyclists will be persuaded by Blue's well-researched, thought-provoking, practical advocacy for improved bicycle-friendly city infrastructure. As a leader of our Carolinas Biking trips, in which we spend a day riding along the city-funded Swamp Rabbit Trail, I can personally attest to the incredible financial and health benefits of bike-friendly cities!
3. Born to Run - Christopher McDougall
After reading this book I walked into REI and bought myself a pair of funky-looking minimalist running toe shoes. Over the course of several months, a decade of knee problems seemed to disappear as I found myself cruising through 6, then 10, then 20+ mile runs...practically barefoot. McDougall's book isn't intended to preach barefoot running, but rather draw attention to the scientific and historical research that suggests humans, over the course of a hunting-driven millennia, were engineered to run long distances. What had me turning pages late into the night wasn't the impressive research and exploration of human biomechanics, but the fascinating stories of the world's elite ultra-runners and how women in particular have found themselves physical equals among their male counterparts for one of the first times in sporting history.
Does a Backroads trip seem a bit intimidating? Read Born to Run and rest easy knowing our bodies and minds are capable of much more than we may think.
4. A Life Without Limits - Chrissie Wellington
Biking along the Mamalahoa Highway on the Big Island of Hawaii, it's hard to believe we as Backroads leaders and guests are sharing the same tarmac that the world's most elite endurance athletes race along every year during the Ironman World Championships. One of the most astonishing of these athletes is Chrissie Wellington. Her memoir A Life Without Limits takes us from her humble beginnings as an amateur swimmer and recreational cyclist to her unlikely triumph as World Champion in her first year as a pro triathlete. Wellington's narrative is captivating and empowering. An inspiring read for us all!
5. The Whale Rider - Witi Ihimaera
The only fiction novel on this list, New Zealand-born Ihimaera's work beautifully weaves a captivating contemporary story with an ancient Maori legend. A deceptively quick read at 120 pages (or skip the reading and watch the Academy Award-winning film), The Whale Rider was the inspiration for my two-year journey down under. Lucky for us, we can all explore the myth and the majesty of the South Pacific on our biking, hiking and multisport trips in New Zealand!