If you’re like me, life is a series of travel adventures punctuated by necessary interludes during which I’m inevitably planning the next trip. While I’m working on the whole “being present in the moment” thing, I confess a love of vicarious thrills while I’m in those fallow, domestic spaces. And what better way to garner adventure indirectly than to devour a riveting piece of armchair travel literature.
While plenty of readers found a sensual escape in bestsellers Under the Tuscan Sun or A Year in Provence, my most gratifying travel reads tend more toward true-life sagas of hardcore adrenaline junkies. I stayed up all night long reading Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air straight through, and nearly did likewise for Martin Strel’s account of his 3,274-mile swim down the length of the “world’s deadliest river” in The Man Who Swam the Amazon. Historical dramas like The Endurance, Caroline Alexander’s chronicle of Shackleton’s legendary Antarctic expedition, are sometimes even more gripping, considering the lack of modern gear and technological conveniences we take for granted today.
I recently finished The Places In Between, Rory Stewart’s firsthand account of his walk across Afghanistan immediately following the fall of the Taliban, and I’ve just dived into The Wave by Susan Casey, editor-in-chief of O, The Oprah Magazine, an unlikely author for such a title, I thought, when I first heard her speak about her new book in a captivating interview with NPR a few weeks ago.
The Wave isn’t a travel story per se – it’s actually an engrossing investigation into the phenomenon of giant rogue waves, the existence of which was unconfirmed until satellite imagery documented what had previously been rumors of gargantuan seas towering a hundred feet high, rising from nowhere and swallowing ships (think Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm – another book that kept me up all night).
A key character in The Wave is one of the world’s most gonzo adventurers: Laird Hamilton, the extreme surfing pioneer who travels the oceans in search of mega-waves that he rides via “tow-surfing”: working in pairs using Jet Skis and water-ski tow ropes, often miles offshore, a surfer is towed into position at 30 miles per hour and released to shoot onto the face of a giant wave that is far too big to reach via conventional paddling. (For a visual, watch the exciting big-wave surfing documentary Riding Giants.)
Though my own travel adventures aren’t likely to take me to the top of Everest or on a marathon swim with piranhas, I sure get a buzz from reading the stories of those who are compelled to tackle the ultimate when it comes to exploring our planet’s seductive geography.
We’d love to hear your recommendations for great armchair travel adventures. Have you got a title to share with fellow guests here at Natural Habitat Expeditions? Please share it in our Comments section!
Yours for adventure, whichever way it comes,