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Over the Top & Back Again: Hiking X the Alps Paperback – October 1, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pilgrim's Tales, Inc.; 1st edition (October 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0977053628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0977053629
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,428,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Wilson's casual writing style showcases his humor.... For outdoor enthusiasts, this book will awaken the travel bug within and inspire adventure. For others, it's a worthwhile armchair journey through beautiful country with friendly guides." ~ ForeWord Reviews

"Beware of muscle pain... in the belly, from laughing too much! ...Full of idealism and tenderness towards human nature. With maps, unusual photos (black and white) and hilarious cartoons to top it off, the book is devoured much quicker than it takes to do the hike!" ~ Nathalie Morelle, Association Via Alpina, France/UK

"Wilson is the king of 'tell it like it is' travel writing! ...You'll feel the chill from the sleet, steam from the shower and the aroma wafting from a well-earned meal as you trek along from chapter to chapter!" ~ Donna Coomer, Between the Lines Reviews

"This is my favorite kind of adventure tale: Against all odds, in the face of health, weather, interpersonal, navigational and culinary issues, Brandon Wilson and his somewhat reluctant wife hike it because it's there - or, it's supposed to be. I laughed, I winced, and then I started checking to see when I was next scheduled to be anywhere near the Via Alpina." --Kyle Wagner, travel editor, The Denver Post, October 31, 2010

"This lighthearted hiking narrative reflects the positives of such an experience: overcoming hardship, laughing at their inability to find trail blazes, Europe's apparent fear of switchbacks on trails ascending 1000-plus meters per col, and the bond and struggle with your trail partner. Another celebration of simply putting one foot in front of the other with everything you need on your back and faith in the trail ahead....Recommended for armchair travelers and anyone interested in hiking the Alps." --Library Journal, Sheila Kasparek, October 15, 2010

"In upping the venerable French saying, 'jamais deux sans trois,' Brandon Wilson explores not just three, but pushes the alpine experience to extremes by traversing eight countries, and they have been fortunate for this laureate. Brandon Wilson brings his considerable intellect and wry sense of humor to this epic adventure, and the result is brilliantly accessible and wonderfully subversive." --Richard Bangs, adventurer/author of Quest for the Sublime, PEAKS and books that celebrate travel adventure

"Marvelous account...told with a fine eye for detail and a keen sense of humor." --Royal Robbins, legendary American rock climbing pioneer

"Loved Brandon's humor, gutsiness and joie de vivre. My favorite line is, "It's not so much the places you see; it's the folks you meet along the path. Traveling simply, you throw yourself out into the Universe with abandon, depending on fate and the kindness of strangers. Put simply, it means trusting, letting go, and letting life unfold in a natural and beautiful way." --Ron Strickland, founder of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail and author of Leave A Trail National Scenic Trail and author of Leave A Trail --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Publisher

This is the fourth book in Brandon Wilson's adventure travel series. Other titles include Yak Butter Blues (an IPPY Award winner), Dead Men Don't Leave Tips: Adventures X Africa, and Along the Templar Trail, the Lowell Thomas Award-winner for 2009 Best Travel Book.

If you enjoy true travel adventures, (unsanitized for your protection), join us for another escapade as Brandon and his wife set off on foot for a 1200 mile odyssey across the Alps.

Some might call it "Schadenfreude on steroids."

Over the Top & Back Again is the first Via Alpina thru-hike travel narrative published in English, with 53 photos, maps and custom illustrations by Ken Plumb. It provides a humorous first-hand preview for those who dream of making a similar journey themselves--on foot or maybe just in their mind. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Crossings. My life has been a continual series of crossings. One of my earliest memories is of a little towheaded guy, maybe six years old, crossing the vastness of America with his Dad at the wheel of a '56 red & white Chevy. We sailed wide-eyed across cowboy country, the Rockies, and Mojave Desert until we simply ran out of land at the Pacific Ocean and California, that land of dreams. And then we drove back.

That pattern would continue as my family relocated every few years. The years we weren't putting our lives into boxes, we voluntarily loaded three kids, two adults (who should have known better), and five suitcases into one overstuffed car for two weeks of non-stop driving everyday from one old battlefield to very new ones we'd create. Never put three lively kids together in the backseat all day.

That pattern was to become my life.

My love and obsession with crossings continued to follow me, or me it, into my so-called adult life. My life as a kid in western Pennsylvania was uprooted to attend school at one of the few liberal universities in the south, only to throw myself a few years later into New York's acting jungle, and a year later to head west to pursue work then back to the Carolinas, back to the Northwest, then to Alaska, back to the Carolinas, back to Alaska, then off to Hawaii, then to... Well, you get the picture. If you got frequent traveler miles for human ping-ponging, I'd be in the Million Miles Club by now.

Fortune is an elusive lady. Fame is fleeting. But each move brought new challenges, friends, and adventures. My parents learned to write my address in pencil into their address books. Wanderlust became an intimate friend and I grew to look forward to, and to embrace change. As luck would have it, just when I finally had enough money scraped together, another recession took its toll and I took the opportunity to hit the road--on another crossing.

Fortunately, I'd met a lady who made me laugh, a fellow wanderer who shared this passion. We became a team. At a moment's notice, we'd toss whatever we needed into backpacks and set off for months at a time. We had mental lists of places we wanted to explore, things we wanted to do. Who needed bucket lists when we could heed the sirens and do it now. And we did. Our wanderings took us around the world with backpacks a couple times to 100 countries or more.

As bootstrap, low budget adventurers, nothing was out of bounds. We crossed Africa for 7 months overland, first with an ill-fated, Ship of Fools group and then, when patience ran low, independently. We met some of the most amazing people and experienced many of the adventures you imagine when you think of Africa: crossing the Sahara, climbing Kilimanjaro, dancing by moonlight with pygmies, photo-stalking mountain gorillas, whitewater rafting down the Zambezi River, and so much more. No, it was not your typical honeymoon. I captured this experience in my true, raw adventure book "Dead Men Don't Leave Tips." It remains unsanitized for your protection.

Then our usual smorgasbord of travel changed.

One day while innocently hanging out in a Colorado library, we read about a trail crossing Tibet. It was an ancient pilgrim's path that'd been closed since Chinese occupation in the 1950s. Well, to us, Tibet was the ultimate destination. Without much hesitation (or detailed planning) we set off for Kathmandu--not knowing if we would even be allowed to cross the border into Tibet--let alone cross the country. As fate would have it, the border opened just the day before we applied for visas--for the first time in decades. It was pure synchronicity.

Traveling deliberately across Tibet, one step at a time, we never knew where we'd find food, water, or a place to lay our heads. We learned to trust in the universe, while practicing begging skills learned from Buddhist monks--and to rely on the kindness of strangers. At the end of each weary, exciting day, I'd sit by candlelight and write about our experiences: the people we met, the challenges, the hunger, the joy, the disappointments--while our muscles still ached and our sweat was barely dry. Capturing my feelings and thoughts while they were fresh allowed me to describe the experience as it happened, not some quixotic recollection a year or more later. I wanted readers to feel as if they were walking with us and our Tibetan horse through all the bad and good, the blisters and pain, the blizzards and 17,000 foot passes, the bullets and self-doubt. Those raw and uncensored diaries and photos were to become the basis for my first IPPY Award-winning book, "Yak Butter Blues."

That experience was life changing in many ways.

I learned to never say "Impossible!" I learned to have faith. I learned to appreciate the small victories day to day. And I found a way to follow my personal passion and tell a true story while helping raise awareness about a fragile corner of our planet and its peoples' struggle to survive.

I was hooked. I wanted more of the same intense experience on the road. It wouldn't take long.

A second seminal event in my life occurred when I walked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain in 1999. That month led me to question my life's path and when I returned I devoted myself to writing fulltime. Over the next 15 years, I continued hiking these historic pilgrimage paths nearly every year across Europe: Norway, England, France, Italy and Spain several more times. As physically exhausting as walking 25-30 kilometers a day can be, they nourished me on many levels.

But it was all just preparation for one penultimate destination--Jerusalem.

It led to my most demanding crossing and a tale as old and yet unique as those once told by Chaucer. In 2006, a 68 year-old French friend and I set off on the historic pilgrimage trek. Walking 4500 miles from France to Jerusalem across thirteen countries, we retraced the route of the First Crusades on what I liked to call "a walk for peace." Ironically, the usual daily surprises were easily surpassed when war broke out along the way. Still, we were undeterred in our quest. For me, this odyssey became an inward journey as well as a physical one. A little enlightenment surfaced one step at a time.

I returned deeply changed and was pleasantly surprised when The Society of American Travel Writers named "Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace" 2009 Best Travel Book and I received the Lowell Thomas Gold Award, the Pulitzer of our genre.

Today, my wanderlust continues. Most recently, my wife and I were seduced into hiking the length of the Alps on the Via Alpina. Over four and a half months, we climbed the equivalent of twelve Mt. Everests across eight countries. I swiftly, painfully, learned this is not a challenge to be taken lightly (or in one giant gulp) by any sane couple. It was not "a walk in the park" by any stretch of my bizarre imagination. However, we accepted the challenge--and witnessed first-hand the vanishing Alpine culture along with disappearing glaciers--as we breached the far reaches of an "Everyman's" endurance.

Join us as we traverse the highs and lows of that crossing in "Over the Top & Back Again", named ForeWord Reviews 2011 Bronze Award winner for Best Adventure.

Crossings. This one word captures my life, my loves, my travels and writings. Crossings inspire. They add meaning. They test. They push you to your limits. They reward. They lead you to the hidden magic in the world. They've made me the person I've become.

My tales are real, sometimes raw, often on the edge as two ordinary people deal with extraordinary challenges. These are not travel stories where everything is predictably perfect. Yes, it's sometimes like making sausage. It's not always a pretty process, but perhaps it's a delicious snack for your traveler's soul.

Join me on these and my future crossings. You'll never return quite the same.

Meanwhile, please join me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Brandon-Wilson-Adventure-Travel-Author/156521417709244?ref=ts

Customer Reviews

You even learn along the way.
Marcia A. Sprague
While reading the first few chapters I found myself laughing at his humor every few pages.
Rebecca of Amazon
This book is a MUST READ for hikers, travelers, outdoors people, and adventurers.
Bonnie Neely

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sylvia Nilsen on December 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
Many travel books entice readers to follow in the writer's footsteps. Bryson and Theroux have contributed to a global rise in train and towpath travel and Paolo Coelho's `Pilgrimage' and Hape Kerkeling's "I'm off Then" sent thousands of copy-cat peregrinos from Brazil and Germany onto the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in Spain. This latest offering from Brandon Wilson could start an avalanche of adventure hikers on the Via Alpina!
But, for someone who suffers from vertigo at the top of an escalator, this book had the complete opposite affect on me! The constant use of those `F-words" gave me goose-bumps - freezing, frigid, frost....brrrr! And those terrifying `P-words' - perilous, precarious, precipice - combined with words like ledge, ladders and chains - were enough for me to make up my mind that if I ever got itchy feet to trek the Via Alpina, I would chain myself to a deck chair in Siberia, feet dunked in a below freezing ice-hole, until the feeling passed.
Brandon and his intrepid wife Cheryl had a narrow 4 month window in which to trek 1200 miles of the Via Alpina, crossing 8 countries, climbing 3000ft from valley to mountain every day in rain, sleet, frost, snow, thunderstorms, howling gales, white-out fog, mud, scree slopes, shifting shale, landslides and disappearing tracks. This took some serious trekking (only one day off in the first three weeks) and like the Grand Old Duke of York, they marched up one hill (in this case an Alpine Mountain) and down again every day for 110 days. Brandon's engaging style swept me along on this razor-tooth, roller coaster trek and at times I could smell the spring herbs, and their sweaty socks!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Timecheck on November 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
"Brandon's at it again" I thought as I looked over at the newest book on my wife's bedside reading pile. Over the Top & Back Again - Hiking X the Alps.

Having devoured Brandon Wilson's earlier books, and eager to read the next, I snatched it off her pile. His opening chapter title is appropriate: Leap Into Madness. Ever heard of Via Alpina? I hadn't either. It is a new trail putting together many old trails to form a route from Trieste, Italy over the Alps, through France and ending in Monaco.

Just the kind of thing I expect from Brandon, except there is a twist. This time he convinces his ever-trusting wife Cheryl to go along. Bad decision, Cheryl, unless you believe that mutual suffering brings marital togetherness.

The route has variations, marked by colors. The high route, the hard route, is red. Guess what route Brandon picked. Right. Did I mention that this puts them in the high Alps going hut to hut for five months? This is shaping up to be a good book. Not something I want to do, but good entertainment, watching couples coping with difficulty.

I don't want to spoil the story for you, so I'll just quote a few phrases. "Dammit. Just what have we gotten outselves into this time?" "The Universe ...had Other Plans" "Where is the trail?" "she tore off her clothes".

For any reader of traveler's adventures, but particularly for those of you that have hiked long distance trails, this book will be a delight. In the process of reading it, you will learn a lot about small village life in Europe, and most dangerously, you will have implanted an idea in the back of your mind. Via Alpina, maybe we should look into it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Linda D. Delgado on October 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
I look forward with great anticipation to reading each of Brandon Wilson's travel-adventure books. I am never disappointed. The author takes me with him and I get to meet fascinating, funny, and wonderful people and visit countries I have always yearned to see but cannot because of my severe disabilities. When I read Brandon's books I feel as though I am transported to the time and place in the stories where he is. All of my senses come alive.

Over the Top & Back Again: Hiking X the Alpshad, Brandon's newest book, recounts the most dangerous, exciting, and challenging of Brandon's travel adventures, yet. His charming and courageous wife Cheryl shared this adventure with him. Their adventure was fraught with great challenges that were surprisingly overcome with humor. Almost from the beginning Brandon and Cheryl faced many difficult situations. Cheryl sustained two serious injuries, time after time they encountered trails poorly marked or not marked, and the grueling physical and mental endurance required to make the daily 3,000 feet climbs and descents in the magnificent Alps would have discouraged most seasoned and experienced travel adventurers. Countless times along the trails I thought...here...at this point...they must turn back, but not these two courageous adventurers. Quitting was not an option for Brandon and Cheryl. Their spirit of teamwork, love of nature and people, and great courage facing and overcoming many difficult unknowns along the Alpine trails makes this Brandon's very best book and adventure to date. Linda D. Delgado, Author and Publisher, Tempe, Arizona.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michele Straube on December 13, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read Brandon Wilson's "Over the Top & Back Again: Hiking X the Alps" cover-to-cover the same day I bought it. And then re-read some parts of it again the next day. And have been going back to look at the pictures every few days. It's that great an adventure.

The book is extremely satisfying for armchair travelers - taking you over 1,000 miles of the high Alps, through eight European countries (and their culture, people and foods). The story includes enough suspense and bad luck to keep your interest or stir your empathy (e.g., "the agony of de feet"), but not so much that you can't visualize yourself right there with Brandon and his wife Cheryl.

The book is a must-read for anyone considering hiking the Via Alpina themselves. My husband and I have been talking about this trail ever since it was created. Reading "Over the Top & Back Again" was the tipping point - we ARE doing it, starting next summer (hiking a few weeks each summer until we've done it all). And we hope to benefit from some of the author's lessons learned.

Finally, I've used the book as an engaging geography lesson for our 9-year-old grandson. Combining the line drawings of the trail segments with an atlas for orientation, and the photos in the middle of the book to prompt questions, we had a wide-ranging discussion about Europe and the Alps and mountain ecology and rural cultures.

This book will be a repeat item on my gift-giving list for this December holiday season.
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