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The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind - and Almost Found Myself - on the Pacific Crest Trail (P.S.) Paperback


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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1ST edition (May 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061376930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061376931
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Traversing broiling deserts, snowy mountain passes and dank rain forests on its crooked way from Mexico to Canada, the Pacific Coast Trail is an epic challenge for die-hard backpackers. White and his girlfriend, Melissa, set out, late in the season and bereft of experience, to tread all 2,650 miles of it, leaving behind lousy reporting jobs and hoping to find self-definition and a deepened relationship. (They call their trek the Lois and Clark Expedition.) Hilarious greenhorn misadventures ensue—including the author's ill-advised chomp, while dizzy with dehydration, into a reputedly moisture-laden prickly-pear cactus—that tested their survival skills and commitment as a couple. The trail becomes less an itinerary than a world unto itself, full of squalor, discomfort and majestic scenery, and peopled by charismatic misfits and an austere cult of ultra-light speed-hikers, as the couple rely on arcane camping gear and bizarre gummy-bear-and-marshmallow diets. The wilderness authenticity the author seeks proves elusive; all journey and no destination, the story itself eventually trails off with the hero even more callow and confused than when he started. Still, White's vivid prose and hangdog humor make readers want to keep up. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“It is a funny, frequently harrowing, and altogether mesmerizing memoir about just how wrong a backpacking expedition can go….‘The Cactus Eaters’ is far more than a Sierra Club-approved romp. It’s gorp for the soul, a fascinating and surprisingly moving testament to the call of the wild.” (Steve Almond, Boston Globe)

“Drawing on diaries he kept at the time, White polishes up these memories, serving them forth with brio and dash…[The Cactus Eaters] brings a fresh perspective to the timeworn adventure-travel genre.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“In the well-written, laugh-out-loud, self-deprecating spirit of Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods and Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally, Dan White takes us along for a walk on the wild side of adventure and love. I could not put it down.” (Eric Blehm, National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of THE LAST SEASON.)

“Dan White forges miles past travelogue to carve a poignant, uproarious, and deeply compelling love story between man, woman, and the land between. The Cactus Eaters is as impressive and enjoyable as the ground it covers.” (Franz Wisner, NY Times Bestselling Author of Honeymoon with My Brother)

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Customer Reviews

I got this book from the library; after the first pages I knew I had to buy it, it was the best backpacking book I ever read.
C. A. Shackleford
It's a beautifully written story about White and his girlfriend at the time who take on the daunting task of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Christa Martin
Although the book has a few funny sections, the author spends WAY too much time talking about his own problems, obsessions, etc.
MJS

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Michael on May 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
The story engages one's interest on many levels through a telling that is jam-packed with fascinating details and portraits of interesting characters--much in the style of John McPhee (one of my favorite authors). Unlike McPhee, however, White's own (progressively more annoying) personality impinges on the reader's ability to actually enjoy the story. I'll admit that this may be something of a hollow critique, owing to the fact that the title doesn't specifically advertise the book as strictly an account of hiking the PCT. The story is of the author's "almost finding" of himself.

But particularly on that level, the story is lackluster and pointedly disingenuous fare. Aspects of the author's mindset and personality that are initially somewhat charming become, within a surprisingly short space, almost nausea-inducing. White's toxic mixture of infantile narcissism, insecurity, and inexcusable incompetence becomes evident early-on and only gets deeper with each page. If it ever led anywhere--if the author would actually lower shields and offer a glimpse into the effects of the trip on his true self--it might all be tolerable. Instead, however, the reader is subject to a non-stop onslaught of White's desperate, cloying attempts to illustrate how his asinine behavior, selfishness, and barely-masked contempt for the wilderness are, in the end, great character strengths which we are to witness with reverence and awe. Fairly trivial inconveniences and unplanned events--inconveniences and events well-known to every weekend backpacker--become, in the hands of the author, tremendous and overwhelming ordeals that he surmounts through the force of sheer strength and superhuman will.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A. Bradshaw on June 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
If you're looking for a guide to the Pacific Crest Trail - this isn't that kind of book. BUT, if you're looking for an extremely well-written, hard-to-put-down, hysterically funny account of a very personal 2,650 mile journey - Cactus Eaters is for you.

I strongly disagree with the reviewer who tagged this book a yawn-inducing personal narrative with too little emphasis on The Trail itself. I've done a long distance hike (Appalachian Trail) and, to be honest, a description of the *actual* trail experience has HUGE potential to be quite tedious. You walk a lot. Body parts hurt. Your gear fails you. If you're inexperienced, you make stupid mistakes. If you're experienced, you make well-educated ones. There are lots of trees and the occasional animal. The other hikers either entertain or irritate you.

The end.

Speaking from experience, It's what happens to a person in the face of these things that transforms the experience into a real journey and Dan White does an amazing job of bringing the reader along on his.

I was so taken by Cactus Eaters that I dusted off my backpack and hit the trail for a few days after reading it. Can't recommend it enough :)
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Blister on February 20, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Throughout this entire book I was waiting for that defining moment when White would become a man and grow up. As I approached the end I was worried the change would receive so little attention it would leave me wanting. I shouldn't have worried - it never came because the author never grew up. Reading this book was a complete turn off - White's self indulgence is more nauseating than the worst giardia - fortunately you can eventually eliminate giardia cysts from your body. Sadly, the memoirs of Dan White will be with me until the early onset of Alzheimer's. Bottom line: if you are looking for an outdoor book, this is not it. It may even be so toxic as to turn you off from hiking altogether. A better suggestion is to go for a hike yourself and keep a diary.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By India Ballinger on July 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
I was initially amused with this book -- I surprised myself with how many times I laughed out loud in the early to middle chapters. My perception was that the writer was presenting this as a type of sophmoric entertainment -- it's clear he stretched hard to yield the most over-the-top, at times physically graphic and revulsive, descriptions of his experiences. He is indisputably quite articulate and witty in his recounting of this "ultimate" hiking adventure, but in the end I felt that his single-minded whiny and self-absorbed obsession with completing "the trail" turned him into a very unlikable person. This is just another tired old variation on the endless tales of the male finding solace and peace in the relentless call of the wilderness (and thus conveniently avoiding responsibility). Except in this case he made the decision to discard his medically-compromised girlfriend who is presented as a wise angel throughout the book. I quickly lost interest in wanting to know what this guy would do next. The hilarious momentum that builds for the first 3/4ths of the book starts to pall as he confronts his weaknesses and fears while displaying truly disagreeable behavior, and I almost felt I was reading a separate book at that point. The fun exploits of the trail then became a painful soul-searching odyssey by a shallow and selfish human being, a trip I didn't sign on for. Everything really fell flat at the end when I realized he wasn't even going to acknowledge this special hiking companion he couldn't say enough about during the book...isn't she owed some special mention since she consistently and faithfully provided stability, ingenuity, and support while he stumbled about like an irresponsible child in the wilderness testing her patience again and again? I have no sympathy for the wail of the solo male adventurer searching for himself...while his woman patiently keeps the home fires burning. I'm truly glad his girlfriend made the right choice at the end. Homer this ain't!
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