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The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mindand Almost Found Myselfon the Pacific Crest Trail (P.S.) Paperback – May 20, 2008

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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)
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“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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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: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 62 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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16 of 18 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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24 of 29 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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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By James Flusterdam on July 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
Dan White is a funny dude and I enjoyed The Cactus Eaters - especially in the early-going when White's humor was fresh. The pacing of the story is excellent and he explores the challenges of couple-hiking in an effective (if one-sided way). Several aspects of this book aggravated me:
1) White never tells us when exactly he hiked the trail although his references to popular culture would date the hike in the early to mid 1990s.
2) Some of the drama and dialog seems contrived - which given the likely time lapse between the hike and the manuscript, would not be surprising
3) White's self-flagellation becomes a little repetitive and there were 2-3 too many references to cosmic payback
4) The timing of his two-season hike (he starts in June) leads him to miss much of the culture of the trail. His contact with other thru-hikers is minimal. I can't help but think that if he and Allison had done a traditional thru-hike that he would have had much richer inter-personal material
5) The specific content of this book is eerily similar to A Blistered Kind of Love - which tells the story of a couple hiking the PCT from a dual voice standpoint. This might just be coincidence or maybe not or maybe I am biased.

Overall, I would recommend The Cactus Eaters as a well-written and humorous narrative, but if you are looking for an authentic PCT book, there are better options out there.
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