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Americana (And The Act Of Getting Over It.) Paperback – Illustrated, September 10, 2019
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From the Publisher
Luke Healy on Americana
How did you first hear about the PCT, and how long did it take you to prepare for it?
I first heard about the PCT in 2014, when I saw a trailer for the film adaptation of Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I saw it right before I had to move back to Ireland from the USA. I didn’t want to leave, and was in a huge funk. The first thing I did when I returned to Ireland was buy and read Wild. I was immediately obsessed, and decided that I would hike the PCT in 2016, leaving myself enough time to prepare, since I had never hiked, backpacked, or camped before. All told, I prepped for about 18 months.
This is a massive understatement, but the PCT looks really, really hard. You very honestly document the amount of times during the trip that you almost quit the trail. How do you feel not finishing the PCT would have affected you, if at all?
I don’t think I’d have the same kind of closure that I have now about my relationship with the USA. Every time I’d lived there before, I was forced to leave against my will, and it definitely left me feeling as though I had left things unfulfilled. Although my journey wasn’t without compromise (in the form of a few skipped sections), I feel as though when I walked out of the USA, I’d reached the end of something. Though at the time, all I wanted was to sleep indoors again.
What were the most difficult moments along the trail?
The hardest moment by far, was around mile 340 at Cajon Pass. I’d had a horrible few days, and was suffering from a depressive period. I was so unhappy, and exhausted, and was just plodding along. And I kept running out of water, multiple days in a row; which is obviously very dangerous when you’re isolated and tramping across a blisteringly hot desert. I had a realization, then, that I was engaging in “risky behaviour”, by not taking enough caution with my water supplies. A classic symptom of depression. I decided that if I wasn’t able to take care of myself, I shouldn’t be on the trail, and a few days later I got a ride to L.A. with the intention of quitting for good.
Also, the day I broke my leg along in the mountains was pretty bad. But I just kept taking ibuprofen and hiking on it, so the depression thing was probably worse, haha.
Do you also have any stand out good memories of your time there?
A lot! As hard as the trip was, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Oddly, a moment to really sticks out to me, which actually doesn’t feature in the book because I found it too difficult to communicate, happened right after I’d crossed the state border form California to Oregon, months into the journey. I was in Callaghan’s Lodge, who offered cheap food for hikers –and when you’re hiking the PCT, you are always starving– I was walking through their dining room, and made eye contact with another thruhiker, who was taking the first bite of a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs. We both started laughing because we both knew how much joy she was getting from that bite, and in that moment we saw how absurd we both were. It felt amazing to be so connected to a complete stranger.
Despite that there seems to be a great deal of community feeling amongst the hikers you met and walked with, a unique kind of hiking culture. Have you kept in touch with any of the people you met along the way?
Yes, I’m still in touch with lots of them, via facebook. But I mostly still talk to the hikers from the group “Mile 55”, who I hiked about 400 miles of trail with. They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met, and I’m extremely grateful to call them my friends. I’m going to be seeing them for the first time since trail in October, and I can’t wait (please attend my US events while I’m there!).
I also have seen Justin and Jenny a few times, the hikers whose wedding I attended on trail. We’ve crossed paths in London, and I am very happy any time I get to see them.
There also seemed to be an impressive amount of support along the way for hikers, people who would offer up their outhouses etc for walkers to sleep in, and leave water caches in the desert near Mexico for them. Do you know anything more about these “trail angels”, or how many of them help maintain the trail?
No official numbers, but my guess would be hundreds. There are pillars of the community who open up their houses every year, but also the dozens of people any hiker meets at road crossings or trail junctions, with cold cans of soda, or hot fresh food ( a rare luxury on trail). Or just the trail angels who don’t even know that’s what they are, who pick you up hitchhiking, and invite you to shower or sleep at their place.
They keep the trail alive, and they’re some of the most generous, incredible people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. And that’s not even mentioning all of the volunteers who head out and do work on the trail itself, clearing fallen trees, maintaining this massive engineering project that can sometimes look like a simple dirt path, but is unfathomably complicated to maintain over such an enormous distance.
If my walk across America jaded me to certain aspects of US culture, these people, were what reminded me of the other side of that coin.
The amount of detail and small recorded moments that you‘ve captured in Americana is incredible, it almost feels like watching a documentary at times rather than reading a comic. How did you keep a record along the way? Was it all notes, or did you have time to draw occasionally whilst there?
I took no notes, and made no drawings. While hiking, I never intended to write a book about the experience. I just wanted to do something for my own self. When I got home and decided that I did want to put something together, the memories were so visceral that I had no trouble recalling them, I think just because every day was so unusual and unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Three years later, things have definitely faded a little, so for that reason, I’m very glad I took the time to write the most interesting parts down.
Could you also expand a little more about the process of making the book itself? Did you start it immediately after returning from the US? And are there many extra stories from the trail you ended up editing out?
I started working on it pretty much as soon as I got home to Ireland. I sat down and wrote an outline, as well as a detailed draft of the first hundred or so pages before pitching it to Nobrow. Then over the next 18 months I wrote a bunch of rough drafts of the book.
A lot of stuff got cut. It’s hard to condense five months into something digestible. In the end, I mostly cut stuff that felt like it was detouring too much from the momentum of the overall book. Even though the final book has something of a meandering quality, I still wanted everything to seem purposeful, and some stories were just too unrelated to fit in.
One of my favourite little anecdotes that got cut took place in the town of Mt. Shasta, a very hippy spiritualist kind of spot (it has more than ten crystal shops). While I was there, my bankcard got blocked for a suspicious transaction, and I had no way of contacting my bank because I couldn’t pay for an international call. In the end, I had to borrow 20 dollars from another hiker, and look for a payphone and phone card. I searched all over town. In the end, I found a phone card, buried amongst “bigfoot is real” bumper stickers and “UFO Drivers licences” at a gas station. The gas station owner was surprised when I brought it up to check out and said “that’s probably been there since the ‘90s”. It still worked.
As you describe reaching the end of the PCT during Americana’s last few pages you say you “don’t feel changed. Not yet”. Now time has passed, do you feel the trail has changed you?
We’re all changing constantly, I think. Everything we experience, and every choice we make just influences the trajectory of that change. Without hiking the PCT, I wouldn’t be somehow preserved as the person I was before I hiked it. But I certainly wouldn’t be the same person I am now. Everything in my life is different because of hiking the PCT, and I’m very thankful for that.
The book is of course equally as much about your relationship with America as it is about the hike itself. Do you still feel as such a strong pull to it as you once did?
I don’t. I have many fond memories of my times living in the USA, but I have no desire to live there now. I love my American friends, and any time I can see them is an incredible privilege, but for now, I’ve lost interest in just about everything else the USA has to offer.
"Healy’s pilgrimage through America is also a journey into his own mind, soundtracked by blistered footsteps and breathless huffs, and told with winning honesty."
Honorable mention, Publishers Weekly Graphic Novel Critics Poll 2019
Finalist for Pop Culture Classroom's 2020 EGL Award, Best in Adult Graphic Literature
“This masterful and moving graphic memoir establishes Luke Healy as one of the finest cartoonists working today... Americana is a triumph.”
—James Sturm, author of Off Season
“Healy’s memoir is both a thoughtful meditation on being an outsider looking in, and a practical read for people interested in the logistics of conquering a long-distance trail.”
—Ingrid Bohnenkamp, Library Journal
" Healy’s tale is bittersweet as he deals with the ups and downs of taking on this monumental task alone without any real training, but his growth is obvious."
—Suzanne Temple, Booklist
“Americana is as epic as the hike [Healy] took. At over 300 pages with the mixed narrative presentations, there’s a lot packed in there, both high emotion and calm rumination. He captures all the aspects involved in taking such a hike, and I don’t mean just preparations, but the pathways to ending up on such a trail. It’s a perfect book anyone you might know who wants to take a similar journey — or just wants to know what it would be like, but doesn’t see themselves ever doing it. Healy captures the terrain and the experience, sure, but he also captures the meaning without ever restricting it to his own definition.”
—John Seven, The Beat
"What I appreciated about Americana was that it offered a foreigner’s perspective of trail life and America as a whole, and that it did so utilizing a medium that is rarely, if ever, used to depict thru-hiking despite being perfect for it. Thru-hikes are internal journeys, of course, but so much of the experience is about immersing oneself in what is outside, about slowing down and seeing the world in a way that it cannot possibly be seen at the speeds at which we now normally travel. Thru-hiking is a very visual experience, and Healy does a wonderful job of conveying it that way.”
—Jessica Tinios, The Trek
“A much-needed break from the typical hiker reads, gear-lists, and trail maps. It's a highly reflective, multi-layered story featuring gorgeous illustrations, tasteful humor, and a colorful cast of characters. It’s a highly recommended novel to nature lovers and comic nerds alike.”
—Adam “AMS” Rakestraw, Outdoor Evolution
About the Author
- Item Weight : 13 ounces
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1910620610
- ISBN-13 : 978-1910620618
- Publisher : Nobrow; Illustrated Edition (September 10, 2019)
- Product Dimensions : 6.19 x 1.06 x 8.88 inches
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #444,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book was of much less interest to be than I thought it would be.
The author reviewed his many previous visits to the U.S., including several during his student and adult years, which had abruptly ended when his visa ran out and he had to go home to Ireland (or elsewhere) before he could come back.
I never really learned what it was that drove the author to want to hike the grueling Pacific Crest Trail, since he had neither hiked nor camped before he made the resolution to do so. He was also heavy, unfit and, at least as he describes himself, pretty uninteresting and uninterested in anything except comics.
I should have realized, perhaps, that the book is largely itself made up of comics, and not very good ones, in my opinion, illustrating his months-long hike, with breaks for "zeros," days in which PCT hikers hitch rides into the nearest town with food and water to take a day with "zero" time or miles to hike, simply to rest, wash and eat before getting a ride back to the trail to resume the grueling agenda.
I finished the book, very quickly given the vast number of pages of cartoons which required me to do little more than skim. I then gifted it to a man who lives on the West Coast and is very interested in nature and coastal environmental preservation. At my request, he'll pass it on to others he knows in his area with like interests.
For me, though, this book was nothing special, I'm sorry to say, despite my own love of nature and hiking. (Though I would never attempt a months-long solo hike of this kind.)
Luke Healy the author, an Irish citizen sees America as the promised land. He traveled here as a child, even went to college here, but never as yet had the opportunity to stay on. Staying home with his parents trying to get by in a trying economy as a cartoonist, he decides he wants to hike the PCT, after seeing the trailer for Wild. Having read the book Wild myself, I can see why he was inspired. Cheryl Strayed had no more the capability of long haul hiking than he did.
But both would persevere.
I’m the reverse of the author. I’m of Irish Heritage and American born. Having hiked in the Adirondacks, I know I will never do the PCT. But, I admire those who do. Not only for their gumption but taking the time out of their life to do so. I’ve recently traveled to Ireland and see the kinship with those of us born here.
This book is interesting in that it is both written and drawn. It is on white paper with blue lettering. Highly readable. This is not a small thing as just recently I received a book grey on beige. It was a nightmare to read, except with a strong light. The cartoons, are the authors signature and capture the wilderness. Thoroughly enjoyed.
I can see where the shear length of time could beat you down. Imagine the months of just walking. Few people's bodies could do so without complaint. It is a mind over matter.
If you have an interest in hiking, especially the PCT, this book captures it. Also the storytelling with cartoons takes it up a notch.
The book is mostly illustrations that perfectly convey the ruggedness and grueling nature of the trail. Luke hiked through deserts, around mountains, and up and down steep forested trails. The weather ranged from blazing hot to frigid cold. He encountered the wildlife that calls these regions home – while he was only a transient visitor.
The book shows the culture of the thru-hikers he met on the trail with their unique personalities and trail names. Chuckles, Spoon, Toe Touch, Flash Dance, Secret Squirrel, Centerfold, Mile 55 to just name a few. These and others were his trail friends and it was often comforting to spend the night camping as a group for camaraderie and safety. It turned out that Luke’s trail name was Bivvy.
This pictures are simply but aptly drawn and let the reader share the adventure, the solitude, the pain, the joy and even the hemorrhoid operation that the author endured. I loved every page of this story and found myself slightly stressing on the hard parts of the trail, going “Heff, hell, heff”.