The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
Twelve reality show contestants walk into the woods and up a mountain to face solo and group challenges. They all have nicknames, including Tracker, Biologist, Airforce, Carpenter Chick, and Zoo. The challenges are probably familiar to watchers of any wilderness survival show, but some of the contestants are totally unprepared to survive in the wilderness, which is unusual. Caffeine withdrawal, insufficient clothing, and inability to read a map or compass are unexpected. An expert, along with Tracker, shows the contestants some of the skills they need, but no one will be prepared for the real challenge they face: a fast-moving epidemic. One morning Zoo wakes up alone, without a cameraman in sight. Zoo is married, and wanted one last adventure before starting a family. Following her blue markers, she doesn’t see anyone for many days, although some gruesome dummies are unsettling. After a coyote encounter leaves her with broken glasses, her blurry vision makes it hard to tell reality from the game. She is joined by a young teenage boy, who tries to tell her about the epidemic. They head out on a final quest, and the result is completely unpredictable. Fast-paced, very suspenseful, and moving, this first novel is sure to be a hit this summer.
Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts
Did you enjoy reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed? Then Almost Somewhere is the perfect readalike, about young women hiking in the wilderness. In 1993, Suzanne, Erika, and Dionne finish college and decide to spend a month hiking the John Muir trail from Mount Whitney to Yosemite. Erika is in charge, Suzanne is the slightly clutzy dreamer, and Dionne has never been backpacking before (a secret from Erika). Like Cheryl Strayed, Suzanne has an oversize backpack, but spends much less time writing about blisters or the contents of her pack, just worrying about her swollen knee and Dionne’s eating disorder. The women hike with two guys for the first part of the trip, including a stranger who Suzanne finds disturbing, and there’s concern that their food supply will run short. It’s not until the women start hiking as a threesome that they work as a team rather than competing with each other for attention from the guys. They have interactions with bears, other hikers and campers, and struggle to finish the hike through some stunning wilderness scenery and nine mountain passes. For more about the journey, visit the author’s website.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This is not another Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s funny memoir about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Wild is a raw, moving, and uplifting journey of discovery on the very challenging Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl, 26, newly divorced and still grieving her mother’s death a few years earlier, decides to find herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. Cheryl saves up her tips from waitressing, stuffs everything she might need into a backpack nicknamed “The Monster”, laces up her boots, and sets out to hike 1100 miles in 100 days, from the Mojave Desert to the Columbia River Gorge. Cheryl has issues: her love life, divorce from a man she still loves, drugs, grief, and a lack of family ties, but she has plenty of guts and willpower. Cheryl has canoed and camped, but never actually backpacked. Every 100 miles or so, she looks forward to a box of supplies and a little money a friend is mailing to her. Along the way she faces lots of challenges, including bears, rattlesnakes, weather extremes, and detours that require hitchhiking. I had to put this book down for a couple of days and skimmed ahead another time because I was worried about Cheryl. She’s bruised and losing toenails, hitchhiking can be scary, water isn’t always available, money is tight, and Cheryl’s behavior is unpredictable. But she’s also good company, as are the many kind and encouraging folks she meets along the way. Visit Cheryl’s website and watch a video trailer about her journey.