A good book is one that you find difficult to put down. I had to force myself to take a break from this one every so often. Even so it only took me just over one day to complete the 335 pages. The Last Englishman recounts Keith Foskett’s 2,650 mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mexican border to just inside Canada.
It was compelling reading from beginning to end. Keith even had to battle to get to the USA, with the Icelandic volcanic eruption throwing his travel plans into disarray. Getting to the start was an adventure in itself. Very quickly we are introduced to the trail and its tribulations. Blisters, body odour and dirt are constant companions. The fear of snakes and scorpions are a nagging reminder of being in the wilderness and away from civilisation.
The Last Englishman is an honest and personal account of what it takes to do a long distance thru-hike. You won’t find much in the way of descriptions of the majestic landscape. What you will find is a cast of vivid characters (or nutters) who chose to hike the PCT and an impression of the intense camaraderie (and occasionally friction) that the trail engenders.
Every day is a constant battle to do the miles, find water, eat enough to keep going and find shelter at the end of the day. Managing the toll that the trail takes on body and mind is a ever present challenge. Despite this, there is an overwhelming feeling of joy and freedom, with life stripped back to its basics.
There are continual questions as to whether characters will reappear in the story or disappear forever. There is the growing worry as to whether Keith will be able to finish before the winter snows arrive. I kept thinking “don’t take that zero” (a zero is a rest day).
There are a couple of very scary encounters with bears, as well an unpleasant incident with another PCT hiker. In the main, the interactions with both hikers and those that live along the trail are friendly. Sometimes the generosity is almost overwhelming.
The close camaraderie when facing seemingly insuperable odds, particularly near the end, shines through. Hikers pull each other through the inevitable troughs, both mental and physical of the hike. Without “Pockets” and “Trooper” (trail names), I wonder whether Keith would have made it.
I don’t want to tell you much more, as it might spoil the story (and the twist at the end). It’s a shame there weren’t more maps so that Keith’s progress could be followed more easily. Photos would have been nice, but the book would have cost more, and photos are available on his website. The gear freak in me would also like to have known his kit list (although this is also available on his website).
If you like backpacking books,then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. I found the writing style very readable and remarkably I found no spelling mistakes. Perhaps I was reading too quickly! I’m looking forward to Keith’s next book on the Appalachian Trail. He is planning to do the Continental Divide Trail in 2014, to complete the triple crown.
The Last Englishman is available in paperback and Kindle versions (this is not an Amazon Associate link and doesn’t earn me any commission, but buying from Amazon ensures Keith receives a fair deal).
Disclaimer: this book was purchased with my own funds and I have no relationship with the author or publisher