Walking Distance: Extraordinary hikes for ordinary people is my dream book. Written by Robert Manning, a professor at the University of Vermont, and Martha Manning, a working artist, the book offers 30 long distance walks that anyone can do.
I first turned to the Cotswold Way, a 100 miles through southern England. As the Mannings describe, the trail is quintessential England – thatched roof cottages, prosperous villages, historic churches, and pastoral valleys. They walked from Bath, a major historic town, and headed north while I walked from Chipping Campden south. This way, I could spend a couple of days exploring Bath after the hike. You stay in bed and breakfasts or small hotels, never needing to camp. Beyond you dayhiking gear, you just bring your toothbrush and couple of changes of underwear.
The book is meant to wet your appetite for the walks. There’s enough detail so you can figure out if you must backpack, stay in huts or in town. It’s not a guidebook. How could you write a guidebook for 30 long distance hikes? Each long distance hike includes a map to orient youself and a box on further reading.
The authors did the Overland Track, in Tasmania, Australia, differently than we did. They went with a group that planned on staying in huts. We went independently and carried a tent since there was no guarantee that we would find a place in a hut. But we all experienced the same Cradle Mountain and glacier lakes. Wallabies greeted us at every hut. Yellow-tailed black cockatoos and honeyeaters were distinctively Australians, as Australian as most of the hikers we met.
I next looked at Cinque Terre on the West coast of Italy. Lenny and I are planning to go next year but I had yet to do any research. I learned that the main trail linking the five towns is a dayhike of 11 miles. There’s a network of trails that wander up and down with good bus service to trailheads. You can even take a bus uphill and walk downhill, which really got Lenny’s attention.
It’s amazing how many of these hikes I’ve done. But Walking Distance is a dream book, so I flipped to my dream hikes. The Superior Hiking Trail in the North Woods of Minnesota has always intrigued me. Just because the trail borders Lake Superior doesn’t mean it’s flat; most of the trail in the Sawtooth Mountains overlooking the lake. The area has a reputation for biting insects but otherwise sounds great.
One quibble. The book should have said when the authors did the hikes. Obviously, these hikes were done over a number of years, and facilities change.
Forget the Sears catalog. Walking Distance (University of Oregon Press, $35) is the real dream book.