He Took a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good 800-Mile Hike So You Don’t Have To

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A WALK IN THE PARK: The True Story of a Spectacular Misadventure in the Grand Canyon, by Kevin Fedarko

Maybe it’s when he’s extracting drinking water from damp sand with a syringe, trying desperately not to die from dehydration, but there came a point in “A Walk in the Park,” Kevin Fedarko’s memoir about walking the length of the Grand Canyon, that I thought: Wow, this hike is a terrible idea.

Not that this was a revelation; Fedarko says as much from the start. But I still assumed, being well versed in the rhythms of adventure stories (and the accompanying “wait-till-you-hear-how-bad-it-was”), that a Grand Canyon hike wouldn’t be uniquely awful. I was wrong.

Fedarko grew up in Pittsburgh, in a landscape drained by coal mining and poisoned by the byproducts of industry; his family recalls the yellow mist of the Donora Death Fog, a quirk of atmospheric pressure that trapped chemical emissions over a town some 20 miles south of the city, killing at least 20 people and sickening many more. As a child visiting his grandparents, he played on hills of strip-mine waste.

But when a magazine assignment brought him to the Colorado River, he fell in love with both the Grand Canyon and the elegant wooden dories that traverse it. He uprooted his life to volunteer for a tour company, handling raw sewage on rafting expeditions in the hope of one day being promoted to the driver’s seat of a dory. As he relates one grievous mishap after another, the reader faces a dawning realization. Wait: Is this guy going to walk the whole canyon because he’s not good enough to row a boat?

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