Stuck indoors? Nothing like a good adventure tale to get you inspired

Story by Roger Phillips/The Idaho Statesman/MCT
McClatchy Newspapers
January 1, 2011
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Books about the outdoors and our favorite activities can be a great a way to wait out a long winter.

We're still getting out when we can, but cozying up in a comfortable chair and cracking a book can take us on adventures far away and share the experiences and insight of others.

We can live vicariously through their stories, or use their words and images to motivate us to launch our own outings.

These are books I've read through the years that stand as either classics, favorites or unexpected treasures. They cut through a lot of literary territory, but share one thing in common; they are all interesting to read.

Some may be challenging to find, but searching can be a great experience because you never know what other books you will find.

Check them out from a library, comb bookstores or find them on the Internet.

In no particular order:

* "Never Turn Back: The Life of Whitewater Pioneer Walt Blackadar" by Ron Watters, Great Rift Press.

This ranks among the great adventure books as it captures the larger-than-life Walt Blackadar, a doctor from Salmon who walked point for generations of Idaho kayakers who have challenged the frontiers of whitewater boating.

His irrepressible spirit and bravado shines through in this celebration of Blackadar's life, but Watters doesn't grovel in hero worship. He portrays all sides of Blackadar, which ultimately makes you appreciate his accomplishments that much more.

Bonus points: You can run the same rapids where Blackadar learned to paddle, and pay homage to him on your next trip to the South Fork of the Payette.

* "The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest" by Timothy Egan, Vintage Books (Random House).

Timothy Egan is a Seattle-based correspondent for The New York Times and author of several books. This one brilliantly describes life in the Northwest, its people and its challenges.

"The regional icons -- the salmon and trees and mountain and water -- spring from the elements. If people here become too far removed from those basic sources of life then they lose the bond to a better world," he writes.

Egan leans toward the Pacific side of the Northwest in the book's 13 chapters, which focus on different regions. You come away with an appreciation for the unique landscapes and people who inhabit them.

* "Idaho Greatest Mule Deer" by Ryan Hatfield, Idaho's Greatest Big Game.

This book speaks to me as a mule deer hunter on several levels. First, there's over 400 pages of great Idaho mule deer bucks. I like to thumb through it and pick out my favorites (Patrick Sinclair's on page 276).

Second, there are stories behind the bucks, most of which are told by the people who shot them. It's like being around the campfire at hunting camp and hearing story after story about the big ones that didn't get away.

Most of these bucks were taken by average, every day hunters, not the guys who spend thousands chasing the scarce big mule deer left in the West. Those stories will give any hunter the hope that it could happen to them, too.

* "Salmon without Rivers" by Jim Lichatowich, Island Press.

* "River of Life, Channel of Death" by Keith Petersen, Oregon State University Press.

These two books provide deeply researched and thorough explanations of what's happened to salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Both look into the geological, biological, social and political history of these rivers and the people and fish that inhabit them.

Both writers have a scientist's perspective on facts with a novelist's eye for details that make those facts come alive.

Anyone who wants to go beyond the dogma and rhetoric of the dams-vs-fish debate should read one or both of these.

You might not agree with everything, but you will come away with a much better understanding of how we got where we are today. And it won't feel like you're reading a textbook.

* "They Lived to Tell the Tale" edited by Jan Jarboe Russell, The Lyons Press.

This book chronicles 41 stories of modern adventures from members of The Explorers Club. They range from space travel to deep sea exploration to recovering Iraqi artifacts during the war to visiting ground zero at the World Trade Center shortly after 9/11.

Like any compilation book, chapters sometimes range from soaring to boring, but overall, this is a fascinating book for an armchair adventurer.

You might never cross Greenland by dog sled, but you can read about the experience by someone who has.

* "How I Got This Way" by Patrick McManus, Henry Holt and Company Inc.

Patrick McManus is the Northwest's own Mark Twain, and he's still going strong. He is so rip-snorting funny at describing life outdoors that people often have to stop reading because they're laughing too hard to continue.

There are at least half a dozen McManus books that could be on this list, but this one gets the nod because it centers around his young life on the family farm north of Sandpoint.

* "Death in the Long Grass" by Peter Hathaway Capstick, St. Martin's Press.

Capstick was born in New Jersey and left a Wall Street job to become a professional hunter in Africa. This is his first of many books and is a modern classic on African hunting that often draws comparisons to Ernest Hemingway.

Capstick writes with gripping detail that puts you in the moment of hairy encounters with dangerous game.

Some have accused him of embellishing his stories, but that doesn't make them any less engrossing or entertaining.

* "Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains" by Jon Krakauer, The Lyons Press.

Krakauer is a household name thanks to books like "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air," but once he was a young dirtbag climber with a reverence for the adventurous spirit of climbing.

This book features stories about great mountaineers and their feats. But what makes it a standout is Krakauer's unflinching examination of himself and what drives him to climb mountains. It's brutally honest, intimate and at times hilarious.

If you've read his more famous books, consider this book like an early EP of your favorite band before it hit the big time.

* "A Passion for Steelhead" by Dec Hogan, Wild River Press.

This is a how-to book that looks like a coffee-table book and blends an autobiography with biology and fly fishing instruction.

Not only will you learn about fly fishing for steelhead, you will take a trip through their world led by Hogan, who guided for steelhead for over 14 years and was among the pioneers of Spey rods and two-hand fly casting.

The book is ambitious, entertaining and informative. It's not cheap ($60 cover price) but after you read it, it will seem like an investment as much as a purchase.

* "Sowbelly: The Obsessive Quest for the World-Record Largemouth Bass" by Monte Burke, Penguin Group.

I never intended to read this book. My interest in the world-record bass was on par with the world record for hot dog eating. But I got a review copy of "Sowbelly" years ago and casually thumbed through it. Before I knew it, Burke had me hooked like a largemouth.

The book is a fascinating look at the modern era of bass fishing, starting with George Perry's 1932 record fish, through the tournament bass world and into the current quest of a handful of obsessive bass anglers trying to top Perry's long-standing record.

* "Trout and Salmon of North America" by Robert Behnke, Simon and Schuster.

If art and biology had a love child, it's this book. Robert Behnke has a Ph.D in fisheries and conservation, and illustrator Joseph Tomelleri has done for trout and salmon what James Audubon did for birds.

Chapters are devoted to all of North America's trout and salmon with details on biological history, distribution, life history, diet and other facts.

It's informative without being dry, despite the depth of information. For example, they devote 14 chapters to subspecies of cutthroat trout.

What gets it on my list is it pleases both the mind and the eye, and provides a wealth of data for any fish geek.

Bonus points: The book's forward was written by Montana novelist Thomas McGuane.

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