Extreme Classics

In 2001, National Geographic Adventure Magazine published a list they called Extreme Classics: The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time. Oddly, the list contained 106 books. I’d read and enjoyed a handful of them, so I decided to make it my goal to read the rest.

I just finished the final book on the list and thought I’d celebrate the occasion with a blog post.

There were some very good books on the list. There were also a lot of books I could have done without.

There were the polar exploration books. One or two of the best of these would have been fine. But they all sounded very much alike after a while — there are only so many things to say about walking on ice. The list even included multiple books about a few of the expeditions, written by different people. In any case, they were hard to keep separate since they all followed this basic outline.

  1. It was dark.
  2. We were cold.
  3. We ate the dogs.

Then there were the books of about exploring the desert regions of the Middle East and North Africa. They were very different from the polar exploration books. Their outlines could be summed up like this:

  1. It was dry.
  2. We were hot.
  3. We ate the camels.

By far the biggest category was books on mountain climbing. I have never climbed a mountain. I have never wanted to climb a mountain. I can’t quite figure out why anybody would want to climb a mountain. OK, I can understand why it would be sorta cool to be the very first person to ever stand on the top of a given mountain, but after that …

Many of these books weren’t even about first ascents. They were about expeditions on mountains that had already been climbed — just not by that particular route or at that particular season of the year. Is it really worth the expense and effort to be the first person to ascend up the previously-considered-unclimbable north face during the month of January only to stand where others had already stood? I don’t see it. And I certainly don’t think it makes a climber any kind of hero. I may be the first person to circle my block hopping on one snowshoe while wearing a Darth Vader costume and leading a llama, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a journey worth the telling. And all these books sounded alike too. The outline goes like this:

  1. It was icy.
  2. We were cold.
  3. We ate our shoes.
  4. Somebody died.
  5. You might think we’re stupid, but we’re proud of ourselves.

By this point, you’re probably wondering why I bothered reading the entire list. There were some excellent reads here, books in which the author told more about what he or she saw and less about what they felt; books written by authors who actually seemed to enjoy what they were doing and didn’t whine about it; books that had — and this is the sine qua non of good travel books — maps that showed all, or almost all, the places mentioned in the text.
If you think you might want to read some adventure classics, but don’t want to tackle this entire list, here are 10 of my favorites.

  • A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, by Isabella L. Bird — The author, an Englishwoman in her 40s, borrowed a horse and wandered about the American West in 1873 (three years before Custer’s last stand), dealing with hardship and finding adventures with understated aplomb.
  • Carrying the Fire, by Michael Collins — Collins’ story of his astronaut training and two trips into space — on Gemini 10 with John Young; and on Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during which Collins orbited in the command module during the first landing on the moon.
  • Cooper’s Creek, by Alan Moorehead — A failed and tragic attempt to explore the interior of Australia in 1860.
  • Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey — Abbey’s account of his two seasons as a park ranger in Utah’s Arches National Monument in the 1950s, before it was “improved.” I disagree with him on almost every subject, but he’s an excellent writer and funny too.
  • The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz — Seven men escape from prison in Siberia during World War II. 4,000 miles later, some of them made it to India.
  • No Picnic on Mount Kenya, by Felice Benuzzi — Three Italians, stuck in a British prison in Africa during World War II, escape for the sole purpose of climbing the nearby Mount Kenya. They left a note that said, “Don’t bother coming to look for us. We’ll be back in two weeks.” And they were.
  • The Royal Road to Romance, by Richard Halliburton — The author decided he’d had enough of college and took off on a trip around the world with no money. A great read, and some of it might even be true.
  • Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum — Perhaps the best book on the list. Slocum built his own boat and then took three years to sail it around the world by himself, stopping whenever the mood struck him. Exciting and hilarious at times.
  • The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles Lindbergh — Lindbergh’s own account of his solo flight across the Atlantic.
  • The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard — The best of the polar exploration books. The author accompanied Robert Falcon Scott on his famous attempt to reach the South Pole. It’s well-written and occasionally funny. In short, it tells the same story as the other polar exploration books, but does it better.

The entire list can be found here.

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Chattanooga — Days Four and Five

Back to Maple Street Biscuits for breakfast with all my coworkers who were still in town. I showed Zeke, the owner, the red chair photo I took of him last year. He remembered it and asked if I had it with me. I said it was back at the motel. He said, “Bring it in. We need to keep this going.” But I never did.

It rained all day. I had three hours to kill before I had to be in the booth, so I went for another walk — and got wet.

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I took this photo of a puddle on the pedestrian bridge across the Tennessee River.

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I don’t know if there used to be a church attached to this steeple, but it’s unusual.


The booth was open from 1:00 to 5:00 again. I spotted Ivana taking a break in the red chair during a slow time.


We ate supper at The Public House. Our waiter had a pretty good schtick — he found out we were at CPC and immediately began telling us he went to Dallas Theological Seminary and held the record for the three-legged race in Awana, among other things. Some of it may even have been true. The pot roast he recommended disappointed all of us who got it. The key lime pie for dessert, on the other hand, was very good.

Three of our number — Donna, Michael and Carly, had taken off early in the morning to drive home. They got caught in the storm that dumped a foot of snow on the Tennessee/Kentucky border and had to stay a night in a motel. That storm was pretty much the sole topic of conversation during the day and evening.

We worked the booth for a couple hours in the evening, then tore down with help from some other Awana staff who were attending the conference.

We woke up on Saturday to a very light dusting of snow.We went to Bluegrass Grill for an excellent breakfast. Here’s a shot of the streets of Chattanooga. Notice the snow? Now notice the specials sign in the restaurant.


We decided to leave a little later to give the snow plows further north a chance to clear the roads. Five of us — Bethany, Cindy and Ivana in a car and Zac and me in the truck — took off around 9:00 eastern time.

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I posted this photo of Zac on facebook with the comment: “With a sturdy hand on the wheel and a gritty, determined look, Zac is bravely prepared for whatever Winter Storm Jonas throws at our rental truck as we drive home from Chattanooga.”


We didn’t get very far north before the snow started getting deeper. Interstate 24 was pretty clear. When we switched over to I-65 in Nashville, things were different. The road was packed with ice and the drive was very bumpy. We counted 68 vehicles off the road — some of them way off the road. As soon as we hit the Kentucky border, the roads were clear. It’s just Tennessee, I guess, that has no idea how to clear snow.


We meet up with the three women at a Pizza Hut in Munfordville, Kentucky, then we each went our separate ways. Zac drove until just north of Louisville, and then I drove the rest of the way. We got home around 8:30, but we can’t figure out how we made such good time.

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Chattanooga — Day Three

Chris and I started the morning with some excellent donuts at Julie Darling Donuts. The plain glazed may have been the best I’ve ever had.

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From there we drove south into Georgia to the damp and nearly-empty Chickamauga National Battlefield. We only got out of the car twice, first for the visitor center …

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And then later on Snodgrass Hill to take these photos.


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Here are a couple other shots I took out the car window. We must have seen 50 deer in the woods and fields.

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I was back at my hotel by 10:00 and didn’t have to be in the booth until 1:00. I took a four-mile walk through town, over the Tennessee River, to an antique mall, then stopped at Maple Street Biscuits for lunch on the way back. I also hit the Rocket Fizz and Moon Pie stores.

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We only had to be in the booth for four hours this day, from 1:00 to 5:00. In the evening, the whole bunch of us went to Beast & Barrel Smokehouse where I had a very mediocre steak.

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We went next door to Clumpies Ice Cream for dessert.


I was back in my room by 7:30 and spent the evening reading.

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Chattanooga Days — One and Two

I traveled to Chattanooga for the Children’s Pastors’ Conference again this year. I drove down in an Enterprise rental truck with Zac Timm. He drove until we got just south of Louisville and then I took it the rest of the way. The trip was uneventful except for one exciting 15-second stretch. A winter storm was expected to begin the night we arrived. I was driving through northern Tennessee in the late afternoon when I passed a truck that was spraying de-icer on the dry road. My windshield was splattered. I turned on the wipers and suddenly the windshield was opaque. The stuff had spread and I couldn’t see a think except a tiny glimpse of the white lane line. I didn’t know where the spray was, but Zac figured it out and we got things cleared off eventually without mishap. Driving through Nashville in the dark during rush hour was a bit exciting also. The drive took us 12 hours. We arrived around 9:15 local time.

We stayed at the Marriott connected to the conference center. Zac and I shared a room on the 10th floor for three nights and then he moved into the empty room of a coworker who left on Friday. This was the view from our room.



We set up the booth on Wednesday morning. Zac, Bethany, Donna and I have done it several times and have the system down well. We had help from three new employees who have only been with Awana a few weeks — Carly Smaha, Michael Mims and Ivana Hester. They pitched in and the set up went faster than it ever has before. Michael took this pan just after we finished. That’s Carly and Donna in the shot with me.


We went to Urban Stacks for lunch. It was good, but a lot of food for lunch. On our way to the restaurant, we passed this mural near a bakery, so after we ate, I walked over for this photo.


The booth was open for three hours in the afternoon. I grabbed a free moment to take this photo of Michael, Carly and Ivana, using Michael’s panorama trick.


I don’t remember who took this photo of Ian, Brannon and me. I don’t even remember THAT it was taken. But it must have been.


For supper we went to Taco Mamacita and then to Milk & Honey for ice cream. I was smart this time an just ordered a single gyro taco and had a small cup of lemon-raspberry ice cream. Both were very tasty.

I was supposed to go with Chris on a church visit in the evening, but club was cancelled because of a short period of sleet in the afternoon, so I worked another two hours in the booth.

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Home Again

Crossing the Ohio River on I-55.


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Dismal Creek Waterfall

Unlike the other waterfalls we visited this day, this one was crowded. There were probably 10 cars there when we arrived, and we met a steady stream of people on our hike down and back up.

The hike to the falls was all downhill, and we knew what that meant. But it was worth it. Dismal Creek has wore a hole through the cliff, and it runs through the hole into the cavern below.








The waterfall can just be made out back in the cavern on the right.



It was a steady, up-hill mile back to the truck, but we made it without stopping to rest — for what that’s worth.

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Falling Water, Etc.

Falling Water Waterfall is located on Falling Water Creek near the town of Ben Hur, Arkansas. It’s right next to the road, so viewing it didn’t involve a hike. But we did get out of the truck and climb around a bit.







Joshua and Sarah took off back to civilization, and Tim and I continued on, in search of more adventures. We hiked to another waterfall (next post) and then tried to find Haw Creek Falls. My GPS recommended a roundabout route, but we opted for a more direct road that cut off about 30 miles.


(Incidentally, those are Tim’s Pop-Tarts reflected in the window. Not that I wouldn’t brign Pop-Tarts on a day of hiking. I just didn’t this time.) The further we went, the rougher the road became. For a while, GPS showed that we were not on any road at all.


Eventually, we began to emerge from the wilderness.


But it was all in vain. Haw Creek had overflowed its banks due to the recent rain and the road into the falls was closed. (The sunshine in this photo lasted all of about two minutes.)

Somewhere during the course of the day, we found ourselves in the thriving town of Fallsville. We were astounded to see that somebody was living in this barn — you can see the smoke from their chimney. Half of it is collapsed. The other half is lacking doors and windows — except for a small section at the far end where we could see lights and a Christmas Tree.



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King’s Bluff

Tim and I met Joshua and Sarah for a hike at King’s Bluff in Ozark National Forest. We drove over one mountain that definitely looked like winter, although we weren’t sure if we were seeing snow or a very heavy frost.


We were the only ones on the hiking trail on a cloudy, damp, cool morning. The massive rains (more than six inches, I believe) over the weekend had all the waterfalls in full force.


The trail is on the next ridge over from Pedestal Rocks and has some similar rock formations.





For the record, it’s difficult to feel very heroic about a hike when you’re following a pregnant woman who hikes with her hands in her pockets.





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Harmonic Fugue

This pedestrian tunnel crosses under the highway in downtown Conway, Arkansas. Recently, lights and sounds have been added to it that respond when you walk through. Andrew and I visited, in search of adventure on the day after Christmas while our wives shopped.


There was a riddle posted. If you solve it and trigger the sensors in a certain order, it will play a tune or something. We couldn’t figure it out.




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Shipley Donuts


This place is half a mile from my mother-in-law’s house. How have I never seen it before? I grabbed a couple donuts with Andrew on the day after Christmas and again with Sally and Beth on the morning of our drive home. They weren’t the best donuts ever, but they were far from the worst.

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