A Literarea Review: Almost Anywhere: Road Trip Ruminations on Love, Nature, National Parks, and Nonsense

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Almost Anywhere: Road Trip Ruminations on Love, Nature, National Parks, and Nonsense
By Krista Schlyer
Skyhorse Publishing

While titles of books can be ambiguous, quite often the subtitles do the heavy lifting in terms of the subject of the book. In the case of Krista Schlyer’s latest book (a memoir) entitled “Almost Anywhere,” the subtitle speaks of “Love, Nature, National Parks and Nonsense.” So let’s run those down one by one.

1) Love: The author had found the love of her life, Daniel, and the two of them, along with their best friends, lived in a lovely urban setting in Washington DC. They were just starting their life together, finding careers, and settling down. But then things took an abrupt turn.

2) Nature: This book chronicles the author’s way of dealing with what life had dealt her, turning to nature—along with her two best friends, one a “grumpy, grieving introvert” and the other a “feisty dog.” She first sought nature as a refuge and then later turned to it again as a lifetime vocation as a photographer and writer.

3) National Parks: From the Acadia National Park (Maine) and Montezuma National Wildlife Reserve (NY) to the Pisgah National Forest (NC) and Gulf Island National Sea Shore (Miss) to Big Bend National Park (Tex) and Carlsbad Caverns National Park (NM), the trio visited them all over a nearly two-year period (the number was well over a dozen national parks when I stopped counting).

4) Nonsense: While this book is poignant, heartrending and downright “heavy” at times, it’s also funny and silly in parts as these city dwellers (who already were nature lovers) explored many of America’s national parks and less-traveled lands—and had some unusual and harrowing experiences along the way.

But enough about the subtitle and whatever it was I was trying to do in the last few paragraphs; Schlyer is an award-winning conservation photographer and writer (note of disclosure: she’s also a childhood friend of this writer). But before she snapped her first professional shot or published her first book, she sold nearly everything she owned, bought a station wagon and headed out into the Great American Wild with her two best friends, Bill (the introvert) and Maggie (the feisty creature).

The reason for the journey was not just to escape from the urban morass in which they found themselves, but to find a way to heal from a great loss—the death of Daniel, the love of Krista’s life and Bill’s best friend.

The trio set off in August of 2000 to “find some distance from the turmoil of the human world and gain some connection to the world of nature.” And for nearly two years Krista, Bill and Maggie took themselves off the grid and headed out “on the road.”

I put those last three words in quotes for a reason: quite often when reading “Almost Anywhere” it sorta, kinda felt like I was reading a plausible sequel to Kerouac’s “On The Road” where Dean has died and Sal and Mary Lou (plus a dog) have set off to see America and find a way to heal. That’s about the only correlation between the two books, but it kept creeping into my mind as I read (and re-read) this memoir.

Their starting point is Michigan. From there the trio headed east to Buffalo to visit Daniel’s mother before travelling down the coast all the way to the Florida Keys then making a hard-right turn across Texas and Arizona (to visit Krista’s mother and grandmother) and California, before making another hard right and travelling up the left coast to Oregon (even visiting Mt. Hood, where Kerouac served as a fire lookout which he wrote about in “The Dharma Bums”).

The final leg of their exhausting (and healing) journey takes them through Wyoming and South Dakota before concluding their 20-month trip in Chicago, quite nearly where they started.

Over that time, they visited dozens of national parks, forests and wildlife refuges—to say it was an epic American road trip (see: Kerouac) is the understatement of the year.

While reading  “Almost Anywhere” you are engulfed by the emotions—and there are lots of ‘em—the real-life characters are going through. At the same time Schlyer deftly paints a picture of their travels, while giving you a steady dose of natural history along the way. The book is alternately sad and funny, heartbreaking and heart-warming, depressing and exhilarating—sometimes all in the same chapter.

In the end, there’s kind of a dichotomy to “Almost Anywhere.” At once, it’s a thoughtful memoir and a perfect book for anyone who has experienced tremendous loss. And yet at the same time it’s also a perfect book for anyone who loves road trip stories and reading about America’s natural wonders. And it’s that dichotomy (along with Schlyer’s natural writing style) that makes "Almost Anywhere" a great read for almost anyone.

About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.