Outdoor enthusiasts come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us get our fresh-air fix by beating the trail--the more aerobic, the better. Others feel a need for speed, and when the rubber meets the road, they're sitting astride a powerful engine that will take them farther than their human legs and lungs can. And sometimes it helps to have a handy manual around when climbing mountains, fording rivers or revving down a dirt path. Here in Idaho, local authors recognize the range of participation in outdoor activity, and put their expertise down on paper to help the less experienced outdoors person find his or her way--and maybe offer up a heretofore well-kept secret or two.
The Day Hiker's Guide to Sun Valley and Ketchum by Scott Marchant
Marchant begins with a description of the mountain ranges that surround the Wood River Valley--Boulder Mountains, Pioneer Mountains and Smoky Mountains--and then builds into a recent history of the area, including the Castle Rock fire of 2007. The immediate effect is to create both familiarity and assurance to readers that the book is a current and credible guide. As advertised on the front cover, Marchant logically organizes "50 hikes within 30 miles of Sun Valley" according to the trailheads from which they originate. Each hike is distinguished by a description of the general start area, directions to the trailhead, and the 411 on the route itself.
Objective details, like total distance and elevation gain, can be found in bold print at the start of each section, which is a useful departure from the common guidebook technique of subjective difficulty ratings. Marchant includes large topographic maps of each area, with easy-to-read trail markings.
Parts of the book are a little cut-and-paste, as many of the routes overlap in sections or have the same starting point, creating redundancies in descriptions and directions. However, few guidebooks are designed for entertainment. They favor function over form and Marchant's book is no exception. The book's graphics consist of black-and-white photographs of outdoor scenery that grace every other page, and while they probably won't help readers find trails, their beauty, even in grayscale, will motivate people to shove the book in a backpack and go hiking.
Get Lost by Steve Silva
For engine-sports enthusiasts who need more speed than human-powered activity offers, Steve Silva's book Get Lost: Adventure Tours in the Owyhee Desert is a perfect match. Silva's intention, clearly stated in the book's introduction, is to provide readers with a detailed guide to dirt biking in the Owyhee desert of Southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon, and he accomplishes that using a fairly simple format. Silva chunks the area into six bite-sized regions, then details specific routes within each section, including brief descriptions of the loops and exact directions using GPS coordinates. So much emphasis is placed on GPS coordinates that dirt-bikers who aren't comfortable with that technology will need to read their GPS manual first.
This is not a curl-up-on-the-couch kind of read, although Silva does include great information on the history of the area. He highlights terrain features and he offers sage advice about dealing with the risks inherent to desert riding--like running out of fuel or water.
Silva is an outdoors person's outdoors person, so count on accurate information in this publication, which is exactly the kind of tool you would use not only to plan a route, but to make sure you get home as well. [Disclosure: Steve Silva is a contributor to Boise Weekly.]
Back Road Daydreams by Niels Sparre Nokkentved
According to the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, Nokkentved's collection of nature essays are mostly reprinted from newspaper columns and stories he wrote during his earlier career as a journalist and his work in environmental studies--he now works at the Idaho Department of Fish and Wildlife.
While it's clear that he has tremendous appreciation for flora and fauna, the book's prose feels a bit choppy in contrast to the beauty of his subject matter. However, some might see this as an intentional effort to minimize distraction--Nokkentved lets the subject matter take center stage, and the words on the page are simply kindling for the imagination.
Since almost all of the vignettes are less than five pages in length, the book is easy to pick up and put down, no long-term commitment required. Whether he's spinning stories about steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula or pet-peeving about user fees in the U.S. National Forest, he comes across as an experienced, authentic outdoorsman, and gives readers a feel for the outdoor life in the great Pacific Northwest.