The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind- And Almost Found Myself-On the Pacific Crest Trail

by Dan White

Paperback, 2008

Call number

917.9 WHI



Harper Perennial (2008), Edition: 1st, 400 pages


The Pacific Crest Trail stretches from Mexico to Canada, a distance of 2,650 grueling, sun-scorched, bear-infested miles. When Dan White and his girlfriend announced their intention to hike it, Dan's parents--among others--thought they were nuts. How could two people who'd never even shared an apartment together survive six months in the desert with little more than a two-person tent and some trail mix? But when these addled adventurers, dubbed "the Lois and Clark Expedition" by their benevolent trail-guru, set out for the American wilderness, the hardships of the trail--and one delicious-looking cactus--test the limits of love and sanity.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dcoward
Dan and Allison are underprepared, twenty-something hikers who decide to walk the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT is a 2,650 mile hike that bares some resemblance to the Appalachian Trail, but without the readily available water. Actually, this book reminded me of a younger, hipper verion of Bill
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Bryson's AT tale, A Walk in the Woods. The similarities include asides on the history of the Pacific Coast Trail, vivid descriptions of the trail's beauty and hardships, and even includes a bumbling, Katz-like character, although in this case the bumbler is not the author's friend, but the author himself. In fact, one of my biggest complaints in the book was the fact that the main character, Dan, is frequently unlikeable. I'm all for an author being brutally honest about their own flaws, but wow! Alison seems way more with-it, but you have to wonder why a woman like her doesn't kick Dan to the curb, and the book doesn't explore that at all, even though the book does take some huge detours from the trail midway through. Despite its flaws, this book should appeal to those who like reading about modern day adventurers.
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LibraryThing member co_coyote
Dan White is a pretty funny guy, but he tries a little too hard occasionally is this interesting story of his five month journey with his girlfriend, Allison, on the Pacific Crest Trail, a backpacking trail that runs from Canada to Mexico. Still, this is an easy and enjoyable book to read. It's
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almost a coming of age story of a backpacker, as Dan and Allison learn what works and what doesn't. The book doesn't turn out exactly as you would expect, and you wonder in the end if Dan's humor is a cover for something darker. But, one reason for hiking long distances is to come face to face with your deepest self. The trail clearly does that for Dan.
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LibraryThing member yourotherleft
Sometimes ignorance is the catalyst you need to change your life.

The beginning of The Cactus Eaters finds Dan White wanting to grow up. To do so, he imagines that he will need to go through some hardship and emerge on the other side a real man. The hardship he voluntarily exposes himself to is the
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Pacific Crest Trail a grueling 2,650 mile hike from the Mexican border through California, Oregon, and Washington to Canada. The trail passes through waterless desert and over treacherous mountain passes, and a precious few actually complete its length each year. Despite its dangers, Dan and his girlfriend Allison quit their jobs, mail supplies to various towns along the trail, and begin their hike, after one false start, in Agua Dulce, California. What follows is a hilarious and informative memoir of Dan and Allison's epic hike.

Readers can't help but relate to Dan as he gapes at a well-meaning trail angel lightening his pack, struggles to keep up with fellow PCT hikers whose zeal to finish the trail makes them seem nearly insane, and passive-aggressively attempts to avoid hiking with a rather unpleasant "slow walker" without much success. White's tales of the unusual characters he and Allison meet on the trail flow seemlessly with descriptions of scenery, hardships of the trail, and informative digressions into the history of the area. White's reflections on what drove him to attempt the hike, how his experience on the trail changes him, and what it gave to him and took from him when all was said and done are compelling and never seem anything less than genuine.

Dan and Allison in all their normal personhood are great guides to the trail - not quite so insane-seeming as those who hike the trail repeatedly. Their random made-up rapping, ridiculous ghost stories, and occasional fighting not only pass the time on the trail for them but also spice up the reading for us. That, and the, at first, outsider view of the trail, its unusual hikers, and those trail angels who want to see the PCT hikers succeed help to give a glimpse of the trail that maybe you or I would see if we suddenly went off the deep end and decided it was high time to take a 2,650 mile hike.

White's memoir is at once laugh out loud funny and a little sad as he reflects on a time in his life that was not always great but did have a profound effect on him. White helps those who would never in a million years consider taking such a hike understand how, despite its many trials, one could become so attached to the experience of roughing it in the wilderness in what seems to be a different plane of existence that it would seem surprisingly hard to return to "real" life. All in all, a great and engaging travel memoir that flows so well that you won't want to put it down.
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LibraryThing member Sapiens1
Really fun book to read but the ending is sad and anticlimactic. Dan White writes a humorous account of his adventure of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail with his former girlfriend Allison. In general Dan comes off as a selfish self-interested jerk, while girlfriend Allison is described to be wise
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and gifted in many ways, caring, courageous and tenacious. Hard to explain why she's wasting her time with a jerk like Dan. The story of the hike is really fun and I enjoyed the descriptions of the various characters the duo encountered along the way. The culture of through-hikers is undoubtedly one of the most precious facets of the experience of living so many months on the trail. Who wouldn't want to add such an experience to their own life story?
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Pure fun. From the comfort of my couch I took great pleasure in reading about Dan White's adventures while hiking the 2,650+ mile Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada. With his girlfriend Allison for companionship Dan's account is in turn both funny and didactic. He can be snarky and scholarly
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in a single sentence. What starts out as an avoidance of the real world turns into a journey of self reflection and maybe, just maybe, a little growing up.
What makes Cactus such a pleasure to read is this is Dan's account of the first time he hiked the PCT. He has no idea what he's doing, despite reading up on it in the months leading up to the hike. He isn't a seasoned through-hiker expertly navigating arid blazing hot deserts. He isn't a blase professional warding off bear visits with a ho hum attitude. He is cocky in his naivete.
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LibraryThing member MitraLibrary
Dan White had me hooked immediately with this well written mis-adventure along the Pacific Crest Trail but after reading it, not sure who the authors intended audience is. The majority of the book is a trail journal, funny, painful and embarrassing moments, most of which was caused by his own
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inexperience of trail life but the underlying story is of his own personal journey, into his own occasionally deranged mind.If you are looking for insight into hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this book is not for you, if on the other hand you want a glimpse into Dan White's mind you will enjoy this book.
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