I am not what you would call “outdoorsy.” Camping always sounds fun and romantic in theory, but after the campfire and s’mores and cuddling two to a sleeping bag, inevitably the sun rises the next morning on a new day—a day on which I will have to walk around, among other people, unshowered.
Girls who manage to do this while still looking like their usual selves piss me the hell off. “Oh, I don’t need a hair dryer or a straightening iron or mascara or contact solution to look cute, I’ll just brush my teeth with my finger and go take my morning shit behind that tree. Also, my leg hair grows so slowly and is so invisibly blond that I don’t need to shave again for a month and I’ll still be bikini-ready when we hike down to the creek later! NBD!” Pretty sure there’s a special revenge waiting for you in the afterlife, Perky Cute Camper Girls.
Despite my preference for indoor plumbing and memory foam mattresses, I absolutely devoured this book. Eric Blehm tells the fascinating story of National Park Service ranger Randy Morgenson, who, after 28 seasons as a backcountry ranger in the Sierra Nevada, disappeared one day on a routine patrol. Blehm covers not only the extensive search the NPS performed, but also Morgenson’s entire life leading up to his mysterious disappearance. We get to know the kid who learned from his father to love the outdoors and capture its splendor with photography. We watch as the twenty-something fails to commit to college but returns summer after summer to work as a ranger in the isolated backcountry of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. We see Morgenson meet his wife, Judi, and struggle to negotiate relationships with both her and the wilderness. We observe as Morgenson engages in an extramarital affair with another ranger, which leads to confusion, depression, and eventually divorce papers from Judi.
The mystery of Morgenson’s vanishing was enthralling. Did he commit suicide as a result of his depression over his failing marriage? Did he encounter some trouble or injure himself accidentally while on his routine patrol? And how in the world do you go about finding someone who prides himself on the ability to camp without leaving a trace of his presence behind?
Morgenson was a profound thinker, prolific writer, and dedicated conservationist, as evidenced by his journals and log books, heavily referenced by Blehm. Because he left so many of his own words behind, and thanks to Blehm’s exhaustive interviews with his family, friends, and fellow rangers, we have a unique window into Randy Morgenson’s mind and heart. This book made me feel like I knew him—and it made me want to visit the Sierra, to understand its beauty and wildness firsthand. As long as there’s a hotel room and a hot shower waiting for me at the end of the day, of course.