Chiara Bullen reviews The Unlikeliest Backpacker by Kathryn Barnes: “I barely turned a page without chuckling”

What happens when you turn the fantasy of dropping everything to pack in the day job and spend some much-needed time in nature into reality? When you trade your morning commute on the train for a ten-mile walk through the trees, your office desk for logs by the campfire, your morning coffee for a cup of fresh water from the stream? Self-proclaimed ‘city girl’ Kathryn Barnes does just that and, despite the hardships and hurdles faced when turning her life upside down, has lived to tell the tale in The Unlikeliest Backpacker.

This delightful memoir documents Barnes’ journey along the legendary Pacific Crest Trail in America — a 2,650-mile trek that takes on average five months to complete. Starting from Oregon, Barnes and her husband find themselves woefully unprepared. Their life in London did little to ready them for the intense physical challenge, nor the abundance of mosquitos attempting to sabotage their daily goals. But, the couple persist and adapt to their new surroundings, transforming the book from one filled with complaints and arguments into an uplifting account of how we cope when thrown out of our comfort-zone.

For those interested in hiking and adventure, stories of people accomplishing these incredible trails will be all too familiar. But what breathes new life into this account of the Pacific Crest Trail is the sheer determination and unabashed honesty from Barnes, who was the epitome of a naïve and un-prepared hiker before trawling her way through the wilderness to Canada. No moment is too small for her to share with readers — from explosive arguments with her husband about directions to the logistics of peeing whilst painfully aware of the bear tracks surrounding them, no stone is left unturned giving you an intense insight into what this kind of journey entails. For that, you’ll be grateful — I barely turned a page without chuckling.  The final pages are filled with poignant reflections on their adventure as the couple prepare to settle back into city life, which make for a nice touch after all the action.

The Unlikeliest Backpacker by Kathryn Barnes is published by Hornet Books (£9.99, April 2019)