Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book review: Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson

I heard about this book when Wild first came out. Also a young white woman of privilege, deciding to do a long solo hike in order to straighten out her head. This one decides to cross the Australian desert alone, except for four camels.

Robyn doesn't really give us her background. She just shows up in Alice Springs with a few dollars and her dog. We do eventually learn that she has some family and a graduate degree, but what exactly inspired her is always vague. She isn't running away from a great loss or great regrets. She just wants to be alone and free, and do something extraordinary.

She can't just gather up some wild camels and go so she ends up spending more than a year in Alice, learning about camels and saving money. Finally, halfway through the book, she is ready for her journey (no longer entirely solo as she's gotten some funding from National Geographic, and the NG photographer will be joining her periodically.) An elderly aboriginal an joins her for part of her trip as well.

This trip is more pure in a way, without the benefit of REI and custom-fit boots and camelbacks (which would have been ironic.) Robyn mostly hikes in a skirt (sometimes naked) in old sandals, doesn't drink at all during the day, only in the morning and at night. She doesn't have any real epiphanies and she doesn't have any serious brushes with danger. It is an arduous and difficult trip, but not as life-changing. She seems afterwards to think it was life-changing in the way she views aloneness and the Aboriginals, but I think those parts of her were already there, just heightened by the trip (and perhaps would have been heightened regardless, just by any life experience.) It is interesting, as this took place in the 1970s, to see the differences in the racism and the treatment of Aboriginals, but it was already changing (I noticed her refer to Ayers Rock as Uluru--a name I'd never heard until my trip in 2012). I did enjoy the book but I didn't feel much connection to Robyn, She kept her readers at arms' length. She didn't really let us in to her thoughts, beyond the daily and the practical, and the lack of understanding her motivation did throw me. But it is perhaps one of the original stunt memoirs, although she wrote the memoir much later (it wasn't designed as something to do in order to write a memoir about it.) That might account for some of the distance, since there was distance when she was writing it. But overall, if you like stunt memoirs and books about crazy outdoors feats, this is a good one.

I checked this book out of the library.


Jeane said...

Did she end up having a relationship with the photographer? The cover image makes me imagine so!

Carin Siegfried said...

She's kind of vague about that. At first she doesn't like him. I think she does later sleep with him, but it's not a relationship, more like friends with benefits. But you have to infer it.