One Woman, Eight Pairs of Hiking Boots, and Six Countries

sarah-marquis-wild-by-nature-700x400            Named the 2014 National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year, Sarah Marquis, author of Wild by Nature, is a Swiss adventurer and explorer. Born in 1972 in Northern Switzerland, Marquis always had a desire to explore the farthest corners of our world, and began fueling this desire to explore when she got a job working on a train at the age of 16. She then went on to canoe through Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada, hike the United States Pacific Crest Trail and hike across the US from border-to-border in four months. In 2002-03 she covered 8,700 miles across Australia, then in 2006 she hiked the Andes of South America followed by hiking part of the Andes from Chile to Machu Picchu. Needless to say, Marquis has a vast amount of experience with exploring and a deep familiarity with nature. But in 2010 she pushed herself to extreme in a 10,000 mile solo hike that stretched across 6 countries, beginning in Siberia and ending at “her” tree located on the Nullarbor Plain of Australia. This remarkable adventure is shared through an enticingly personal account in her book, Wild by Nature.

Marquis recounts her 3-year solo journey across the Gobi Desert from Siberia to Thailand in a stunningly simplistic way. Her humor, wit and close affiliation with nature fill every page and enable readers to experience the journey with her through a unique perspective. Rather than detailing the events of every day of her expedition, Marquis instead decides to focus on the colorful array of people and cultures that she encountered during her trek. By doing so she exposes readers first hand to the alienation, harassment and camaraderie that she herself endured. She is exposed to cultures were they express the least amount of emotion possible, cultures where she is viewed as a prostitute due to not being seen with a man. Marquis also experiences the frustration and fear of not being able to effectively communicate with those she encounters. But from these encounters she learns and grows, carrying these newly learned skills with her as she continues her adventure. Marquis shares her experiences from the perspective of a true outdoorswoman and of a vegetarian. This perspective plays a large role in her book as she spends a vast majority of her pages explaining her decision to be a vegetarian, describing the beauty of the flora and fauna that she encounters, and sharing her opinions on mankind’s connection to the natural world.

As a young woman who dreams of exploring the world, Sarah’s story has inspired me while also having temporarily sated my own desire for adventure. She faced the Mafia, drug dealers, dengue fever, a life-threatening abscess, and men on horseback who harassed her through out the days and nights of her journey. Her expedition does a phenomenal job showcasing the dangerous circumstances that a loan female explorer must sometimes endure as they traverse the world. She also show cases her own determination to complete this expedition solo as any time that she must be evacuated, due to military or medical emergencies, she resumes her expedition either at the place where she had been removed from or charts a new path to reach her next destination. Sarah’s respect for those she encounters and blatant appreciation of the small things makes her a phenomenal narrator of her adventure. Her book is divided, not so much but chapters, but by small headings where, with only a few words, she gives you an intriguing and occasionally vague idea of what she’ll be encountering next. At the end of each chapter she includes a simplistic map that gives readers, regardless of their familiarity with maps, a general and to the point idea of where she is as well as where she is going and how she got there. Her unique way of describing the animals she encountered often left me needing to reread the description as I thought I might have missed her identification of the animal. But she always shares the creature’s name, both the common name and the scientific one, after having introduced the creature to her reader in a nearly unfamiliar way.

If you are looking for a story of adventure with explicit details that will leave you with an accelerated heartbeat and a desire to buy a plane ticket, then this is not the book for you. As I stated earlier, Marquis does not detail every event of her entire adventure. In fact, I almost wish that she had talked a little bit more about her adventure. What she does instead is reflect on her life and her relation with nature while also introducing readers to the variety of cultures and individuals that she encountered throughout the ups and downs of her exploration. In terms of adventure novels, even those based on real expeditions, Marquis’ is unfamiliar due to her style and execution. This book provides you with a realistic woman who faces 6 different countries, all with many different variations of culture and language, with an endless supply of tea and an tireless love of what she’s doing. This book left me contemplating my life and my own desires to travel. It has also left me with the need to read more books like this one; that recount the amazing journey of one person across different parts of the world. For Marquis this adventure is not only about reaching her tree in Australia; it’s about the persistence, passion, human-ingenuity, and determination necessary to accomplish such an adventure.

Wild by Nature

Sarah Marquis

259 pages. Published by Thomas Dunne Books. Hardcover $26.99

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