Adventure travel writer Linda Ballou knows how to bring home a great story when she goes on a trip: Get into trouble. For her, the deeper the water, the fouler the weather, the more hazards underfoot and overhead, the better the story will be to tell.
Think about the alternative. You come back from your journey and tell your friends and family that you encountered no flights delays, no bad meals, no lost or stolen personal items, no bed bugs at your hotel, and not a drop of rain fell on your head. How do they respond to this tale of no-woe-at-all? By yawning.
There is no danger that you will nod off reading Ballou’s Lost Angel Walkabout: One Traveler’s Tales. Instead, you want to yell “No, Linda don’t go there!’ or “Linda, whatever we’re you thinking?”, or “Watch out, Linda! Watch out!”
Linda’s travels have taken her on a wide path across much of the globe. One of the reason I enjoyed her book such much is that I have actually ventured—albeit as a less adventurous traveler—to several of the places she writes about in Alaska, Arizona, the British Virgin Islands, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, and Wyoming.
In “Irish Mist” Ballou is—as often as the case in Lost Angel Walkabout—on horseback. She says “The Irish ride like they drive—with cheerful abandon!” Then she throws caution to the wind in the willows and goes on the equestrian equivalent of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”
While arm-chair travelers may deem Ballou possessed by a devil-may-care approach to danger on the road, to me her stories express a confident “What’s the big deal? I can do this!” attitude that probably comes from growing up in Southeast Alaska where self-sufficiency is an essential trait.
For example, when on a walk in a marshy area frequented by bears near Glacier Bay, Alaska, she found the tide beginning to rise rapidly and herself at risk of spending a cold night far from the comfort of her lodgings. She obviously lived to tell about her escape, so I’m not giving too much away be quoting from the penultimate paragraph of her story, “Bird Walk on the Wild Side,” while leaving you, the reader, to enjoy the final, humorous conclusion to it:
“My panic rose at the sight of matted areas of grass where large animals had bedded down the night before. I was over-heating from exertion and lectured myself out loud to stay focused, to mind each step, and to not hurry—twisting an ankle now would spell disaster. Keeping my center of gravity low, knees bent for balance on the boulders, I made a Groucho Marx exit through the marsh to the forest trailhead.”Not all of Ballou’s travels involved risk of life and limb; some were emotionally challenging. In “Water Dogs,” she recounts a sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands with her mother. It was not their first trip together, and she writes:
“Traveling with Mom is like swimming in embryonic soup. It’s as though the cells that once divided and multiplied seek to rejoin themselves. A calm feeling, like being rocked in the lap of creation, fills me when I hold her hand. Our hearts beat in perfect rhythm. I feel grounded in the presence of my eternal witness, the only person who has been waiting for me at the end of all of my twisted adventures.”But this time, it was stress, not calm, that both mother and daughter encountered. Her mother, who had wanted for years to make this trip, became frustrated when neither swim fins nor mask fit properly, thwarting her initial attempts at snorkeling. The story has a happy ending in the water that involves food—hot dogs— but you will have to buy the book to learn how this humble American wiener saved the day and the trip.
Here’s what Michael Shapiro, author of A Sense of Place and Guatemala: A Journey Through the Land of the Maya, and faculty member for the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference says about Lost Angel Walkabout:
“Whether river rafting in the vast wilderness of her Alaska homeland or trekking through the emerald hills of New Zealand, Ballou's evocative writing takes you there. She reminds us that in a frenetic world connecting with nature's beauty can serve as our salvation.Legendary travel writer, Tim Cahill, another member of the Book Passage conference faculty, calls Linda’s book
“a spirited collection of travel narratives recounting … haps, mishaps, and serendipitous adventures … Some of the stories might make you glad you stayed home, while others will inspire you to toss the TV clicker out the window and get up off the couch to explore our beautiful planet. All of these tales let you share the sensual experience of being there without straining one muscle, getting altitude sickness, or tipping your canoe."“Lost Angel” in the book’s title comes from her place of residence—Los Angeles, the City of Angels, not from Ballou being constantly lost when away from home. And the “Walkabout” part? Well, if I lived in L.A., I’d be wanting to head for remote parts of the world as often as possible to get away from the press of humanity in that city, too.
(From time to time travel writer Dick Jordan posts book reviews under the “Armchair Travel” and “Book Review” sections of his blog, Tales Told From The Road. His last post to the Book(ed) Passage blog was about Living Abroad in Costa Rica, and the iPhone/iPad app, Costa Rica Trip Ideas, by travel writer Erin Van Rheenen. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
When Dick isn’t traveling, you can usually find him hanging out with other members of Left Coast Writers at the Book Passage store in Corte Madera on the evening of the first Monday of each month. He thanks Linda Ballou for providing him with a complimentary copy of Lost Angel Walkabout for review'; you can You can buy the book through the Book Passage Web site.).