I Won’t Be Hiking the Wonder Trail

Maps like these in classrooms inspired the urge to wander in me as a 1960s kid.

I won’t be hiking the “Wonder Trail,” as Steve Hely did, but I did read about it.

I once upon a time made elaborate plans to hike the Appalachian Trail. I did the research, bought maps, joined a hiking club and started doing sections of it near my home for practice. On one of those hikes, I blew out a knee and blew up my plans.

But I still love to walk, though I wouldn’t classify the walks as hikes. And I like to armchair hike through books. Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is one I read and watched in its film version recently and wrote about here. Bryson planned on doing the Appalachian Trail too.  When I read Into the Wild, I identified with Chris’ wanderlust, but it didn’t make me want to reach for my backpack and hiking boots and head off to Alaska.

The Wonder Trail is the story of a trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America. It is travel writing, history, and comic memoir. The comic element is the least surprising since Hely was a writer for 30 Rock, the Late Show with David Letterman and the animated comedy American Dad.

The book is in 102 easily-digested short chapters. He makes his way to Oaxaca, Mayan ruins, Inca ruins like Machu Picchu, jungles, and beaches of Central America, the Panama Canal, the Galápagos Islands, the Atacama Desert of Chile, all the way to Patagonia.

Hely presents lots of places to get lost.

“If someday I am forced to become a fugitive, hide out someplace where no one knows my name, no one will ask too many questions, and no one will think to look for me, a little house up on the hilly shore of Lake Ati- tlán might be the spot. Although of course now I’ve given that away. And while I know I can trust you, Reader, I can’t trust everybody, so maybe I’ve just blown it. Or maybe this is part of my game. I’m just trying to throw you off my trail. Lake Atitlán is exactly where I’ll be. Except I won’t be. Don’t look for me there.”

This is not a book to read if you are planning to walk the path that Steve walked. Is he a real travel writer? Well, this is his second travel book. The first was The Ridiculous Race, another comic travel tale that started when Steve and her Harvard Lampoon buddy Vali Chandrasekaran challenged each other to a race around the globe in opposite directions.

It reminds me of the old Around the World in 80 Days. – the Jules Verne novel or one of the movie version. (I saw the 1956 film as a kid and it was more comic than the book and also not a handbook for world travelers.)

I suppose a reader or reviewer might find The Wonder Traildisappointing” if they are looking for a travel guide. As an armchair traveler, I was looking for escape.


Hely’s website is, unsurprisingly, stevehely.com

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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