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  • Tales of the trails

    Hiking guide 'guru' makes a living doing what he loves best
  • There's nothing worse than an error in a hiking book. Well, OK, there are worse things, but not in this story.
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    • If You Go
      Who: Outdoor writer William L. Sullivan.
      What: Book talk/slide show, "New Hikes in Southern Oregon" and "Trails of Crater Lake."
      When and Where: 7 p.m. today at Headwaters Hall near Third and...
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      If You Go
      Who: Outdoor writer William L. Sullivan.

      What: Book talk/slide show, "New Hikes in Southern Oregon" and "Trails of Crater Lake."

      When and Where: 7 p.m. today at Headwaters Hall near Third and C streets, Ashland, and 7 p.m. Friday, May 7, at Bloomsbury Books, Ashland.
  • There's nothing worse than an error in a hiking book. Well, OK, there are worse things, but not in this story.
    For those pesky glitches that could lead you to miss a trailhead or take a wrong turn, Oregon hiking guide guru William L. Sullivan has just the answer.
    "I give away a free copy of the book to everybody who finds a mistake," he says in a phone interview. "I can't re-hike every trail every year. So when I get an angry call from somebody who says they've moved the trailhead, I send them a free copy and update the book."
    Sullivan's Navillus (his surname backwards) Publishing has just released three books, "100 Hikes in Southern Oregon," an updated edition of his popular guide; "Trails of Crater Lake National Park and Oregon Caves National Monument," a new guide; and "The Ship In the Hill," a novel by Sullivan.
    The author plans book talks/slide shows today and Friday in Ashland and Saturday in Klamath Falls.
    Sullivan is the author of 10 books and numerous articles about Oregon. A fifth-generation Oregonian, he began hiking at age 5 and never quit. He writes the "Oregon Trails" column for the Eugene Register-Guard.
    Sullivan says he updates the "100 Hikes" book every two years, then spends a summer hiking as many of the trails as he can once every seven years. In 2009 he re-hiked about one-third of the 100 trails in the book.
    After getting an English degree from Cornell University and studying linguistics at Germany's Heidelberg University, Sullivan earned a master's degree in German literature from the University of Oregon. His early hiking books began coming out about two decades ago. His first novel, 2000's "A Deeper Wild," was about Joaquin Miller, the swashbuckling, 19th-century gold miner, editor, pony express rider, horse thief and county judge known as "the poet of the Sierras."
    Sullivan and his wife, Janell Sorensen, often spend summers in a log cabin they built by hand on a roadless stretch of river in Oregon's Coast Range. In 1985, Sullivan completed a nearly 400-mile solo backpacking trek from Cape Blanco on the Oregon Coast to Hells Canyon in the state's extreme East. "Listening for Coyote," his book about the journey, was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award and topped the New York Times' year-end review of travel books.
    When he isn't hiking, Sullivan promotes libraries. He campaigned to build Eugene's new library, is a member of the Oregon State Library Board, and is vice president of the Lane Library League, a group that wants to extend library service to 90,000 people in Lane County who lack service.
    And he usually has a novel going (three so far). If you're a well-known outdoor writer with lots of books in print, why write fiction?
    "I love to hike," he says. "But my degrees are in writing. I don't claim to be Steinbeck, but I wrote novels before I wrote guides. The guides pay the bills."
    Although he'd been planning to update the "100 Trails" book, the Crater Lake book fell into his lap. He'd just finished his research on the 100 hikes when the parks people called from Oregon's only National Park and said they'd been selling a 30-year-old guide and asked whether he'd like to produce a new one.
    "I'd already done the research," he says. "I just had to adapt it."
    He did a four-day ski trek around the crater in March, breaking trail in fresh show, and had taken some gorgeous photos of the lake in its silent winter majesty. Some found their way into the book.
    "It came out two weeks ago," he says. "Working with a committee was different from the way I usually write. Everything had to be approved. So there's a downside. But the upside is it's really accurate."
    In his decades on Oregon trails, Sullivan says he's not seen dramatic changes, because hiking trails tend to develop loving constituencies and be fairly well-protected. He says he sees fewer backpackers today than years ago.
    "I think young people are into quick sports, speed and thrills," he says. "Backpacking is slow. It's about long sunsets."
    Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.
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