Mountain Lines: A Journey through the French Alps (Paperback)
On Our Shelves Now
A New York Times best summer travel book recommendation
A nonfiction debut about an American’s solo, month-long, 400-mile walk from Lake Geneva to Nice.
In the summer of 2015, Jonathan Arlan was nearing thirty. Restless, bored, and daydreaming of adventure, he comes across an image on the Internet one day: a map of the southeast corner of France with a single red line snaking south from Lake Geneva, through the jagged brown and white peaks of the Alps to the Mediterranean sea—a route more than four hundred miles long. He decides then and there to walk the whole trail solo.
Lacking any outdoor experience, completely ignorant of mountains, sorely out of shape, and fighting last-minute nerves and bad weather, things get off to a rocky start. But Arlan eventually finds his mountain legs—along with a staggering variety of aches and pains—as he tramps a narrow thread of grass, dirt, and rock between cloud-collared, ice-capped peaks in the High Alps, through ancient hamlets built into hillsides, across sheep-dotted mountain pastures, and over countless cols on his way to the sea. In time, this simple, repetitive act of walking for hours each day in the remote beauty of the mountains becomes as exhilarating as it is exhausting.
Mountain Lines is the stirring account of a month-long journey on foot through the French Alps and a passionate and intimate book laced with humor, wonder, and curiosity. In the tradition of trekking classics like A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, The Snow Leopard, and Tracks, the book is a meditation on movement, solitude, adventure, and the magnetic power of the natural world.
About the Author
Jonathan Arlan is a writer, editor, and inveterate walker. Born and raised on the Great Plains, he has lived in New Orleans, New York, Egypt, Japan, and Serbia and traveled in over thirty-five countries. This is his first book. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.
"A disarmingly engaging memoir by a millennial Kansan, Jonathan Arlan . . . . As his mileage mounts, a panoramic portrait emerges, not of the breathtaking alpine backdrop or of the author’s endurance but of the emotional landscape created by the fellowship of hikers."
—New York Times Book Review
"No journey is too short or mundane if taken with an open and inquisitive spirit. The intimacy and candor of Arlan's narrated trek through the French Alps offer latter-day aspirational vagabonds something tangible: a gentle inspiration, a reminder that wandering, and wondering, can and should be an accessible miracle, easy to fall in love with and to pursue."
—Anna Badkhen, author of Walking with Abel and The World Is a Carpet
"Admirably and amiably describes . . . a journey of self-discovery . . . . One of the pleasures of the book is that Arlan strives for no grand pronouncements as he reaches the end of his trail, just stating the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal and a reminding himself 'to take it slow, to not rush.'"
"As much an interior as a geographical journey, Arlan’s first book is enjoyable, companionable travel writing."
"Arlan’s month-long hike from Lake Geneva through the French Alps to Nice is . . . a backdrop for the kind of interior trekking that makes a two-legged memoir worth reading. . . . A trustworthy guide through a space that is open to everyone. In that space, his greatest discovery is entirely believable: 'A kind of magic . . . from being so far from anything or anyone I knew.'"
—Jewish Book Council
"In this spirited account of a walk through the Alps, inspiration carries through. . . . [inviting] interlopers in more graciously than other narratives in the genre. The trip proves to be a realignment for Arlan; its open-ended spirit of welcome invites the same sort of adventurousness in its audience. . . . Mountain Lines, which refuses to relinquish its question marks even at the trail’s end, is a reminder that such journeys are never a waste."
“Jonathan Arlan paints an evocative picture of what it’s like to walk through Europe’s highest mountains—arduous days, stunning views, friendly people—and his decency and self-deprecation make him an engaging companion for the armchair traveler.”
—Thomas Swick, author of The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them
"I felt I was riding in Jonathan Arlan's knapsack as he takes the reader on his grand trek from the villages of the French Alps, up through dense forests, past rushing streams, across wildflower-strewn meadows, over stony mountain ridges, and through storm and sun, hardship and good cheer. Reading Mountain Lines makes me want to try the Grand Traverse—or part of it—myself."
—Peter Stark, author of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival
"380 miles of splendor, step by step."
—The Kansas City Star
"Throwing caution to the wind, rain and snow, [Arlan] chose this monthlong classic mountain traverse as his first long-distance trek. Reading [his] account, I felt that I was back in the Alps, revisiting the high passes and quaint villages, dining at village inns and staying in remote mountain refuges. For a first-time visitor, he manages to capture what the trail is all about and his description is bound to inspire others to rise to the same challenge. . . . This is [Arlan’s] first book, and it certainly won’t be his last."
—Paddy Dillon, author of The GR5 Trail
"[Mountain Lines] vividly illustrates what can happen when a person decides to stop dreaming about adventure and—with a bit of apprehension (and perhaps not enough preparation)—sets out on foot to live one."
—Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
"Written in the language of the road—hopeful, curious, and open—Arlan’s book encompasses both traveling mishaps and unexpected treats. It is lively, blunt, and inspiring, and all of those idly thinking about plane tickets and challenging adventures are sure to respond to its turns. Read it; draw from it your own inspiration; pick a spot on the map; and go!"
—Foreword Reviews, Interview with Foresights
"[A] personable debut . . . As [Arlan] slowly conquers the Grand Traverse route from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean . . . [he] meets friendly, decent people and experiences both true exhaustion and true exhilaration."