Running into Brendan Leonard
It’s not often you run into people you look up to. But that’s literally how I met Brendan Leonard, the author of Sixty Meters to Anywhere and one of my favorite outdoor writers. I was wiped, slowly finishing up a run in Cheesman Park in Denver, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of a mohawk, a familiar smile, and thought: “Holy shit, that’s Brendan Leonard.”
For many folks, he’s unrecognizable—just another athletic Denver transplant out for a jog. But if you’re into the outdoors, chances are you would’ve recognized him, too. Maybe you’ve laughed at his Semi-Rad essays, or heard him read stories on the Dirtbag Diaries. As a writer, I’ve always appreciated Brendan’s style and voice—no one manages to effortlessly freeze on the page the candid, humorous, and often unglamorous truth of being outside like he does. (I use the word effortlessly because it reads effortlessly; easy reading, as they say, is damned hard writing.)
The point is, when I serendipitously ran into Brendan in the park, I recognized him. And, being just days after I decided to leave my job to become a freelance writer, I took it as an omen. I sped up, introduced myself, asked a few questions, and soaked up his humble advice. It’s safe to say that I ran a few more laps around the park that afternoon than expected.
A couple weeks later and I was gone, leaving Denver in the rearview, Brendan’s advice in my ears, speeding off into the ethereal unknown of ill-defined adventure — a feeling that if anyone’s familiar with, it’s Brendan. I was grateful that our stars had momentarily aligned.
Months went by, and we kept in loose contact. Shortly after I returned to the states from my trip to Europe and North Africa, I was able to attend his book signing at a trade show in Utah. I dumped the book from my Amazon cart, snagged a copy from Brendan in person, and dove in on the flight home. By this point, I felt like I knew Brendan, at least a little bit — definitely as a writer and perhaps even a tad as a person — but I didn’t. Both the story and the skill with which it was told blew me away. 23 hours after starting Sixty Meters to Anywhere, I sat shocked in an armchair. I re-read the last page, slapped the paperback on the coffee table, and thought, for the second time:
“Holy shit. That’s Brendan Leonard.”
Sixty Meters to Anywhere
Brendan’s memoirs tell of a young man from Iowa who is melted down by the fires of alcoholism, a lost soul who rebuilds his identity in the forges of the West, a wayward writer reborn by climbing mountains.
It’s a story about rock bottom and rock climbing.
And while that story is enough to captivate the reader, it’s the way that Brendan’s wrought the words together— with quiet reluctance, outward remorse, piercing internal clarity — that makes Sixty Meters to Anywhere unforgettable. It’s told in snapshots, a jigsaw puzzle of moments and time and emotion. It’s full of sentences that you wish you had written because they’re raw and sharp, but you’re glad you didn’t because the subject matter is so heavy and personal. It’s honest and depressing and funny and inspiring, not to mention free from the overhanded advice rife in books that tackle themes of alcoholism and addiction. You don’t have to be an alcoholic, or a climber, to get punched in the gut by the tidbits of truth in these pages. It’s the internal dialogue of a lifetime of ups and downs (both of the literal and figurative varieties). It’s a raw reflection of self. And it’s outdoor storytelling at its finest.
So whether you run into Brendan in the park in Denver, at a climbing crag in Utah, or, in this case, on a shelf at the bookstore, I strongly suggest that you listen to his story. I’m glad I did.