By Tom Lubnau II
John Haines does a great job of taking you with him to the oxygen deprived bicycle trip through Tibet, dodging hippos while being one of a handful of people to kayak the entire length of the Niger River, and serving as an election supervisor in Bosnia after the former Yugoslavia fractured from war.
Descriptive, insightful and sometime bittersweet, Haines does more than paint a word picture of his adventures, he shares the emotional and philosophical musings of a traveler from Laramie who had lived his life to the fullest, and continues to do so.
“Never Leaving Laramie” is an inspirational tale of a Laramie boy’s Wyoming roots leading him to a life of adventure.
John, a fourth generation Wyomingite, grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, graduated from the University of Wyoming and began a life of adventures. He attributes his spirit of adventure to being raised on the high plains of the Cowboy State.
In Never Leaving Laramie, he details a few of his lifelong adventures. His prose flows easily, describing his many trips. One feels him shiver from the cold and his lungs ache from the altitude when he, and a friend from Laramie, bicycle to North Mt. Everest base camp.
One feels the terror and helplessness when their kayak expedition encounters an enraged hippopotamus. One feels the guilt and regret of a war-torn Serbian people, but their hope of a new future when Haines serves as an election supervisor for their first democratic elections.
But the book is more than a travel log. Haines introduces us to his traveling companions – folks he met in Laramie — who share his yearning for adventure.
John introduces us the Japanese film crew he met at the Everest Base Camp. We feel the relief of the Japanese when they find out Haines and his traveling partner, Rick Smith, made it to base camp on bicycles.
The Japanese were there to set a high-altitude record for motorcycles, and were concerned the American duo had beat them to the punch. Haines introduces us to tribal leaders in Mali, who were willing to share their food with kayakers traveling downriver.
We understand their confusion at why someone would want to leave their rivers at home, and come travel a river in West Africa. His descriptions are more than caricatures. We meet the folks, see through their eyes and feel their lust for life.
We feel Haines’ pain and confusion, when he steps off a train in the Czech Republic , and wakes up a quadriplegic in a hospital. Haines talks about his struggles adapting to his new reality.
And then, Haines describes his post-accident work giving the poor a hand-up through his work through Mercy Corps. All the while, we come to understand that Haines’ life well-lived was a natural consequence of his youth and ties to Laramie, Wyoming.
Haines’ work is an inspiring, sometimes bittersweet tale of a life of adventure, and the consequences, good and bad, of his choices.
I found myself wondering what-if I had Haines’ courage, what if I could cut off my golden handcuffs and truly experience life, what if I had the spirit of adventure to take those risks myself. Haines details a lust for living every minute – a lust that ties back to a life in Laramie.
Never Leaving Laramie can be found at OSU Press http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/never-leaving-laramie , Amazon.com and at other major booksellers, or ordered from your local bookstore.
Tom Lubnau II is a recovering politician and former Speaker of the House who practices law in Gillette, Wyoming.