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Ask outdoor enthusiast Craig Romano what has most influenced his life and his answer comes quickly and confidently: his Italian heritage and his New Hampshire roots.
A resident of Mt. Vernon, Wash., about 60 miles north of Seattle, and an avid hiker, cyclist, runner and paddler, Romano has 14 hiking guidebooks to his name. He has also written scores of outdoor articles and columns in more than two dozen magazines and newspapers.
Yet his path to a full-time writing career took as many twists and turns as any steep mountain trail, and he is quick to credit his Italian grandmother as a major force in his life. “My nonna was a constant reminder of who I am and where we came from,” said Romano. “She arrived in the U.S. at the age of 12 from Sicily and maintained ties to her birthplace for the rest of her life. Like so many of her generation, she had lived through a lot but as long as she had her home, her family and her kitchen, she was content. I was very close to her and I loved listening to her stories.”
Born in 1961 in Bridgeport, Conn., Romano moved with his family to Windham, N.H., at the age of eight. “We went from the biggest town in Connecticut, about an hour north of New York City, to a town of 3,000 in rural New Hampshire, and I loved it,” said Romano. “I grew up with a passion for the woods and for nature. Back then, if you lived in New Hampshire, you’d better like the outdoors because there was nothing else to do!”
Not surprisingly, Romano’s love for the outdoors influenced his job choices. He was a backcountry ranger in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, worked at several ski resorts in New England, and was a hiking guide in the Pyrenees. But he also had a passion for writing. In his 30s, he returned to school to earn degrees in history and in education from the University of Washington, which led to a short-lived teaching career.
“After the first year, I did not renew my teaching contract,” he said, “I decided I wanted to write full-time and I did whatever I could to make that happen. I waited tables, I was a substitute teacher and I worked incredibly hard.”
Romano’s newest guidebook, due out next spring, is called “100 Classic Hikes: Washington,” published by Mountaineers Books. The book will replace earlier editions of what has become the best-selling hiking guidebook of all time, first published in 1998 by Harvey Manning and Ira Spring. Romano’s version includes 50 new hikes―some of his all-time favorites from around the state―along with 50 hikes selected from the original book that he calls legacy hikes, updated with Romano’s signature style.
“100 Classic Hikes was a best seller for us for many years and the most successful of all our guidebooks,” said Helen Cherullo, publisher, Mountaineers Books. “But we decided this iconic volume needed a fresh voice and a new perspective. Craig was the obvious choice, and he has taken on this project with enthusiasm as well as a sense of obligation. Harvey and Ira were his heroes; their books helped him explore thousands of miles of hiking trails when he first moved to Washington state. Craig approached this project very aware of that responsibility.”
In addition to his Italian grandmother, Romano finds inspiration in the lives of naturalist John Muir, conservationist and former president Teddy Roosevelt, and New England writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. He also holds a special place in his heart for Italian general and patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi. Romano has traveled to several locations that figured prominently in Garibaldi’s life, including Nice, France, where Garibaldi was born in 1807, and Uruguay where Garibaldi lived in exile from 1841-1848. His admiration for this Italian revolutionary is so pervasive that he even named his Maine Coon cat, Giuseppe.
Romano’s dual passion for hiking and for Garibaldi led him to a surprising discovery. “I was intrigued to find out that Garibaldi is heralded in several Northwest locations,” said Romano. “The most famous is probably Garibaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia, a stunning wilderness area not far from Vancouver, Canada. There is also a town along the Oregon coast named for Garibaldi.”
Over the years, Romano has put thousands of miles on his hiking boots. By his own estimation, he has hiked more than 17,000 miles n Washington state alone, and he has traveled from Alaska to Argentina, Sicily to South Korea, seeking wild and spectacular landscapes.
In spite of his wayfaring tendencies, Romano’s roots in the Pacific Northwest have grown a little deeper since the birth of his son Giovanni last December. Romano hopes to impart to his child the same passion and stewardship he feels for the land. In less than a year, the baby has accompanied Romano and his wife Heather on more than a dozen hikes, and has already completed his first half-marathon, pushed along in a baby carrier the entire 13.1 miles.