A young journalist-adventurer takes to the road in the time- honored Kerouac tradition. After a limp first chapter in which he pens sticky, self- referential homage to everyone from Merle Haggard to Robert Frost (``About the poetry: I loved the idea of Robert Frost, a farmer- poet whose hands were calloused, who knew things....I didn't feel like I knew jack''), Heller hits his stride recounting a series of wild, often dangerous adventures, usually in the outdoors. He writes of living with a mercenary in Alaska while working in a cannery, of building sea walls on the Olympic Peninsula, of lobstering with a near-maniacal fisherman in Rhode Island, of kayaking the treacherous rivers of the Soviet High Pamirs, and of witnessing the death of a friend in China. Heller is not so much concerned with place as he is with people, and most of his essays have the fine-tuned dramatic timing of quality fiction. His prose is crisp and filled with many quiet yet effective moments, as in his description of logging in Vermont: ``There is a shuddering of air, a rush and crash of limbs, and you stand in the murmuring stillness, saw idling, as full of life as you've ever been.'' Simple yet often powerful, capturing both the loneliness and the romance of the nomadic life.