Journalist Danielle Nadler never had writing a book on her bucket list. But when she found a great story, she decided to tell it.
The result is Nadler’s first book, “Without a Trace: The Life of Sierra Phantom,” the story of John P. Glover, who lived in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada mountains for 50 years and became a legend in the city of Bishop, CA, in his old age.
Nadler, Loudoun Now’s managing editor, found her niche in short form journalism years ago. But when she was introduced to Glover in 2010, she felt compelled to tell his story and needed more than an article to do so.
“His life was like a novel waiting to be written,” Nadler said of the larger-than-life Glover, whom she got to know through a series of weekly phone conversations.
Nadler, who worked as a journalist in California and Nevada before moving to Virginia with her husband, Aaron, in 2009, connected with Glover through a West Coast friend who met the adventurer while hiking in central California. Her friend was fascinated by the character, known as Sierra Phantom, then already in his mid-80s, and encouraged Nadler to reach out to him. Nadler, then a reporter at the Winchester Star, was hesitant at first but found herself drawn into his captivating life story, and Glover agreed to weekly Sunday evening phone calls.
Nadler says Glover initially wanted to discuss his adventures in five decades of living off the land. But she wanted to go deeper and get to the backstory that led him to a life alone in the wilderness. She encouraged him to open up about his hardscrabble childhood as an orphan during the Great Depression and his service in World War II, fighting Japanese forces on the little-known Alaskan front.
“I think it was just a blessing that I was the one that he was willing to open up to,” Nadler said.
When Nadler met Glover, he was an octogenarian attempting to re-enter conventional society after decades of living as a lone wolf. And in addition to Glover’s personal history, “Without a Trace” also recounts his tackling day-to-day challenges, like paying bills and buying groceries, and his success at connecting with fellow seniors as well as a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts who became like family.
The book is also the story of the friendship that developed between author and subject and Nadler’s own growth as a writer, branching out from straight-up reporting to creative non-fiction. The process involved breaking the conventions she’d been taught in journalism school—including maintaining distance from her sources.
As the months went on, Nadler realized her weekly phone calls with Glover were becoming more than just a project. She began to look forward to their conversations as an ongoing exchange rather than simply a series of interviews.
“He became not just a source—he became a friend and someone who I really looked up to,” she said. “At first, it was just going to be a story about this guy. But then it became about our getting through this together.”