This month, we started the year with a bit of inspiration mixed with a bit of holy $hit I never want to do that by reading North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek and Jenny Jurek. Scott is an ultrarunner who’s run pretty much every race there is to win. And in North, his second book, he and Jenny chronicle his attempt to set the FKT (fastest known time) on the Appalachian Trail. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t really know what to expect. I like a good memoir, but this one could have gone a couple different ways. Unlike my normal reviews where I pull quotes and talk through the key concepts that I highlighted, since this one was a memoir versus something more how-to oriented, I figured I would make this review a bit less formal.
You feel like you know them
This book is RAW. It’s full of semi-inside jokes, very casual/natural language, and no fears about telling it like it was. Jenny talks about feeling unsafe with certain people at certain trailheads, Scott gets real about on-trail injuries and wanting to quit… They really don’t hold back, and it makes it a much more compelling read as a result. A lot of memoirs like this are super-sanitized, so it’s refreshing to read such open language!
It’s a fun experiment in cowriting
Co-writing is really freaking hard to do and have things flow smoothly, so I wasn’t sure how Scott and Jenny would pull it off. But they actually do a surprisingly good job of it, and it’s (unintentionally, I think) really funny in some places where Jenny will be saying one thing and explaining an argument, and in the next chapter, you really get an unfiltered take on it from Scott that reads like he hadn’t read what Jenny wrote before he put his thoughts down. Which I love, because it’s the best part of the book: This great look at the inner workings of a couple who adventures together, and who’s livelihood, to a great extent, depends on it. When Scott wants to quit, that’s not just a huge thing for him, it’s a year out of Jenny’s life as well. Being married to another athlete myself, I’ve written a ton on the topic and I’m still figuring it out, so it was cool to see how another couple makes it work in really truly hectic circumstances.
Type 2 Fun: Best or Worst Fun?
I’ve heard Jenny discuss this on a podcast so I was psyched when it got brought up in the book… Type 2 fun is the kind of fun that is TERRIBLE in the moment but afterwards, you look back and think, ‘Wow, that was fun.’ (AKA how I felt in my first ultra last summer.) Scott and Jenny don’t romanticize the effort of trekking through the entire Appalachian Trail, which was admittedly what I was worried about… Sometimes the way people describe running can be a little annoying because, let’s be honest, it sucks a lot of the time. And for 2000+ miles, there are going to be a lot of $hitty miles.
An urge to hike the Trail
My dad was hiking the Appalachian Trail before it was cool. True story, a search in our attic reveals old-school climbing gear (I think actually some of the first climbing gear sold in the US by the founder of Patagonia), old 70s issues of Backpacker mag, and some moth-eaten hiking gear. Old pics of my dad involve merino wool knit XC ski gear that included knee socks. He was hiking in the snow before snow camping gear was a thing. And he and his buddies would—even in high school—grab their gear and hit sections of the trail in NY, NJ and PA for the hell of it, camping out in snowbanks. (Yeah, this explains a lot about me.) So reading Scott’s story brought a lot of those stories back and got me thinking about thru-hiking/running chunks of the trail. I don’t have the urge to do the whole thing but the idea of a 2-3 days running trip with camping gear (or possibly wrangling some support from my dad to ‘crew’ for a couple days!)… Now that’s interesting!
If you’re ultra-run obsessed, may I recommend our podcast with Chris McDougall!
Missed it? Get caught up: North by Scott and Jenny Jurek