Each month Abington Library will feature a favorite book from a faculty, staff member, or student. They will give a brief synopsis of their chosen book.
North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail tells the true story of renown ultrarunner Scott Jurek’s attempt to set the FKT (fastest known time) for the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT spans 2,189 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia up to Mount Katahdin in Maine, though it can be hiked in either direction (south to north, north to south) or in segments, and there are many access points along the trail. Amazingly, this famous trail passes through 14 states and covers very diverse terrain, including stream crossings, mud, rock scrambles, and many elevation gains and losses.
Scott Jurek, an experienced and decorated ultrarunner (a term for a runner who has completed any race longer than 26.2 miles) ran the AT in 2015, traveling from south to north. He wanted to beat the standing course record of completing the nearly 2,200 miles in roughly 47.5 days. He and his wife, Jenny, also a strong runner, began in June with their decked-out RV (fondly named “Castle Black”), plan of (Scott) running 50 miles per day, and rough idea of how to feed Scott (a long-time vegan) over the next month-plus. Jenny played an integral support role, moving the RV from trailhead-to-trailhead to give Scott a place to sleep, clean-up, and sit down to eat. Scott would eat 7,000 calories each day and be on his feet for up to 20 hours, snacking as he went.
While the trail was undoubtedly physically challenging, and sometimes Scott could only cover about 4 miles per hour, he also experienced many psychological challenges. Scott was candid in discussing his emotions in raw form: the doubt, the pain, the purpose, etc. One chapter was even titled, “Running through the Sticks with My Woes.” Jenny ran several sections of the trail with Scott to keep him motivated and on pace when possible. Fortunately, the pair were joined by friends from the running community – other stars, sometimes past competitors, a few “coaches,” and even everyday local runners –underscoring the value of friendly support.
Despite the challenges Scott and Jenny experienced, the book had an undercurrent of good-natured comedy. I enjoyed Scott’s humor: he called Vermont “Ver-Mud,” due to the extreme muddiness of the trails. In one section, he said, “It wasn’t a hallucination. There really was a chocolate cake on top of the mountain,” when a kind soul left him a decadent vegan cake (with plenty of needed calories) right on the trail. There were also fun “trail names” for Scott (El Venado – the deer) and Scott’s friend, Karl Meltzer (the Speedgoat).
Ultimately, Scott succeeded in his endeavor, beating the FKT by some 20 hours for a new course record of 46 days, 8 hours, and 6 minutes, though it has since been broken. When asked about the experience and the “why” of it all, he said, “This is who I am. This is what I do.” He also imparted wisdom that I took to heart for my own life: “You hike your own hike and blaze your own trail, and only you can find what you’re looking for.”
A final bonus: the audiobook is narrated by Scott and Jenny themselves!