A Walk in the Woods and #SJAT15

Several years ago for either his birthday or Father’s Day (they’re only a few weeks apart), I got my dad A Walk in the Woods, a book Bill Bryson wrote about hiking the Appalachian Trail with his friend. It’s now a movie coming out this fall, starring Robert Redford, which I find odd because is only 63 and he wrote A Walk in the Woods when he was in his 40s (it was published in 1998).

I bought the book for my dad because he was born in New Hampshire and spent summers there as a kid, and he has hiked the Presidential range. And I have hiked down Mount Washington, so congratulations to me. On my far-off list of dream races, I’ve penciled in the Mount Washington Road Race.

A few months ago he finally started reading it. Actually, he got through one chapter, reading the funny parts aloud to me the way he used to do with Patrick McManus books when I was a kid. Then after he went to bed I read half the book in one night and he let me take it back home with me to finish.

The book starts off funny, with a sort of British puzzlement at the trappings of an outdoorsman, and then some parts with Katz are hilarious because he’s a crazy crank. Then once Katz departs (this is not a spoiler), the book becomes a little plodding and preachy. Katz comes back, the book improves, and I felt very much like plunging into the woods on some long trek.

While I was reading this, Scott Jurek was on the beginning of his quest to set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Appalachian Trail, starting in Georgia and ending in Maine on the summit of Mount Katahdin. Scott Jurek was kind of my intro into ultrarunning. I was following it a bit because I started reading more running blogs, but I really got into it when I was driving through Proctor and a digital sign proclaimed “Proctor, home of ultramarathoner Scott Jurek.” And then I got really interested in ultrarunning.

Spoiler alert, Jurek captured the FKT (supported), finishing in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes, beating the previous record by 3 hours and 12 minutes. (The fastest unsupported record is 58 days, 9 hours, and 38 minutes, which is insane.) The final day, I followed along on Twitter and waited for the official time to come across. It was pretty exciting.

I am of two minds about this achievement. It is a fantastic feat, and Jurek is an unbelievable athlete. Scott is a fantastic and gracious ambassador for the sport. He’s a veganvangelist, that’s for sure (the main reason I haven’t bought his book, as I don’t plan on changing to a plant-based diet), but it works for him, and he was able to make it work while on the trail, which was an achievement of its own.

It was nice though, that the previous FKT holder was a woman (Jennifer Pharr Davis). I liked that a woman held the record for an athletic achievement that both men and women can compete in equally. I also think Jurek took “supported” to a new level, since he was sponsored by Clif. According to Clif’s site, he ate about 30 of their products a day. Probably all free. It was a little different than Pharr Davis’s record-setting hike. Running is his job.

It does show just how amazing her accomplishment was, considering that even with the extraordinary level of support Jurek received, he “only” beat it by 3:12. (He was planning to do it in 42 days, which was a smart idea, because it gave him some wiggle room.)

I hate to give caveats to such an important and difficult (understatement of the year!) achievement, so I won’t harp on those thoughts. Scott overcame injury, illness, hot and rainy weather, and self-doubt to set the FKT for the Appalachian Trail, and I think that’s pretty amazing.

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