Monday, June 08, 2020

Thru Hikes, Ultra Runners, Alone, an Interior Castle and Nietzsche

2020 will be remembered by the Pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests brought to the fore by the murder of George Floyd.

I will remember it, too - as the year my 75 day plan to be in Yosemite was terminated by the National Park Closure. 

This brings me considerable and measured grief and true loss.  It's a reminder that "we have to get out" and "live our lives" "when we can" - as life may get in the way of us doing what we hope in any set of potential unknown futures.


In preparation for hiking and biking for the Summer in Yosemite, I geared up with equipment and physical training, and quite a few books on hiking/wilderness adventures.

The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience
by Jennifer Pharr Davis

Of many books I read on hiking and trail planning, this was perhaps my favorite.  I enjoyed the personal anecdotes and the fact that this women beat so many in her pursuit of endurance and speed.  I have no goal to move across land in the same way that she and other "ultra-marathon" persons choose their journey, and yet I enjoy reading about her lived experience.

From the publisher: "Jennifer Pharr Davis, a record holder of the FKT (fastest known time) on the Appalachian Trail, reveals the secrets and habits behind endurance as she chronicles her incredible accomplishments in the world of endurance hiking, backpacking, and trail running. With a storyteller's ear for fascinating detail and description, Davis takes readers along as she trains and sets her record, analyzing and trail-testing the theories and methodologies espoused by her star-studded roster of mentors. She distills complex rituals and histories into easy-to-understand tips and action items that will help you take perseverance to the next level. The Pursuit of Endurance empowers readers to unlock phenomenal endurance and leverage newfound grit to achieve personal bests in everything from sports and family to the boardroom."

How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter and Self-Preservation Anywhere by Bradford Angier

I don't actually plan to hike in ways that leave me off main arteries of primary trails.  The trails I plan to frequent are, by and large, well maintained and well-traveled.  And, I don't plan to go in for more than a few days at a time, with appropriate equipment for the weather/conditions. Still, the book is some good reminders on basics of gear planning - while also covering more than I needed, given how I plan ot pack/camp/hike - and the specific gear I've purchased to plan for my routine safety.

Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are by John J. Kaag

Not a typical hiking book! ha!  I especially thought of a few brief days I had in Switzerland while reading this book.  Wishing for more time there.  And, wishing for greater time to experience my own self, too.

This book reminded me too, of a particularly great "former student" and good friend, whose could have written this book from his life's story.

A great book I will re-read.  From the Publisher: "Hiking with Nietzsche: Becoming Who You Are is a tale of two philosophical journeys—one made by John Kaag as an introspective young man of nineteen, the other seventeen years later, in radically different circumstances: he is now a husband and father, and his wife and small child are in tow. Kaag sets off for the Swiss peaks above Sils Maria where Nietzsche wrote his landmark work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Both of Kaag’s journeys are made in search of the wisdom at the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy, yet they deliver him to radically different interpretations and, more crucially, revelations about the human condition.

Just as Kaag’s acclaimed debut, American Philosophy: A Love Story, seamlessly wove together his philosophical discoveries with his search for meaning, Hiking with Nietzsche is a fascinating exploration not only of Nietzsche’s ideals but of how his experience of living relates to us as individuals in the twenty-first century. Bold, intimate, and rich with insight, Hiking with Nietzsche is about defeating complacency, balancing sanity and madness, and coming to grips with the unobtainable. As Kaag hikes, alone or with his family, but always with Nietzsche, he recognizes that even slipping can be instructive. It is in the process of climbing, and through the inevitable missteps, that one has the chance, in Nietzsche’s words, to “become who you are.""

1) “Nietzsche’s point may be that the process of self-discovery requires an undoing of the self-knowledge that you assume you already have. Becoming is the ongoing process of losing and finding yourself.”
2) “Modern life, however, is not entirely amenable to becoming who one is; it is designed to distract and deaden…”

I'm not a good ascetic/monastic/mystic.  Revealed as I read: Interior Castle: The Classic Text With a Spiritual Commentary (Classics With Commentary) by Teresa of Avila.

"Teresa's Interior Castle begins with the vision of the soul as a "castle made of a single diamond ... in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions." . . . and I found myself "arguing" with the metaphor with each page.  I'm not good at metaphorical Christianity - and not good with trying to discern living within walls and not in the world, the world where we are called to make a difference today - a transformative difference for the Kingdom to become realized now.

Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts 

Unmoved and unmoving.  Nothing to see here despite the publisher's words: "Candid and funny and, finally, wise, Almost Somewhere is not just the whimsical coming-of-age story of a young woman ill-prepared for a month in the mountains but also the reflection of a distinctly feminine view of nature."  Another Amazon reviewer had a similar response to my own: "From the get-go I had a hard time getting into this book. Believe me I wanted to badly. I have not read any books about thru-hikes on the John Muir Trail and had high hopes for this book. I began skipping through around page 20. That is never a good sign. I also began reading Almost Somewhere coming off the heels of reading 'Lost on the Application Trail' by Kyle Rohrig which was so good it fired me up about doing a thru-hike, whereas Almost Somewhere did not have the same effect. Not enough about the trail. Goes off topic often and get into depressing dialog and personal issues."

Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail by Melanie Radzicki McManus

I don't remember how far I got into this book, nor if I finished it, to be honest. Part of that has to do with the fact that I read many hiking and "through-hiking" books nearly back to back over several weeks and a few of them were comparably bad. Those that were bad, I did not read with careful intention.  Based on what I'll share here from another reviewer, I'm prone to believe I didn't finish this book as I know it did not stand out to me as good/memorable.  Another reviewer from Amazon wrote: "The title of this book may have been “Running” rather than “Hiking,” if McManus didn’t have the physical problems that prevented her from running most of the time. She wants to do the FKT (fastest known time) for a woman on Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. McManus has a support team; her venture is not a backpack, but a day walk/run and she is met at the end of each day and driven to comfortable overnight accommodations. The narrative takes up all sorts of subjects, early history of the trail, first thru hiker on the IAT, fastest hiker on the IAT, hikers she meets on the trail and their profiles, injuries and treatments, the Appalachian Trail & Earl Shaffer’s profile (first AT thru hiker), the Pacific Crest Trail, etc. There is comparatively little about her experience hiking on the the Ice Age Trail. The most memorable events may be the frequent times McManus loses her way. If you want to hike the Ice Age Trail, this volume is likely worthwhile. As a good trail narrative, it falls short."

Trespassing Across America: One Man's Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland by Ken Ilgunas 

I enjoyed this book - and have distinct memories of audio-reading it while I spent a few days sorting a workshed during the early days of the 2020 SARS-CoV-2 shutdown in March/April 2020.  This review from the publisher on Amazon captures the book well.  "It started as a far-fetched idea—to hike the entire length of the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline. But in the months that followed, it grew into something more for Ken Ilgunas. It became an irresistible adventure—an opportunity not only to draw attention to global warming but also to explore his personal limits. So in September 2012, he strapped on his backpack, stuck out his thumb on the interstate just north of Denver, and hitchhiked 1,500 miles to the Alberta tar sands. Once there, he turned around and began his 1,700-mile trek to the XL’s endpoint on the Gulf Coast of Texas, a journey he would complete entirely on foot, walking almost exclusively across private property.

Both a travel memoir and a reflection on climate change, Trespassing Across America is filled with colorful characters, harrowing physical trials, and strange encounters with the weather, terrain, and animals of America’s plains. A tribute to the Great Plains and the people who live there, Ilgunas’s memoir grapples with difficult questions about our place in the world: What is our personal responsibility as stewards of the land? As members of a rapidly warming planet? As mere individuals up against something as powerful as the fossil fuel industry? Ultimately, Trespassing Across America is a call to embrace the belief that a life lived not half wild is a life only half lived."

Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard D. Logan PhD and Tere Duperrault Fassbender

A story of survival I had previously never encountered in any context.  I specifically engaged this audiobook while doing quite a few days of hike and bike training for endurance - so finished the book in two days.  Sad! for what happened to the girl and her family - and yet "great" for her specific survival, in spite of the trauma.  From the publisher: "Terry Jo Duperrault was 11 when her family was murdered at sea aboard a chartered sailboat off the coast of Florida. She jumped overboard just in time to escape. Surviving four days on a cork float in the middle of the ocean, Terry Jo's rescue pictures graced LIFE Magazine soon after she was found. This is the first time Terry Jo, now known as Tere Duperrault Fassbender, has been able to fully tell her story. In September 1988 Oprah Winfrey reunited her with the freighter Captain who saved her, but even then, she was not healed enough to reveal what it took to survive for four days adrift and alone at sea. Co-authored by psychologist and survival expert Richard Logan, readers delve into the details of how a little girl survived the murder of her family; the gradual collapse of the small cork float she used to keep afloat while guarded by a pod of whales; and the aftermath and the reclamation of life. Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean is the ultimate inspirational tale of good."

Walking Thru: A Couple's Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail by Michael Tyler

I wanted to enjoy the book - as the authors, in their 50s, and seeking to break from the mundane of their life are "just like me" at my age/stage in life.  Nevertheless, I found the book to be dull.  Akin to this other Amazon review I'll share:
"This book is a far cry from other trail books on couples like "Mile 445" or "A Long Way From No Where" but it is a nice, short read. You won't find much in the way of romance or drama between the couple.  . . .  I'm not sure the story is worthy of a book but it's still a good insight into what you can expect on the PCT.
Another reviewer captured my sense of this book with: "I have read several books on the PCT Trail and also many on the Appalachian Trail. This one was the least exciting and really did not give one a feel for exactly how a typical day unfolded on such a hike. It sort of glossed over everything and made it sound quite easy, whereas I know it is not."

Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anderson

Unfazed by this book.  I agree nearly entirely with this review from Amazon: "I wanted to like this book.However, I didn't enjoy it much. I love hiking and reading about other people's hiking experiences, but this book was more about the personal challenge of trying to set a fastest-known time (FKT) record. While her accomplishment is extremely impressive, I didn't relish reading about all the miseries she put herself through, including several very dangerous ones (dehydration was an issue more than once, and she *had* to keep hiking a couple of times on exposed trail through the middle of thunderstorms). I love to read about the views, the experience of hiking, the people met along the way, and this book had very few mention of any of these. Again, her accomplishments are AMAZING and I don't want to make them seem less than they are, but if you are looking for a book about an enjoyable hiking experience, this is not the book you are looking for."

Bliss(ters): How I walked from Mexico to Canada one summer by Gail M. Francis

I did not make it far into this book, and distinctly know that I did not read it entirely.  She seemed unprepared, unaware and clueless.  It seems I'm not alone in my review.  An Amazon reviewer wrote: "Worst book I’ve read on PCT (and I’ve read most, if not all). Very little about the trail, scenery, etc.. Mostly it’s just the author constantly whining.. she try’s to convince you (or herself) how independent and strong she is, while continuously complaining, depending on others and being worried about what everyone else on the trail thinks of her."     From the publisher: "Just before her 40th birthday, Gail Francis quit her perfectly good job and set out to hike one of the great trails of the world. Carrying everything she needed on her back, Francis spent five months walking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way, she lost her pack scrambling over scree in the desert, struggled to navigate high mountain passes, and wore the soles off her boots trekking across lava fields — all within some of the most pristine wilderness in the nation. Though she set out alone, her story includes an eclectic cast of characters. From the man walking the entire 2,700 miles in a series of twenty-six wedding dresses, to the woman making the journey in the company of her pet mouse, Francis learned to count on her fellow hikers for entertainment as well as a few important life lessons."

North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek and Jenny Jurek

I did not like this book as well as I enjoyed the Pursuit of Endurance by Jennifer Davis, though, this book is the "male" equivalent of the same - and has good insight and interesting narrative.  As I have no desire to either need to thru hike, nor the need to do it fast, the appeal of "the race" and "endurance" by these authors/hikers does not move me. And yet, enjoying to learn from their stories and read their need to push themselves for their ego/identity.  From the publisher: "Scott Jurek is one of the world's best known and most beloved ultrarunners. Renowned for his remarkable endurance and speed, accomplished on a vegan diet, he's finished first in nearly all of ultrarunning's elite events over the course of his career. But after two decades of racing, training, speaking, and touring, Jurek felt an urgent need to discover something new about himself. He embarked on a wholly unique challenge, one that would force him to grow as a person and as an athlete: breaking the speed record for the Appalachian Trail.

North is the story of the 2,189-mile journey that nearly shattered him. When he set out in the spring of 2015, Jurek anticipated punishing terrain, forbidding weather, and inevitable injuries. He would have to run nearly 50 miles a day, every day, for almost seven weeks. He knew he would be pushing himself to the limit, that comfort and rest would be in short supply -- but he couldn't have imagined the physical and emotional toll the trip would exact, nor the rewards it would offer.

With his wife, Jenny, friends, and the kindness of strangers supporting him, Jurek ran, hiked, and stumbled his way north, one white blaze at a time. A stunning narrative of perseverance and personal transformation, North is a portrait of a man stripped bare on the most demanding and transcendent effort of his life. It will inspire runners and non-runners alike to keep striving for their personal best."

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