Review of Scott and Jenny Jurek's North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail
If you are looking for grueling adventure, an intriguing cast of characters, a sense of community, encounters with strangers, and how to cope with a mid-life crisis and loss, you will find it in North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail, What makes Scott Jurek's new memoir unique is that it's co-authored with his wife Jenny.
In each engaging and lively chapter in North, Scott and Jenny recall their view of events during Scott's journey to tackle the 2,189 mile Appalachian Trail in 2015 and set a new record. If you're an ultrarunner, if you've ever been on the Appalachian Trail, and even if you're neither an ultrarunner nor an AT enthusiast, North will keep you moving and turning the pages. If you are looking for a love story, you'll also find one in North.
After competing as an elite ultrarunner over twenty years, Scott, whom Jenny affectionately calls Jurker, longs for a new challenge. Scott tells Jenny, nicknamed JLu, "I think I want to do the Appalachian Trail, go after the record. It has lots of road crossings for you to meet me so we can hang out through out the day. We can have lunches together and you can run sections with me. It will be a vacation. A fun adventure for both of us."
Scott and Jenny Jurek approaching Katahdin
Photo credit: Luis Escobar
The adventure begins with a long drive from Colorado to the Appalachian Trail in Georgia in Castle Black, their van turned home on wheels for two months. In his endeavor to set a new record, Scott is joined by a cast of characters, including Dave "Horty" Horton, Karl "Speedgoat" Meltzer and other ultarunning greats, local runners, and thru-hikers to help him propel his beaten and exhausted mind forward in a lot of rain. Scott is also joined on various sections by Jenny, who's on a healing journey of her own after enduring a miscarriage two months prior to hitting the AT.
Along the way Scott encounters detractors, bears, poisonous snakes, and ticks that Jenny plucks from his body. At times he is ovewhelmed with doubt and depression. He hobbles for miles and miles with an injury. He suffers hallucinations and sleep deprivation. His body breaks down. By day 41 of his trek, his ribs are visible. His eyes are bulging. Jenny writes, "...he smelled like the compost bin back home...He had a lifeless blank stare." With 450 miles to Katahdin, the highest mountain peak in Maine, and the end of his adventure, Scott has a crying episode and wants to go home.
The support of his ultrarunning community, local runners, and words of encouragement from thru-hikers and fans keeps him putting one foot in front of the other, and at times crawling. In his moments of doubt, the engine that keeps him moving is Jenny. Scott writes, "The astonishing capacity for suffering and perseverance she'd displayed through her miscarriages and subsequent health crises had played a big part in inspiring me to come out here and test my self."
North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail is more than an engaging and engrossing page turner of Scott's personal transformation and his arduous pilgrimage to set a new AT record. It's a story of how we can push beyond our limits with the help of loyal friends and supportive strangers. But North is made richer because of the love story that is Scott and Jenny, the adversities and loss they have overcome together, and their healing journey on the life-changing Appalachian Trail.
I also recommend his memoir.