Mini Book Review of “Lost on Purpose: Adventures of a 21st Century Mountain Man” by Patrick Taylor

Patrick Taylor set out to follow the Lewis and Clark Trail in the midst of winter; traversing some of the most dangerous terrain imaginable. This title serves as his journal throughout the adventure. On one hand, I found myself fascinated that such adventures were still possible in the modern day. On the other, I was put of by the author’s ego. He fancies himself a modern mountain main, and I would argue he is, but he is certainly impressed with himself … an it shows a bit. Despite the self adoration, Taylor’s adventure makes for an incredible read. His insistence to follow the exact path of Lewis and Clark places the author in some precarious situations and I found myself swept up in the tale. I do recommend this for anyone interested in the outdoors, hiking, or survival.

Mini Book Review of “Sauntering Thru: Lessons in Ambition, Minimalism, and Love on the Appalachian Trail” by Codey James Howell PHD

This book continued my trend of Appalachian Trail and hiking related titles in 2022. I again found myself fascinated by the idea of thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. Howell’s work only served to whet my appetite even more for such an experience. Howell, who goes by the trail handle of Raiden, intended this book as a sort of journal recording his day to day activities on the trail, however, in the end it turned into so much more. On the trail Raiden met his future wife Chilli Bin. As the pair make progress on the trail, readers are treated to an account of their deepening relationship. Time seems to stand still for the pair of hikers and I found myself sad for them both as the trail came to an end.

This book does a wonderful job of demonstrating the magical nature of the Appalachian Trail and serves to elevate it to nearly mythical proportions. It’s a wonderful read for any interested in the trail.

Mini Book Review of “Walking Home: Common Sense and Other Misadventures on the Pacific Coast Trail” by Rick Rogers

Having read multiple accounts of thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail, I wanted to switch it up and read something about the Pacific Coast Trail. Written, I suspect, as a tribute to his son who joined him for a portion of the hike, Rick Rogers’ book was exactly what I was looking for. Rogers approaches this hiking memoir in a clever, light-hearted manner. I especially enjoined his anecdotes about the people he encountered along the way. I was surprised to discover I became a tiny bit invested in these people and couldn’t help but wonder what had come of them after Rogers (trail name Finn) completed his thru hike.

Like other thru hiking memoirs I’ve read, this one is far less “how to” than it is simply Finn spinning a yarn about his hike. I am completely unfamiliar with the Pacific Coast Trail so I found this fairly interesting. Honestly, there were parts of this book that made the PCT fairly unappealing. The Appalachian Trail seems far superior with less odd ducks and deserts …. it did whet my appetite, however, to learn more about the PCT. I would love to visit sometime and hike its more appealing sections.

This one will appeal to anyone interested in the PCT.

Mini Book Review of “Only When I Step On It: One Man’s Inspiring Journey to His the Appalachian Trail Alone” by Peter Conti

Plagued by a past injury and chronic pain, this book chronicles author Peter Conti’s quest for healing on the Appalachian Trail. While not technically a thru hiker, Conti tackled the AT over the course of 2 years. His hypothesis was simple, to hike every mile of the AT, the chronic and severe pain he suffered from a hip injury would have to heal and, ultimately, disappear. Conti’s story is very much one of overcoming debilitation. I would recommend this for anyone who is at the wrong end of climb. It could be injury, age, weight, bad circumstances … whatever the obstacle, Conti’s story serves as an example of what can be accomplished with patience, grit, and determination.

Mini Book Review of “Did Not Finish: Misadventures in Running, Cycling, and Swimming” by George Mahood

Parts of this little book were witty and quite enjoyable and George Mahood is a talented writer, however, I grew tired if the random stream of conscience that meandered between running, biking, and swimming anecdotes. It was entertaining at best and irrelevant at worst. It was sort of like reading an extended magazine article … suited well for passing the time in a waiting room, but not much else.

Mini Book Review of “Out and Back” by Hillary Allen

On the surface, this is an amazing story of an endurance athlete overcoming injury to return to her sport. It’s value, however, is at a deeper level. Hillary Allen conquered more then just a physical injury. Basically, the sport of trail running, her passion, tried to kill her. The mental baggage and struggle that ensued would have been too much for some people, but Allen leaned into the tenacity that makes her an elite trail runner to begin with and forged a path to recovery. There is a lesson to be learned from her experience. As a novice, weekend runner, I wonder if it is possible to tap into the same kind of tenacity Allen put on display. Injury? Illness? Obstacles? Is it possible to just keep living and adjust until you are able to overcome?

Hillary Allen has a great deal to teach the reader in this book and I enjoyed my glimpse into the mental space she lives in.

Mini Book Review of “Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike” by John Gignilliat

While not a literary masterpiece, this book is charming. It details the daily journal of a couple’s thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. It includes the interesting things they saw, people they encountered, places they stayed, and even their meals. A careful read will glean some good tips that can be used on extended hiking trips. I may never get to thru-hike the entire AT, but I hope to put some of the author’s tips to good use. I gave this book five stars simply because I find the topic so interesting. If you don’t share my interest in the Appalachian Trail or extended hiking trips, this may not be the book for you.

Mini Book Review of ‘Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink’ by Nita Sweeney

Having stumbled upon this author and her running memoir on Twitter, I decided to take a chance on it. I am glad I did as I found myself identifying with it on many levels. First, I enjoyed reading about Nita Sweeney’s journey from non-runner to endurance athlete as it paralleled my own in many ways. Like me, she began with the Couch to 5k Program before progressing to longer distances. Like me, she shed some weight along the way and was an adult-onset athlete (a term I borrow from John Bingham). I enjoyed reading her story because in many ways it validates my own. I have a tendency to regret all the the years I spent as a non-runner. How fast could I be and how accomplished could I be if I had only started when I was younger? Sweeney’s story remind me however that I am a sample size of one. Being older and/or slower than others does not make me less of a runner!

Secondly, I enjoyed reading about the author’s running exploits in Columbus, Ohio. I live forty minutes from Ohio’s capital and was familiar with many of the places she described. I did find myself growing jealous when she wrote about the support and friendship’s she forged in the MIT running group. The running community in my little town is growing, but there is nothing like MIT where I live. That coupled with my own introverted tendencies has prevented me from feeling like I belong in the running community. Fortunately, I am blessed to have my wife to train with!

Finally, I appreciated how the author found running as a coping mechanism for her depression. Like all families, mine has been touched by depression and I have long argued that a trifold approach must be taken when dealing with mental illness; mental, spiritual, and physical. I firmly believe that any approach to mental illness that lacks one of the pillars is insufficient. Sweeney points out wisely that running didn’t “cure” her depression, however, there is no doubt it has allowed her to cope with it. What a great reminder!

I recommend this book for adult onset athletes, those battling with mental health, and anyone who enjoys a good running memoir.

Mini Book Review of “Wandering Ohio: A Buckeye Trail Thru-Hike” by Chuck and Beth Hewitt

I have long entertained the notion of embarking on an extended hike. This book reads like a daily journal sharing what it’s like to through hike the looped Buckeye Trail that traverses my home state of Ohio. I enjoyed reading about this couple’s adventure even if I found myself wanting just a little more specific information about the ins and outs of the trail itself. After reading this one, I’ve reached the conclusion that the Buckeye Trail may be better suited for section hiking than a through hike, but their feat was impressive nonetheless. This is a good read if you are interested in this sort of thing.

It should be pointed out that this not a “how to” guide book. If I understand correctly, the authors have guide book that can be purchased on the Buckeye Trail Association website. This is a journal. You will learn a lot about Chuck and Beth Hewitt and the interesting places they ate and stayed, but you will not get a technical guide on hiking the Buckeye Trail.

Undefeated: How I’ve Managed a Winning Streak Against My Arch Rival

When you hear the term “Arch Rival” what comes to mind? The Ohio State University vs. That Team Up North? Celtics vs. Lakers? Sherlock Holmes vs. Professor Moriarty? During my run today I was listening to the always excellent Trail Runner Nation Podcast and the hosts were interviewing authors of the book Trail Running Illustrated: The Art of Running Free. A discussion of the word “race” as it applies to trail running came up and the group discussed that trail runners are often “racing” against themselves. As I pondered this, it occurred to me that I am my own arch rival. Rather, the man I used to be is my worst enemy. The Apostle Paul wrote that our “old man” is crucified with Christ that our body of sin might be destroyed (Romans 6:6) … the problem is that my old man is dying a painfully slow death, kicking and screaming the whole way.

It’s that “old man” that is a lethargic, gluttonous couch potato … and I battle him every single time I go for a run.

But it occurred to me today that I am undefeated against that old man. I began my running and trail running adventures as a means to honor God with an active lifestyle. A few years ago I started off with the Couch to 5k Program and slowly advanced from there. Recently, I finished my fist ultra run by completing the Fuzzy Fandango 50k. Along the way I’ve had some good runs, some great runs, and many, many slow and somewhat arduous runs. I’ve suffered injuries, DNFs, and many aches and pains. But the old man has never, ever beat me.

My revelation today was that no matter how bad, every run I’ve ventured out on since my journey began has been a victory — a victory over the old man who would never set out on a run. The old man didn’t know the beauty of the deep woods or the joy of going for a run with his wife. I’ve heard it said that getting to the starting line is the victory and there is much truth to that. It doesn’t matter how fast I am or how long I run because every run is a victory over the old man sitting on the couch.

I suppose it all comes back to how we define a win. I will never win a trail run in the literal sense, but I’ve come to realize that every trail run is a win.