“North” by Scott and Jenny Jurek

A Review by Tara G

***spoilers ahead***

Scott Jurek is one of the best trail runners in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from his down-to-earth recount of his experience on the Appalachian Trail. It is incredibly difficult to write anything in the first person and not come of as an egotistical asshat, especially a really good athlete. There is very little boasting or self-accolades. He manages to be raw, reflective, open, introspective, and honest about his record breaking thru-run.

As soon as I started listening to this book, I knew I was going to relate. He references Chris McCandless’ idealism of leaving society and living off the land, Thoreau’s analysis of society, himself living as far from it as possible, and the “doing without doing” Taoist Wu wei philosophy–being natural, effortlessly being. These are ideas that I look up to, strive to make part of my life, and are major reasons I run.

Jurek writes about the give and take of life and how this can be found in nature. Trails can be brutal and how running trails can make one explore their reasons and strength to keep going. Balance. Life starts to get predictable for him, but also painfully real, so he seeks out a new trail, away from his stomping grounds and the familiarity of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Cascade Mountains, to the Appalachian Trail, to regain his gratitude for life.

Jurek wrote “North” with his wife, Jenny Jurek, which is an interesting approach. The spouse of any runner should definitely get a voice and applause for how much they have to support their racing significant other. When it comes to these huge distances the runner needs a lot of support, both emotionally and logistically. It is interesting to hear her much tougher approach toward Scott, or Jurker, as she calls him. She openly admits she is not as nice as husband. She is the one that tells him to get his ass in gear because she is giving up a lot for him. I respect that she tells him not to approach the Appalachian Trail half-heartily, in stronger language than I used. He must respect her too, because he spent a lot of time throughout the book writing about how much he adores her as a person, friend, and partner. As the reader peering into their lives, I couldn’t help but find their recount of their personal fears and struggles incredibly brave. One criticism I do have is I think she was asked to do too much, staying out in the middle of the woods solo and worrying about weirdos while recovering from a miscarriage.

Throughout the book he focuses on finding and restoring balance in his life. He talks about the give and take of nature and draws comparisons to the struggle of completing this thru-run of 2,189 miles. By the way,  he completed it in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes. <- Check out the Runner’s World link to see the map and more details. It isn’t a book you are going to find practical running tips and strategies, it assumes the reader already has those, but rather, it focuses on the why of running–the emotional journey and the perspective one can gain from struggle, albeit an elective struggle.

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