My book review of “A Long Way From Nowhere: A Couple’s Journey on the Continental Divide Trail”

21898991      This co-authored husband and wife book bears considerable resemblance to the last married couple thru-hike book I read-I Promise Not to Suffer- A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. That book was about the Pacific Crest while this one is about the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). In each book, the husbands set the pace, the wives suffer, with both women maintaining their connections to their steamrolling partners in spite of overwhelming stress, discomfort, and self-deprecation.
I was shuffling along the CDT in 2013 ( the same year detailed in this book) myself, where I eventually reached Canada but never encountered Optimist and Stopwatch, the “trail names” of Matt and Julie. They were probably walking through the night when they passed my tent. I also suffered through my own thru-hike of this “ shim sham of a trail,” but the Urbanski’s journey bears little resemblance to mine.
These Urbanskis are superhuman. With a self-imposed schedule of just 118 days to hike over 3,000 miles, they needed to backpack 25.57 miles every one of those days-day after brutal day. If they take a day off for any reason, their daily average goes up- so they don’t take days off. If you count the frequent episodes of “lost” or off trail the Urbanskis walked the equivalent of a marathon a day, day after day, while they were carrying their world on their backs. That’s a lot of miles, and an incomprehensible accomplishment.
Why this story was not covered on the sports pages of every newspaper in America beats me. It’s as much an achievement as running a marathon in record time, for sure.
Matt and Julie took turns penning chapters. Julie is the better writer, and works as hard at writing as she does moving through the challenges of the CDT. Julie’s writing conveys her nearly constant pain, anxiety, and what appears to be depression- which began on day one when she took sick in the unrelenting heat of the southern New Mexico desert.
I have never encountered any thru-hikers who are as hard core as the Urbanskis. They are extremely focused and unrelenting in their approach to thru-hiking. From the time they take their first steps away from the Mexico/New Mexico border, their first CDT evening camp fire was in Canada, at the end of their journey. They are so spartan in their approach that they shun little stoves. Ho hot cups of tea or coffee for them on the trail. They are hardened veterans of previous long distance thru-hikes. On their three previous long distance trails they didn’t take a day off in over 4,500 miles. Yikes!
I was incredulous to learn that when the Urbanskis reach a grocery store they include eating 4 cans of vegetables, and that they prefer Subway to any of the local eateries one encounters in over-the-top rural America. I looked at their long detailed lists of town food, and most don’t include any protein. It wasn’t until page 74 that we learn that they are on a vegan diet for this trip, posing additional challenges in actually find vegan options in some of the stripped-down convenience stores and gas stations that only rarely pop up along the way. The northern part of the CDT passes through meat street- Wyoming and Montana. Up there, I was compelled to order the largest steaks and burgers i could find when I reached that part of the CDT, after losing 33 pounds of body weight, which definitely included loss of muscle mass, particularly from my upper body.
Optimist and Stopwatch depend on prepared boxes of vegan foods that they mail to themselves along the way- lots of packages. Its great to have your own food choices, but even the US Postal Services takes days off- on the weekends, a practice that forces the Urbanskis to double down, hike through the night, or push through unimaginable mileage challenges so that they don’t have to “ lose” a day while they wait for their food resupply boxes to arrive.
It was a suffer fest for Stopwatch (Julie’s trail name), who reveals as the book goes on that she generally doesn’t like backpacking. Sheesh!
This book is painful to read. However, it’s a great account. I could not put it down. It’s brutally honest, and one of the rare opportunities a reader will ever have to get the full picture of the dirty laundry that a couple has to deal with on a real, month-long, backpacking trip across the spine of the Rocky Mountains. That laundry is a spare, but burdensome load- only the clothes on their backs. They have nothing left at the end but this incomprehensible achievement for these young folks to list on what must be the most impressive pair of vitaes in America.
I hope the Urbanskis can patch things back together after this crazy smack-down and continue to make it together on the Big Trail that we all are walking in the years to come.

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About tjamrog

I'm sixty-seven and live in the Maine woods. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, Vermont's Long Trail in 2011, and the Continental Divide Trail in 2013 . I am outdoors every day. I offer guided backpacking trips and classes in Maine, through "Uncle Tom's Guided Adventures".
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