Author Josh Mathe exemplifies determination--well, actually acquired determination. Several times in the past, completing the 212-mile John Muir Trail (through the Sierra Nevada wilderness) has eluded him. Finishing the JMT has been beyond his reach due to sketchy planning, relaxed training, insufficient confidence, and a lack of determination. Nine years after his second failed attempt, Mathe is a serious runner and a triathlon competitor (as well as the owner of One10 Performance
and Nutrition). He is more than familiar with pushing personal limits and realizing goals. Also a little wiser, he employs all the planning and training skills available to him, including consulting his experienced triathlete wife, to conquer the trail that has continued to taunt him.
Since Mathe plans to run as much of the trail as he can physically handle, his pack and the supplies he will bring involve crucial research, purchases, and packing. Sleeping bag, pack material, protective gear--all need to be made of the lightest possible fabrics while being tough enough to meet the various conditions Mathe may encounter. Readers will be startled by the slight amount of food included, all chosen for the greatest energy output. Except for coveted Snickers bars:
My mood was also lightened by the knowledge that I would be picking up my resupply at the Muir Trail Ranch in a few hours. That meant people to talk to, a semblance of civilization, and the emotional charge of hitting my halfway point. It also meant a whole bag of Snickers. I am a nutritionist by trade and my diet reflects this. I can enjoy a bowl of Cap'n Crunch as much or more than the next guy, but over the years I have changed my emotional and physical relationship to food so that I crave real things that support my health and my goals. I think sometimes people wonder how and why I deprive myself, but the reality is that I love food and never feel like I'm missing out. A big salad chockfull of veggies, nuts, berries, avocado, and grass-fed steak or wild salmon is infinitely more satisfying to me than lasagna or a hot fudge sundae. With that said, I couldn't wait to tear open that bag of Snickers.
That humanness will sit well with readers debating if the author is too dedicated to relate to. Or if they would be capable of completing such a hike.
The start of each chapter features an inspirational quote; many will be familiar, but most readers will find a few surprises. A favorite was the extremely appropriate "Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees." [Karle Wilson Baker]. Mathe also tosses in some black-and-white photographs of the trail (and a few of his abused feet and emotional face). He mostly covers prep, trail details, changes to the plan, and safety points. The differences in topography, altitude (14,505 feet at the peak of Mount Whitney), and the related challenges are well outlined without becoming repetitive.
The author also occasionally muses about the enormity of the universe. Along the way, readers learn a bit about his family, upbringing, perceived difficulties in measuring up, meeting his wife, their wedding, and how much he misses her. But this book is about completing the challenge of the JMT.
At the optimal time of year, considering weather and obligations, Mathe and his wife start the drive to the dropoff site in Yosemite Valley and quickly hit a roadblock--literally. Perhaps an omen; other complications plague this JMT attempt, the most serious being a bear encounter. Mathe faces each setback with adept reasoning and discovers ways to persevere toward his goal. Throughout his account, he doesn't dwell on the difficulties of hustling past the average hiker enjoying more extensive comforts than he could carry (that they are often eager to share) but is a model of maintaining resolve in the face of his time commitments to self and family. Weather considerations, particularly at serious altitude, provide important information that even experienced hikers, if they are not used to summiting peaks in the western U.S., will learn from.
Mathe reveals that when he sees a sign listing that Mt. Whitney is just 13 miles further
(or as he puts it, "a half-marathon away"), he reinforces that he is a likable, regular guy:
The changes to my body, the appreciation for how far I was going and what an accomplishment that was, and the unshakable conviction that success was inevitable--it was a little more than my capricious ego could handle. I began to feel invincible. As I've noted before, when I start to puff up and stick out my chest something always seems to quickly balance the scales.
By the end of the book, readers will be rooting for Mathe and envisioning themselves completing such a formidable physical and mental test. Most likely with this book as a trusty guide.