Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review of Unbroken - The Life of Louis Zamperini

I recently panned the movie "Wild" because, well, it is sickening to give exhalation to someone who choose to try and destroy their life and those of others while seemingly showing little to no remorse even after supposedly growing as a person. Using Cheryl Strayed, her book, or her story as inspiration is shown to be a horrible decision made even more clear after taking the time to readabout Louis Zamperini and watching the film 


Summing up Unbroken is a difficult task. For brevity's sake, I will just take from its IMDB page. "After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he's caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp." Let's just say this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the amazing life of Zamperini.

Let me nip the "the book is better than the movie" talk in the bud.  Books and movies are two different mediums. It is rare when a movie can hope to capture what a book does. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and rhinos. So when I speak about the movie I am speaking about the book as well (as I was with Wild) since both are true tales wherein the actual facts can be checked. (And they are: here.)

As with product reviews (like the VARIDesk I reviewed earlier this month), whenever I want to learn a little about a movie I usually go to the most negative reviews I can find. Well, not the most negative reviews.  "This sucks!" doesn't help me much.  Neither does "This rocks!" either.  But I wanted to see what someone could find NOT to like about this story. The criticisms I could find were as confounding to me as the praise for Wild.

Complaining that the "at sea" portion doesn't really instill in the watcher the true sense of dread of being lost in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days seemed ridiculous. Most people freak out when thy get lost at Target. How could they possibly fathom this sort of solitude, despair, and sheer terror? Shark attacks, being strafed by a Japanese warplane, and then finally salvation! Well, not really salvation. When Zamperini was finally rescued it was by the Japanese. Who then imprisoned him. Ugh. (One of the best lines in the movie comes when Zamperini realizes who is rescuing him.)

My website is not one that traditionally reviews movies or books. Recently I was reading an article about Landon Donovan being a bit upset about being pigeonholed as a soccer player. He wanted people to know he was more than that. Well, of course you are, Landon. But the only reason 99.99% of the people who know who you are and care what you say is because you WERE a soccer player. Likewise, most people who know anything about me know I ran 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends. Even if I wished to escape this, it would be futile. Unless I cure autism or something. Even then I can imagine "Marathoner Cures Disease" would be the headline.

My point is I am reviewing Wild and Unbroken because they reach into the realm where my opinion is given credence. The world of running, trail hiking, etc are what bring people to my page. I  have a law degree, interviewed with "government agencies" and have a plethora of life experiences.  Yet my wheelhouse is running and inspiring others. As such, I felt it was OK for me to branch out into a few movie reviews.

Look, inspiration can be gained from anything. I understand that. However, when I spend the majority of my life either trying to inspire or being inspired, I guess I feel that those who truly have an amazing story, like Zamperini (or the 17 women I write about in my newest book, Running with the Girls), should get far more accolades than those who don't, like Cheryl Strayed.

I greatly implore you to learn about Louis Zamperini (even if you just click on his Wikipedia page), who just passed away at age 97 this year. Of course it took 97 years of life to finally take this man down. After you read what he survived, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had lived another 50 years.

He represented the United States in the Olympics as a relative green youngster (youngest American at the games), went through hell and back, then became a missionary to the very country which had imprisoned him. I have no doubt there are some portions of his life which are not perfect but his take is pure inspiration and heart. If I myself can have the same sort of resolve and fortitude that this man had, I will be one good man.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Loop the Lake Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 22nd Edition 
298.5 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Loop the Lake Marathon
Place: Renton, WA
Miles from home: 180 miles
Weather: 40s; cloudy

I have no complaints about this marathon, primarily because it delivered on its promises.  It said it would be a free race, with possibly 5 aid stations, open to all traffic and marked occasionally with flour. Very, very little frills. I have come to the conclusion over the past few years of running many similar races that I like frills. Not many of them, but like seven. Seven or eight frills.

The explosion of marathons in this country and the number of runners completing them has turned many to calling basically anything they can into a "marathon."  Pursuits of Guinness World Records and other stat-worthy accolades have created a backlash against races which actually perform, well, like a race. It is absolutely fantastic that we have as many people running as much as we can.  But many have lost the idea of what a "race" is.  A run is fantastic.  A race is something entirely different.

I wanted to close out one of my worst running years in many years with one last long-distance run.  I can, at times, lack desire to go on long training runs but I rarely tire of doing so in a race. When I spent the better portion of 20 miles of this race running virtually alone or actually alone, I came to the realization that I have spent a great deal of my races recently doing just that sort of running. I am alone, out in front or somewhere away from groups of runners.  I may occasionally see an aid station or a random spectator.  But for the most part, these "races" I have been running are in fact the long, solo training runs I think I run poorly.

The race was definitely hillier than I expected, especially for a race which is looping a lake, often on a bike path. Then I remembered how much I dislike racing on bike paths. Twisting and turning, constantly going up and over little hills, they always throw my rhythm off.  I spent the first six miles or so running by myself until a nice fella named Sean caught up to me.  We spent a few miles navigating the city streets and searching for flour.  Fortunately the lead cyclist caught us at one turn we probably would have missed without the assistance.

After a downhill allowed me to pull away from Sean (I told him he would catch me on the upcoming flat portions -which he did) we entered Seward Park.  With a 9 a.m. start time, by this time it was after 10:00 and the park was rather full of walkers. Dodging them, I tried to hop into a portapotty which was occupied. Natch.  I finally found a place to relieve myself and Sean and Matt, a runner who had joined us, pulled in front.  Over the next four miles we more or less ran as a little group, approaching four sets of steps (58 in total) which would take us across the I-90 bridge onto Mercer Island in Lake Washington.

I have not run more than 13.1 miles in three months and as we approached the 14th mile, I was beginning to feel a little weary.  I packed off on these stairs and as we ran the next miles or so out in the wind on the lake, I stayed about 20 yards behind the two guys in front of me. Hitting Mercer Island and going up a long uphill I found I needed to go to the bathroom again.  I quickly did that and now found I could not see the runners in front of me.

Suffice it to say I got lost.  I did not see some of the markings telling me where to go and while I knew the general area in which to run (that is the only thing that allowed me to figure out I needed to backtrack), I did not know at first where to actually go.  By the time I was back on the trail a good five minutes had passed. I can say I spent the remainder of the race ever-vigilant and hopeful this would not happen again.

I would be remiss to not mention the wonderful aid stations staffed completely by people just kind enough to sit outside for us.  The weather called for constant rain throughout the race but nary a drop fell. Weather-wise it was darn-near perfect.  Honestly, I swear half of the myth of rainy Pacific Northwest is perpetuated by those wanting others not to move here.

When I turned south about mile 20 I knew I just had to keep following the bike path and I would be fine.  Of course, the bike path ends and then you have to continue on a series of actual roads and driveways and other things which are easy if you know where you are going. If you are tired and already made one energy-sapping wrong turn, they really needle you. Fortunately my sense of direction more or less kept me heading the right way. (I am fairly certain I took a long-cut through the wrong area at one point.)

Near the finish, I knew I was not going to get anything close to what I had hoped for on the day but was happy to be done.  I ended up where we started at the Balanced Athlete store 3:19:47 after I started, taking 6th place overall. (Seventh if you count the dog which beat me, too.) My 152nd marathon was really no more a marathon than the one I do not count in which I ran around a cruise ship in January but with a course, aid stations and other runners completing it, I guess it meet the base criteria.  I have now completed 100 more marathons in my life than I did in just 2006.  Not too shabby for a guy who assumed one would be more than enough and waited two years betwixt first and second finishes.

With this year in the rear view mirror my goal for 2015 is very simple - to get much faster at every distance from the marathon on down. I will be putting in the effort necessary to do so and hope good luck and fortune shine on my efforts. No illnesses or freak injuries or accidents would be simply stellar. 

But as we all know, racing, like life, rarely goes according to plan.  We just have to run it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Open Letter to Thieves

This is not sports or running related per se. But on the two year anniversary of having my loft burglarized, my car window was smashed.  Undoubtedly unrelated these two actions light the smoldering fire I have within me against those who steal.  As I wish to have my unedited views to be seen by all, I am posting them here.

Dear thieves and vandals,

Your acts are the lowest of the low. You don’t just take “things” but you rob people of their safety. You steal away their peace of mind. By breaking and ransacking that which does not belong to you, you are taking away much more than items.You degrade trust.You remove the desire to help those who are in need. You make reasonable, giving people more cautions and wary.

Even if caught, your punishment never fits the crime. It is infrequent if the things which are stolen can get returned. But even if they are, you have eroded the fabric of a a trusting person’s mind. If this person can be stolen from, for no good reason, by someone who doesn’t know them, what is to stop the next faceless, nameless shape shifter from taking advantage of the smallest opportunity to smash and grab?

You are vile. You are disgusting. Instead of earning what you want you simply take it from someone else who has it. You are lazy. You are shiftless. You lack a moral compass and instead fill the black pit of your soul with the goods and items others have worked hard to acquire.

These words will barely make any of you stop your reckless actions. You are hardly going to be shamed into feeling bad if you already feel it is perfectly within your rights to destroy that which others own. But know this: after having been burglarized and having had my father’s ashes throw away by some drug-addicted piece of cockroach excrement as they searched for meth or money, there is very little I will not do to make sure every single one of you pays. Pays dearly.

Portland is a great city. But it has a thievery problem. It has a vandal problem. It has a vagrant problem. Even living in a nicer section of the town does not make you immune from the clutches of the sickening and nauseating scourge that is those who take that which is not theirs. This city is hardly alone, unfortunately.

However, this is my warning to all of you. You are being watched.

And I can out run you.

SPIbelt Endurance Series Review

As the year comes to a close I realized I have all these product reviews I just have not gotten around to finishing. That is what spending the better part of a year working on your next book does to you. (By the way, you can get your copy of Running with the Girls on Amazon right here. Inspirational women out the wazoo.) So I decided I bets get cracking and get these reviews out!

I have been friends with the company SPIbelt for over six years now. As such, I feel like I review them all the time as I am constantly wearing their belt or talking about it with friends. I just looked back and realized I hadn't reviewed anything new of their's in quite some time. I thought I would remedy that.

First and foremost, the SPIbelt Endurance Series belt has a few features that make it better than the original model, including:

*A wider elastic belt
*A water-resistant lined pocket
*Holsters for energy gels
*Adjustable race bib toggles

Most people who wear the product seem to wear it in the wrong place. Even though it is called a belt, it is not designed to go around the waist. Rather, the SPIbelt goes down under the hips. I mention this because the wider elastic belt of the Endruance Series does a great job of making it easier to keep the belt where it is supposed to be. The skinnier elastic on previous models could have the belt riding up a touch over longer distances. Keeping it in place is paramount to the success of the product since it is designed to be worn for longer periods of time. The last thing you want to be doing is fiddling around with a belt on your long runs. Luckily, that doesn't happen here.

The water-resistant pocket is awesome. Forget about inclement weather. If you sweat like I do then you want a water-resistant life. It just so happened on the runs I was testing this, it was intermittently rainy and hot. So I got both types of water coming at the belt - rain and sweat.  It passed with flying colors. Everything stayed nice and dry (phone, camera and keys.)

I slipped a couple of PowerBar gels into the holsters and they hung in snug enough not to move around or slip when I was running but were loose enough that I could tug the packet out without much effort.Out of curiosity's sake I tried to take one out, not use it and put it back in all on the run.I figured this would require a great deal of fumbling. To my pleasant surprise it wasn't hard at all.  Good for carrying your empties out of a trail without needing to put them in the pouch.

As for the bib toggles, I didn't get to use them as I haven't had a race to wear them in. However, I have used similar products for a triathlon in the past with a SPIbelt and I can attest they work quite well. No reason to believe these are any different.

Overall, unsurprisingly, the SPIbelt I wore was just as stellar as the other belts they have made and I have used in races (including what was a marathon PR at the time in Tucson.) They are sturdy, roomy in capacity, and allow you to carry just the right amount of products for a half marathon, marathon or just a long run where you might not have any access to a PowerGel or two.

One of the best parts about the product is they are made right here in the good ole U.S. of A. Austin,Texas to be exact. I have been to the warehouse and factory. It is pretty impressive and I have no idea how it is done. Luckily, I don't have to make them. I just wear the products, tell you about the good ones, and you benefit. 

So go get yourself one.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

VARIDESK Single Standing Desk review

Even if you average an hour of exercise a day, which is roughly what I get, you are spending a lot of time not exercising. If you work at a desk or are a writer like myself, you spend a lot of that time sitting down.  With so many reports calling sitting the new smoking, that’s a bad thing.

When I first moved to Portland, I was selling a few of my items I didn’t need anymore. One was a large dresser.  While I was waiting for the purchaser to come and get it (it took a few days) I had placed my laptop on the top of the dresser.  I would stand there and do work while I set up the rest of my loft. I found I actually enjoyed standing while I wrote. The buyer came and took the dresser away.  I tried to recreate it with a homemade version.  That didn’t work too well.  Then I tried a semi-desk but it was neither tall enough nor sturdy enough. To some extent I gave up. I bought a desk, and a chair and resigned to just sitting.

Quite some time ago, I heard of the product Varidesk. Then I stayed with a friend who had one and I used it for a few hours. I had to get my own.  Which I did. I am now the proud owner of the Varidesk Single (pictured to the right). After using it for a few weeks, I wanted to give you my thoughts on how it worked for me.

Whenever I go to write a review of something I usually go online to see what other people have said. More specifically, I look at the most negative comments. I want to see what potentially could be the worst aspects of a product. I then compare them to my own experience and make a combination of what I like and what I may not like down the road. Here is what I came up with.

First and foremost, there is no assembly required with the Single (I don’t know about the others.). Pulling it out of the box, setting it on my existing desk and beginning to use it in ten seconds was just wonderful.  

I am 6’1’’ and therefore a little on the tall side.  I can see how the VariDesk might be considered a little too short for people my height and above. Then again, we have spent the vast majority of our working life with a monitor at eye level or higher. Who is to say that is the right height?  But yes, looking down at the screen could possibly get a little tiring. So be it. It hasn’t bothered me so far. (And, in hindsight, can you blame the VariDesk if it does not go high enough? Maybe the desk it is sitting on isn’t high enough to begin with.)

When the desk is in the down position, and you are sitting (yes, I occasionally sit down as well when using it), it is a little high. If this bothered me at all, I would simply keep the desk in the upright position and move my laptop under the desk.  It was like it was in its own little cave. Problem solved.

That’s about it when it comes to complaints. I feel there is ample room for a mouse and a mousepad, a few things plugged into the other side, and in this case, all the accoutrements I happened to have on my desk when I was typing this review.  It is easy to move from the up to down position and back again. While it is a tad heavy, it is still sleek and cool looking.  Best of all, I know I am doing something better for my health for the hours I spend writing. It also makes it much easier to dance while I type.  I have moves like Jagger, FYI.

For anyone looking to get one of these, I would highly suggest you also get one of the mats they all sell on the website. It is extremely comfortable on your feet. Chances are you aren’t used to being on your feet and even in comfy shoes, you will need a little cushion.  It is worth the investment.

As a runner who writes, this has been one of the best self-gifts I have ever given to, well, myself. My recommendation would be to not wait as long as I did and get yourself one ASAP.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Review of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail... and a few other thoughts

*First written in Dec 2014 this has been updated with links to other articles and the like which show the problems outlined within are still prevalent to present day* 

The other day I was reading an article in a running magazine. The author of the article was touting a literal cross-country running route in Spain. In the article, the author makes a grand gesture of how they suddenly quit their job, went home that night, and bought a plane ticket so they could leave the next day for Spain. Upon arriving in Spain, they set off, with nary a plan, to run the length of the country. I am exaggerating absolutely none of these details.

Having flown approximately half of a million miles in the past half of a decade, I know a thing or two about air travel. I know price points and availability of last-minute plane tickets. Upon hearing this supposed spur-of-the moment trip, I was already heading into this article a teensy bit more than skeptical about what I was going to read next. I tried not to be wary but it is like when your friends starts telling a b.s. story about something that happened and you were there. Total side-eye.

The author then goes on to speak about how they had little more than a passport, a spare pair of running clothes, and a backpack on their person. The skeleton of an idea was to run this 500 mile route in a few weeks and then head back home. Or something. It really doesn’t matter what the actual stated purpose was supposed to be. Why? Because by this point, the story feels like one of a thousand I have read where the author supposedly spontaneously does [fill in the blank] and we as the reader are expected to buy the story whole hog. 

I despise this type of writing.

With the proliferation of blogs and social media and the like, everyone can try to tell a story. This is wonderful in so many ways. Hidden talent is no longer hidden because it can’t find an agent or an outlet. However, the sheer amount of writing out there is chaff. Just because one can hit keystrokes doesn’t mean they are a good writer. (I constantly feel like a fraud when I write, wondering why anyone could possibly want to read my musings. I expect at any moment to never sell another book and have zero people click any link to any post I write.) As such, given the breadth of writings, this can lead to much exaggeration in order to make one person’s story more grandiose than the others. 

One of the things I have prided myself on when it comes to writing race recaps or tales of my adventures is to undersell what I have done. I go out of my way to keep any exuberances to a minimum. However, if anything unnatural occurs, I do my best to back it up with tangible evidence. If I say that I got cut off at the finish line by a rude competitor rolling over the finishline with three other buddies arm-in-arm, it is rather vindicating when the pictures arrive and shows that is exactly what happened. (See to the right.)

With the article I was reading, it was clear the author’s main point was to wax poetic about this particular trail. But barely buried in the subtext was how wonderfully care-free this author was supposed to be. Sticking it to the man, throwing caution to the wind, and taking on Spain, come what may. Look at me! I am bucking convention! My bank account is obviously limitless and my talent and skills so high I needn’t prepare physically or gather proper gear, route-planning or provisions! Be inspired by my awesomeness! 

Of course, the author didn’t come close to finishing the entire run. Some injury flared up and they called it quits after about eight days of running and halfway across the trail. But that doesn’t matter in today’s hyped world. Talk about what you are going to do and you will get press. Hype up your adventure with a slick website or corporate funding and many will forget that you never actually accomplished what you were getting all the attention for in the first place. (Then ask people to fund your movie about your un-accomplished goal.) Better yet, be vague about what you are trying to do so no one can ever say you failed. Couple your efforts with fund-raising and you become bulletproof. Only the mean-spirited would ever point out you actually accomplished next to nothing and we all just paid for your vacation to Hawaii to run a marathon. By the way, what were you raising awareness for again?

(8.19.18 Update:  Another perfect example of saying you will do something grandiose, completely failing almost out of the block but continuing to be vague about it is fitness model Ashley Horner's recent attempt to do an ironman-distance triathlon every day for 50 days. Out of the block it was clear she wasn't in the shape necessary to complete this. How each "triathlon" would get done was also sketchy with them all being basically elongated workouts each day with untimed but long breaks between each discipline. Then she took an extra day between the first and second triathlons. Then during the 3rd triathlon it appears she was unable to even finish the bike portion let alone the run. Then by day 5 or something she was calling it quits but with hints she may still continue with a triathlon or two a week.

No one questions she is fit or determined. But without a doubt don't you dare remotely point out how unorganized or unprepared she was to do this. Her supporters will fall lockstep in behind her regardless of the fact that she wasn't ready to take this on, this was clear form the beginning, she didn't even make it 10% of the way through before stopping and everything else. Why will they support her?  Because she is doing it ...all together now..."for charity." Yet she soldiers on collecting funds and maybe kinda doing what she was supposed to do. No one really knows.

04.11.22 Update:  Ashley still hasn't done another single Ironman triathlon four YEARS later.)

The biggest problem I have with this type of storytelling is, even if it does inspire, it often will do so in a foolhardy way. The thought process being, if the average joe can just pick up and conquer the world then others feel they can, too. In the abstract, this is a wonderful idea. In reality, it can lead to disaster or massive failure. More often than not, however, tales of adventure have simply paved the way for a defeatist attitude. Many stop before they even start. Having seen this first-hand, let me explain.  

When I speak about running 52 Marathons in 52 weekends, eventually not only just completing the marathons but running them faster than I had ever run a marathon before, I see many who are inspired to take on challenges. Unfortunately, I also see some who grasp the magnitude of the endeavor and it frightens them. They immediately shirk any notion of chasing their dreams. “I could never run 52 Marathons!” They are missing the point of seeing someone do something challenging. 

I therefore specifically point out my undertaking was to challenge myself. It was not to compare myself against others or to try and break a world record. It was to push myself past my previous limitations. I tell them not to think about running marathons but rather to think about something, anything, they currently think they can’t do. Start a business. Run a race. Become a parent. Hopefully what I have done will put them in the right frame of mind to tilt against their own windmill. 

The point is to inspire, lift up and motivate. I make a sincere effort to show how much planning, hard-work, and preparation went into not only the running of the marathons but the living of my life in between the races. That is why I say I despise the type of writing or story-telling which glosses over those important details. The task which gets the headlines is usually the easiest part of the entire excursion. Lost is all the behind-the-scenes stuff many never think about. It is also one major reason the article I mention above bothers me. It is also one of many reasons I am disgusted by the movie/book/person behind Wild

Talk about burying the lede.

If you don’t know, Wild is the movie based off the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed which Oprah recently has lauded. The protagonist author (who has since blocked me on twitter) talks about how after losing her mother and getting divorced she decides to walk 1000-plus miles along Pacific Crest Trail. That’s the headline-grabbing synopsis. (Note: the actual full PCT is ~2500 miles.) What is glossed over is that Strayed appears by every account to be a manipulative user, a sneaky opportunist, and while possibly a good storyteller (definitely not a good writer- egads), one who may be completely full of crap.

Lest you think I am attacking her unwarranted, let’s tackle the “got a divorce” portion of her life. This wasn’t just irreconcilable differences between two people who grew apart (RIP Brangelina). No, Strayed had a series of what we would generously call "affairs." What they really were is nothing less than a prostitute turning tricks to support a raging heroin habit (or sometimes just to have sex.) (And Also it seems quite evident Strayed never was a heroin addict, either.)  An affair would at least add a touch of connection between humans. Or maybe some person stuck in a relationship who because of their past is not strong enough to break free. But with Strayed, this was not the case. Her husband was apparently very loving and doting. She wasn't looking to overcome anything; just wanted to sex up all of America. (If she was smart she would claim to be "bi-polar" like Suzy Favor Hamilton.)  Even after her divorce, while she was hiking the trail, her cuckold husband was still sending her care packages along the way of her supposed hike. But I am getting a tad ahead of myself.

Losing a parent very young is not something I make light of. I am sure this loss could have hurt Strayed deeply. But it rarely seems as if this was the case here. Rather, Strayed gives the impression that she uses her mother’s death as the excuse for her string of bad behavior and hurtful life choices. This passing appears to be nothing but subterfuge for a person who simply wants to use others. Why else would she pack a box of condoms in her backpack for her hike along the trail? If she could barely resist staring at the outline of the penis of the male nurse hovering over her dying mother (her words in her book, not mine), how could this poor girl be expected not to sleep with every trail runner she runs into along the way? And according to Strayed, she was absolutely irresistible to anything she happened along during her journey. This, of course, makes one want to take a look at Strayed to see how ravishing she is. Upon seeing a few pictures, I think most would agree that while she is not homely, she is not exactly the Lady in the Lake either.  But I digress.
Personal tastes aside, Strayed mentions the numerous people she happens across. This seems a little strange. How did Strayed happen across so many people on a trail that is not exactly the National Mall? Tourists are not dotting this trail, mile after mile. The answer lies in Strayed’s own admission that she did what those in the trail running/hiking community call “yellow-blazing.” Basically, she hitch-hiked major portions of the route. So, for starters Strayed didn’t actually hike the whole trail. In fact, she didn’t come close. She received rides from many of her male suitors along the way. She skipped massive portions of the more difficult trail because she was absolutely unprepared to take them on. She spent a great deal of time not on the trail, but down in areas of higher population with apparently lustful men (and women) who could not help but want her so bad. Whatever.

In fact, given her descriptions of the trails, or general lack thereof, it is not a far leap whatsoever to wonder how much of the actual trail Strayed hiked. A person of already questionable scruples, it is not hard to believe most of what she is reporting was exaggerated, if not completely fabricated. The only person’s word we have to go on is Strayed’s. That’s what we call an unreliable witness in the law world. (Note that Strayed often says things like "Why are we so consumed with what's real and what's not in fiction and non-fiction?"  Um, because real is what non-fiction means!)

(A side note here about Strayed’s surname. She claims she changed it to this after her divorce to signify how she was lost. As many have pointed out in a review of her work, so much of this tale would be forgivable if Strayed showed any remorse or growth along the journey. Instead, when she comes out on the other side of the trail, she seems virtually unchanged. Years later, recounting these events, she still says she is fine with her choices because obviously this is just the way she is. So if others are hurt or chewed up and swallowed along the way, so be it. Stay classy, Strayed.)

I could go on further to explain more why Strayed’s recounting of her hike bothers me but let me try to be more succinct. (Kudos to this Army vet thru-hiker who absolutely destroyed the book in a 30 plus part post.  That takes more fortitude than hiking the actual trail!). I just spent the better part of the year interviewing a large number of women for my third book, Running With The Girls. Throughout my writing career, I have made no qualms about the fact that I think writing stories about those who have come back from bad choices in life is the easiest type of writing possible. Anyone can write a heart-wrenching story about the recovering alcoholic or drug user. What is challenging is to show how inspiration and strength come from those who make the right choices and still get handed the business end of life. Showing how people deal with the adversity of circumstances they didn’t choose is real inspiration. This doesn’t mean the others who did choose poorly can’t be applauded for their efforts. But to do so at the sake of not giving accolades to the ones who get back up from every knockdown they did not choose to be in the ring for is folly. And those people are often ignored for the low-hanging fruit of inspiring stories.

So when I see Strayed glorified for her own horrible choices, made again and again, and when she appears by every description to be a rather yucky person, you can see why my stomach turns. Moreover, given the crux of her book is how a completely physically unprepared person takes on this long hike, you can see the correlation I am making to the author of the article about running across Spain. 

Strayed brags about her knowing nothing about gear, nutrition, or even trying out her shoes until the night before her supposed journey begins. It is only through incredible luck, the graciousness of other hikers along the way, and probably more than a little stretching of the truth, that Strayed lived to tell her tale. There is nothing inspiring about the philandering supposed drug user who takes on a hike she probably didn’t actually do. In fact, it is downright dangerous. The vast majority of people who tried to similarly do so would not end up with Oprah’s seal of approval and Reese Witherspoon playing them in a movie. Rather, they would end up dead in an abandoned bus like Christopher McCandless of Into The Wild fame. I have no love-loss for this story either but Chris was probably, at worst, just unprepared for his journey. (As for the author of the Spain article, they at least seemed to be a seasoned runner who had researched this trail extensively.)

There are so many fantastic and true stories to be told in this world. Why the ones which are dubious at best catch the eyes of so many is baffling and sad. I read account after account on running stories where people claim to have not even known that marathon was happening in whatever town and just signed up on a whim. No, you didn’t. You might not have paid for the race until the day before but you knew it existed. You had been training. You were ready to take on that challenge. Your story, without embellishment, is enough to inspire. You needn’t try to convince people to be impressed. Those who want to be impressed will be so. Those on the fence are probably going to see through the chicanery. Those who don’t like you or don’t care are going to continue to not like you or care. You could save their mother from a burning house and they would still call it self-promotion.

So, taper not only your workouts for your race but your need to play up that which is already inspiring and wonderful. In the meantime, stop glorifying those who do not deserve it. There are heroes all around us. People with incredible tales that need no CGI or embellishment. Find those people and share their stories. Stories like those in Wild need no celebration. They are exercises in futile navel-gazing with no payoff whatsoever. If this was a novel we would speak of the main character going nowhere. We went all this way to get nothing. Instead, it is a “true” story of a woman who has changed nothing about herself except her bank account. As I recoiled more and more at the thought of how this book smacks of so much bullcrap ala A Million Little Pieces (another Oprah pick, by the way) I purposefully looked up positive reviews. I wanted to see what someone could possibly find riveting and/or inspiring. Time and again, I sat there reading a review thinking: “Wait. What book are they reviewing?” I finally had to stop reading the positive reviews because how completely off-base they were was driving me mad. 

The fact remains I would be completely unsurprised if 90% of this book was fictional. I would also be completely unsurprised if the 10% which was true were all the unseemly character traits of Strayed. But even if that were the case, it won’t be remembered as such. Instead, it will be remembered, somehow as #1 presently on Excursion Guides on Amazon even though there is hardly ten words in the book anyone wanting to hike the PCT would use as a guide.

Many will say, where's the foul? If people gain inspiration from anywhere, that is a good thing. Perhaps that is true but the foul starts and ends with paying homage to some when others, who richly deserve it, go completely unheralded. Who here has heard of Kathy Faulks, Laurie Dressler, Debbie Higgins or Laura Seltzer? These four women just happened to hike the entire PCT the same year Strayed was out there with her ankles up in the area playing Russian Roulette with her health and occasionally hiking a bit. Where is their book? Why is it nearly impossible to find information about their journey? That is a book which should be available to buy and read.

This all said, I do, however, think Wild would make an excellent addition to your hiking backpack.  You are going to eventually need some kindling to start a fire up there on the trail.