Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Quest for Adventure, by David Horton

Last year I wrote about the documentary The Runner, which followed Davd Horton's record-setting run of the Pacific Crest trail (my review here).  A few years before this effort, Horton set out to break the speed record on the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine.  A Quest for Adventure tells the story of his 1991 A.T. run, as well as his 3rd place finish in the 1994 Trans America race.  With daily dispatches from both runs, Horton and his co-author Rebekah Trittipoe give us a detailed account of what it took to finish both of these feats.

After watching The Runner, I was ready to lace up my shoes (or Velco up my VFFs) and follow Horton's footsteps on the trail.  The DVD has the benefit of both the visual element--the scenery was spectacular--and the time element--you get the whole experience in less than 80 minutes.  By contrast, after reading A Quest for Adventure, I was convinced that if I ever run or hike the Appalachian Trail, I will do it nice and slow, preferably in chunks.  And I don't think I ever want to run across the U.S. 

Horton does love to run, that's clear.  Unfortunately, the tone of Quest leans more toward pain, loneliness, and suffering.  Horton's wife was reluctant to send him away for the months the AT run would take.  He frequently speaks of how he missed her, of crying on the trail, of longing for home.  Some days he had someone running with him, but much of his time was spent running alone.  I'm sure the scenery was great, and the trails were great, but that paled in the misery of the long days (30-40 miles or more) day after day after day.  Even his finish in Maine seemed anticlimactic. 
OK, I've run the whole trail and set a new record.  Can I go home now?
At least the AT run was on nice trails and had a view.  The Trans America race was pretty much all pavement, with some nice views, at times, I'm sure (we live in a vast and varied nation with some beautiful sights to see), but running on the road all that time had to be a drag.  Some was on the shoulder of the interstate, some was even on highways with no shoulders, with 18 wheelers blasting by!  Plus, there was very little drama here.  After the first few weeks, the top spots were separated enough that the best the runners could do was to maintain their place.

Please don't hear me saying that I minimize or belittle the accomplishment of running across the U.S. or setting the AT record.  But I'm left asking, Why?  Horton, a Christian who teaches at a Christian university, speaks frequently about glorifying God in his accomplishments and relying on God's strength and provision.  He said he felt the prayers of his many friends and acquaintances who were praying for him, and he sensed God's answers to his prayers along the way.  I was reminded of the time I was deep into a 50 miler and asked God for his help to finish strong.  I clearly heard God laugh at me and say, "I never asked you to sign up for this race!  You're on your own, buddy!"  (OK, so maybe that wasn't really the voice of God. . . .)
During the Trans American run, David paused at the crossroads of the AT and the Trans America course.
Horton did give an idea of what a production each of these runs was.  In both the AT and the Trans Am, he had dozens and dozens of people crewing for him at one time or another.  And he doesn't go into a lot of detail about the expense, but it sounds like it definitely took some careful planning and budgeting to make these happen.  On the AT, he even washed dishes and cleaned to pay for some of his lodging!

The other striking thing is that he grew stronger through each run.  Rather than wearing him down, the daily runs built up his conditioning, so that he was running as strong, if not stronger, near the end as at the beginning!  Clearly, this type of feat is nor for everyone, but it seems to agree with Horton.

A Quest for Adventure may not be the most beautifully written or profound book you've ever read, but as a journal of 2 remarkable runs, and as a resource for those who want to take on such a challenge, it's worth a read.

More info on the book here:

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