Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Mighty Scott Jurek

If you're reading this blog, chances are you know something about running.  And if you know something about running, chances are you've at least heard of Scott Jurek.

In short, he is one of the most accomplished ultramarathoners of all time, collecting wins at such grueling races as the Western States Endurance Run (seven consecutive times), the Badwater Ultramarathon (twice) and many others.  He has accomplished all of this while maintaining a vegan diet, proving that, contrary to popular opinion, you can be a serious athlete while abstaining from all animal products.

Most recently, he capped off his illustrious career at 41 by setting the record for fastest assisted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  On July 12th, fans following the hashtag #SJAT15 eagerly awaited updates from Mt. Katahdin in Maine where Jurek ultimately finished his quest, 46 days after starting on Springer Mountain over 2,000 miles away in Georgia.  It was an amazing moment for veganism, for ultra running, for AT lovers, and of course for Jurek and his fans.

By all accounts, Jurek seems to be one of the nicest guys on the planet, one who cares passionately and lives humbly despite his success and fame in his growing sport.  One didn't have to be an ardent fan of his to cheer him on earlier this month as he closed in on the AT record, for no one seemed more deserving.

It was surprising, then, when a few days later Baxter State Park officials posted a brief Facebook diatribe entitled "Ultramarathoning in Baxter Park - another perspective."  Park officials took umbrage at Jurek bringing corporate interests to this pristine wilderness, among other gripes, and pointed out that he had also been given three summons on top of Katahdin. One for littering, one for hiking with a group of more than 12, and one for drinking alcohol in public.  The picture they deliberately painted was of a raucous frat party filled with illicit activity that deflowered the picturesque mountain peak and its surroundings.

Jurek, and many fellow hikers who were present on the summit that day, tell a different story. Jurek maintains that his specific group was no more than the allowed 12 hikers.  The alcohol charge stems from the bottle of champagne seen in the above picture.  This was procured by a friend who had checked with a ranger before the hike and was told to just keep it away from families and children.  The littering referred to the champagne that sprayed onto the ground, which may or may not seem like a ridiculous charge depending on how much you subscribe to Leave No Trace ethics.

It seems that Baxter State Park is getting fed up with the uptick in hikers attempting the Appalachian Trail and the subsequent commercialism that has crept in with them.  It also laments its role in hosting the northern terminus of the trail.  Many people, Jurek included, believe they are making an example of him due to his celebrity, piggybacking off the media coverage they oppose just to further their cause.

It's a shame that Jurek's amazing achievement had to be capped by ridiculous "controversy," but ever the class act, I'm sure he will rise above it and easily put it behind him on the way to the next summit of his career.

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