Thirst by Heather “Anish” Anderson is a wonderfully written memoir, rich in autobiographical detail, about her record-setting fastest known thru-hike (FKT) of the Pacific Crest Trail. The audible version (6 hrs) is also very well narrated and a real treat to listen to, even if you’re not a thru-hiker or thru-hiker aspirant.
Anish is Heather’s trail name, taken after her Native American grandmother. It’s also her alter ego, embodying her resolve, grit, and obsession with setting a PCT FKT. I won’t beat around the bush. There are two sides to this book, one which catalogs a hiker’s unquenchable desire or thirst to immerse herself in a long-distance wilderness hike, with all of its healing benefits. It’s also a tale of how far one woman was willing to push her physical limits to break a speed record in order to become famous. The interplay of these two themes makes this book much more than just another thru-hiker travelogue, one that will keep you thinking about this book well after you finish it.
Hiking forty to fifty or more miles per day for more than two months really did a number of Anish’s body. She was constantly dehydrated and “peeing orange”, hence the double meaning of the title “Thirst.” She was sleep-deprived, waking early and walking late into the night every day. She was starving, barely eating enough to keep going. Her shoulders and back were painfully chafed and bruised by her backpack. She worried that her blisters were turning gangrenous, and the list of physical maladies goes on. But she continued cranking out the miles, hiking through lightning storms, over tall mountains, through high mountain passes, encountering mountain lions, bears and snakes along the way.
It’s a testament to her determination that she was able to endure the physical suffering she experienced and still go on to set a new record. Most hikers and backpackers go through the same process but less extreme, harnessing their ambition to take on difficult hikes and then basking in the self-satisfaction that comes with exceeding one’s assumed physical and mental limitations. It’s one of the key reasons why hikers and backpackers keep coming back for more.
But is Anish’s incredible achievement or something like it a goal you’d aspire to undertake? That’s a question worth pondering. How far are you willing to push the limits to achieve your dream, on the trail or elsewhere in life? For Anish, her Thirst was able to overcome every physical or psychological obstacle in her path and there’s a lesson in that for us all.
Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anish Anderson is published by Mountaineer Books, (2019), ISBN-13:978-1680512366. Available in paperback, for kindle, and audible.com.
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Ok, so I might be a negative Nelly for saying this, but I was really annoyed at Anish most of the time while reading this book. The number of times she was like, “I carried too little water but I swear I won’t do that again!” and then did it again and again was SO frustrating. And when she was hiking uphill during thunderstorms, away from the shelter of the trees and into dangerous lightning-strike territory, saying she didn’t have a choice…obviously I knew from the fact that she wrote the book that she’d survived, but I was angry about it. She surely did have a choice, and of course she chose to continue attempting her FKT instead of being safe.
I am still impressed with her accomplishment, though. I’m always impressed with the amount of misery and danger people put themselves through in order to achieve something. If not for those people, the risk-takers, there would be many fewer discoveries. So it’s a good thing that most people aren’t like me, willing to sit home while thunderstorms hit the mountains.
I have conflicted feeling about her hike as well. I think that is one the values of this book.