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.
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