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More worthy “Adventurer of the Year”: Jurek or Anish?

Earlier today National Geographic announced its Adventurers of the Year for 2016.

Of most interest to the backpacking community will be the decision to recognize Scott Jurek — who in July set a new supported speed record for the Appalachian Trail, in 46+ days — but not Heather (“Anish”) Anderson, the other obvious choice this year.

If you’re asking, “Who is Heather Anderson?” I’m not surprised: she was not a star in Born to Run, has not written a best-selling book, and does not have big sponsors with big media channels. So the publicity surrounding her own record-setting achievement was relatively mute, despite it being in better style (“self-supported“) and despite lopping 4 days off the previous record, versus the mere 3 hours by which Jurek lowered Jennifer Pharr-Davis’ record.

Heather Anderson, one tough cookie who set a new self-supported FKT on the AT in September. Photo: Arlette Laan

Heather Anderson, one tough cookie who set a new self-supported FKT on the AT in September. Photo: Arlette Laan

If the Adventurer of the Year honor were based on relative Appalachian Trail performances, a compelling case could be made that National Geographic made the wrong decision, or at least that Jurek and Anish should have been co-recognized, instead of one over the other.

Speaking as the 2007 Adventurer of the Year, I greatly admire both efforts, and, personally, I think very highly of both individuals. (If you’ve met either, you’ll agree 100 percent.) But the basis for NG’s decision was not Scott’s FKT alone. This was simply the impetus for recognition in the 2015/2016 class; really, Scott is being honored for his cumulative achievements and contributions to the sport of ultra running, in which he is rightfully considered a legend, as the winner of Western States 100 (seven consecutive years), Hardrock 100, Badwater, and many other races, plus a former record-holder for the US 24-hour record (165.7 miles!).

In NG’s words: “Speed records come and go… Maybe a year from now, maybe in a few decades, someone will displace Jurek’s time, but what will always remain is the indelible mark he has left on the sport of ultrarunning. His 2015 record merely serves as an incredible capstone of a 20-year career.”

In this context, Anish’s resume seems thinner. But given her trendline, I’ll be surprised if she does not join the Adventurer of the Year ranks very soon, and I’m looking forward to hearing about what she has planned next.

Your turn: What do you think of National Geographic’s decision to name Scott Jurek an “Adventurer of the Year” and not Heather Anderson?

24 Responses to More worthy “Adventurer of the Year”: Jurek or Anish?

  1. Shelly November 13, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

    Considering that the award is Adventurer of the Year, Scott’s previous accomplishments, though they be many, shouldn’t be a part of the decision. Given that Anish far out distances Scott, in my book. However her record wasn’t a commercial success so I’m guessing this is something that works against her.

    • Andrew Skurka November 13, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

      If you look at NG’s other picks, and its past picks, there is little evidence to support the theory that “commercial success” is part of NG’s decision criteria. I was the AOY in 2007, and I’d be hard pressed to describe my expedition in such terms. Remember GoLite?

  2. Philip Werner November 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

    We’re all “Adventurers of the Year.”

    • Mike B November 13, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

      Uh, no

  3. LukeD November 13, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    What about Trauma and Pepper…? That may trump both AT records.

    • Andrew Skurka November 13, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

      Interesting thought. I was not involved in the nominations or decisions, so I don’t know how NG considered their trip.

    • Sam H November 13, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

      I’m with LukeD on this one. Of the badass trips I was aware of this year I thought the winter PCT accomplishment was pretty huge. Personally I think what Anish did is more amazing than what Scott accomplished but that being said I don’t think Scott isn’t deserving by any means.

  4. Heather November 13, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    I would certainly say that Pepper and Trauma’s Winter PCT hike was far more of an “adventure” than a speed record of any sort on the AT, but I’m not sure what NatGeo’s parameters are. They’d certainly be my choice if I had a say in these things!

  5. Buzz Burrell November 13, 2015 at 8:38 pm #

    Thanks everyone for the very thoughtful discussion.

    What always comes up for me around this is considering the word “adventure”, which to me means excitement, risk, danger, boldness, and most of all, not knowing what lies ahead. From ultra-running to thru-hiking, rigorous pre-planning is one of the key hallmarks of success, which ironically means there’s not a lot of adventures anymore, as speed and uncertainty are somewhat reciprocal.

    So the most impressive trips to me are those that combine both elements.

    • Andrew Skurka November 13, 2015 at 9:00 pm #

      Great point. It has always felt ironic to spend six months planning an “adventure” of the same duration. Such an expedition is largely a matter of execution in the field. But, of course, if the adventure is ambitious enough, not all aspects of it can be planned.

      • Robert November 14, 2015 at 8:41 am #

        Chouinard’s viewpoint is one that I share:

        “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts”

        -Yvon Chouinard

        I guess there were many things that went wrong on Jurek’s and Anderson’s “adventures” but certainly not everything at some point, at least not in the accounts that I read. But each will have their own standards for what comprises “adventure”. Such is always the problem with awards….

  6. Anthony November 13, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    Hiking speed records are bullshit. That’s not why most people hike. I’m totally uninterested in those accomplishments. I agree that Trauma and Pepper’s winter PCT hike was way more impressive and worthy of special recognition.

    • Andrew Skurka November 13, 2015 at 10:13 pm #

      Most people also don’t drive cars to win NASCAR races or play golf to win the Masters. Does that make auto racing or professional golfing “bullshit.” Of course not. Just because you can’t do it, or don’t want to do it, does not mean that it’s a valid experience.

  7. Matt November 13, 2015 at 9:38 pm #

    I would nominate Brittany Nielson for being the first person to complete the Condor trail. It is a measly 410 miles, but goes through some very rugged territory here in the west. Calling it a trail is sort of a misnomer. Not many people get into the remote parts of Los Padres forest, as the chapparel grows over the trails very fast, and water is difficult to come by, especially after 3 years of drought. Here is an excerpt from the link provided:

    She solo-hiked the trail and finished in 37 days. It was interesting talking with her before and after her hike. I think she gained an appreciation for the Los Padres and a respect for how challenging our forest can get. She tackled long sections with no trail, heavy bushwhacking in deep canyons, temps ranging from freezing to triple figures, 15mile stretches with no water and day after day without seeing a single person (less than 20 people along the entire trail). But, she also hiked under old growth redwoods, covered elevations from over 7,000ft to sea level, saw incredible wildlife, ocean views, deep pools and got to experience the solitude the LP is famous for.

    http://santabarbarahikes.com/community/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=1068&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15&sid=951ff66267f2c3aa4077d78e1a05eeef

  8. zARD November 13, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    I think they have made a mistake and I expect is was for commercial reasons. With the recent purges and ownership change I expect that they will thrash around awhile making this kind of error before becoming on-line only and being reduced to a brand of road maps.

    I like Jurek, he seems like a great guy, but this was an easy call and they blew it.

  9. Ed November 14, 2015 at 10:44 am #

    Eh, I don’t know what criteria they’re even using for such selections. To me, someone like Ueli Steck would be the Adventurer of the Year…

    • Eli November 16, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

      Ueli Steck was an Adventurer of the Year last year.

      There are multiple categories for Adventurers of the Year. This year, the closest to the alpinist category Ueli was in last year is Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson for climbing, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita for mountaineering, and Chris Davenport and Christy and Ted Mahon for ski mountaineering.

  10. Bryan Hansel November 14, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    If I had to pick one or the other for Adventurer of the Year, I’d pick Anderson. I’d do that because her hike fits closer to my personal ideas of what an AT thru should be. But, I don’t find either’s accomplishment Adventurer of the Year worthy. Many have done FKTs on the trail, so the journey itself wasn’t visionary or new. And the impact they had wasn’t a big deal. If Jurek hadn’t gotten busted for drinking, I doubt many people would have cared that much outside the Jurek fan crowd. And who knows about Anderson? Not many. The conditions on the trail weren’t unusual either.

    Jurek has so many social media that I suspect he has a good chance of winning when the voting starts.

  11. S-H-A-L November 16, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    In my opinion, Trauma and Pepper not being mentioned by NatGeo is a disservice to the definition of adventure. They would be my choice hands down. Speaking to the Anish – Jurek debate: for me, Heather’s accomplishment trumps Scott’s.

  12. Cody November 17, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

    The fact that Heather has both the PCT and AT self supported records at the same time is huge.

  13. Renegade Pilgrim November 28, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    Trauma & Pepper fall much more into the Adventurer of the Year category than either Jurek or Anderson. Anderson kept her adventure hush hush because too many creepy dudes kept showing up on the PCT when she was breaking that record. I still would vote for Anderson over Jurek any day of the week regardless of resume.

  14. Devin November 30, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

    National Geographic is no longer qualified to name an Adventurer of the Year, they forfeited that right when they sold to Fox.

  15. John Shannon December 4, 2015 at 4:37 am #

    I’d be surprised if NG ever gave that award to an FKT success. But, I’d choose Anish over Jurek if NG did allow speed hikers in their criteria.

  16. Bob December 11, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    I guess Adventurer of the year helps people gets sponsors, so it’s all good. It does seem like trying to see who can have sex the fastest though! I don’t get it either.

    Also, having competed in many sports myself, I don’t put much stock in “the honor system”. At very professionally organized events like the Boston Marathon people have tried to cheat, and succeeded. Who knows what’s happening off in the wilderness. Another reason to question these records IMO.

    I put more credence in the actual races like the Western States, etc.

    btw running 150 miles in one day is insane!

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