Book Review: Running the Long Path

Reviewed by Laura Clark and originally published in the Winter 2017/18 edition of our Trail Times newsletter.

Running the Long Path: A 350-Mile Journey of Discovery in New York’s Hudson Valley, by Kenneth A. Posner.

“There lies before me a long brown path, leading wherever I choose.” — Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

With the recent publicity concerning Karl Meltzer’s successful attempt to surpass Jennifer Pharr Davis’ supported through-hike record on the Appalachian Trail, FTK (Fastest Known Time) adventures have penetrated couch potato consciousness. But as Kenneth Posner, Shawangunk Ridge Trail and Rock the Ridge race director demonstrates, FTKs do not have to be dramatic, time-consuming events reserved for ultrarunning heroes. In his journey of discovery along the relatively obscure 350-mile Long Path from NYC to Albany, he proves that such goals are well within the reach of average mortals.

While there is the predictable emphasis on planning, pacing, nutrition and the myriad details you would expect from such an account, certain aspects stand out. While countless explorers label their expedition a “voyage of discovery,” Posner’s truly is. He is not navigating a well-trodden Appalachian Trail System, but a hit-or-miss, often mischievous, scantily marked route, whose navigation brooks no daydreaming. Despite the fact he has done his homework, downloaded the requisite maps and consulted with the handful of previous through-hikers, a surprise awaits around almost every bend.

And there were a lot of them. Each chapter, introduced with its own section map accented with start/finish times, represents a day’s travel, and I use that concept loosely as a single day often comes perilously close to the twenty-four hour mark. While Posner encountered few hikers, the trail itself was an odd mix of urban and wild, skirting cornfields, superhighways, cemeteries, abandoned industrial enterprises as well as the notoriously untamed Catskills, home of Manitou’s Revenge and Rip Van Winkle’s twenty-year nap.

Like Posner, I was surprised to learn that I, too, had run sections of the Long Path well before I had even known it existed. I have survived the Escarpment Trail Race and gazed wistfully at Vroman’s Nose near my husband’s home town of Cobleskill, not even realizing there was a trail to the top. Most recently, I ran the Thatcher Park Trail Marathon for perhaps the fourth time and was thrilled to discover actual Long Path markers. Who knew?

I hate to admit it, with the “So many books, so little time” phrase repeating in my brain, but this is a volume that should be read more than once. The first, impatiently, to discover how the drama plays out; and the second thoughtfully, for the sheer lyricism of the prose and the complexity of the cultural, historical and philosophical reflections on the region. Walt Whitman, John Burroughs, General Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, the Hudson River painters, are very much a presence. At first, I was amazed that Posner should, after putting in at least 12+ hour days, have the mind power left to appreciate not only the physical forms the land presents but also contemplate those who had gone before. Then I realized that (DUH!) he did not write the book as he was hiking but enhanced his basic homework with some hefty after-the-fact research.

In a sense, then, Posner has also structured his journey twice: once to experience it and again to take it in more deeply. And this is what we should be doing with our outdoor adventures. The journey does not end at the finish line but continues with lessons learned and appreciation gained. In that way a single experience can continue to grow as you contemplate your accomplishment. And so Walt Whitman’s long brown path continues indefinitely, wherever you happen to take it.

Learn more about the book and where to buy it here.