Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running, by Lisa Jhung. Illustrated by Charlie Layton. Velo Press, 2015. Reviewed by trail runner Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.
Buying into the “a picture is worth a thousand words” concept, author Lisa Jhung, veteran writer, editor, and trail runner, has created a practical, humorous visual journal of everything trail running, perfect for the beginner who has many urgent questions but has yet to discover a group of mates. For old hands, practical advice on managing scary animal encounters, first aid scenarios, and running successfully with dogs, horses and burros rounds out the picture.
Jhung roughly sketched out her ideas for Charlie Layton’s quirky pen-and-ink illustrations, lending a seamless harmony to both components, something that is not often seen in these days when authors and illustrators typically live at opposite ends of the globe. While this book is fun to read straight thru, as I, being a rigid Type-A personality felt compelled to do, it is also designed as a handy reference tool. Gone are the dense paragraphs relentlessly marching from page to page. Instead, each new bit of information is headlined by green ink and given enough space to stand out on its own, making it easier to locate and remember. A plethora of charts partition facts into manageable bites. Asides, cornered in green-boxed Tips, The Dirt, and Says Who quotes, combine to make the text memorable. The playful approach to all things trail is highlighted by a trip back to childhood, where an Energy Land game (think Candy Land) illustrates nutritional choices and a Chutes and Ladders version of trail running etiquette drives home the polite experience.
Although I have run Northeastern (United States) trails for many years, I still feel rather intimidated when I picture the iconic Western States landscape. Are those the truly real trails where magnificent views are ever-present and up is a fact of life? But Jhung offers refreshing reassurance for the aspiring trail runner when she defines a trail as “an unpaved path that goes somewhere.” It could be a mountain, but it also could be a dirt road, a grassy field or a chipped wood park path. The choice is up to you and your particular skill level and goals. With this one fell swoop she has x-ed out the asphalt paths that our local parks insist on calling trails. Good for her!
If you live in a colder climate, at some point dirt paths will transform into snowshoe experiences. As a snowshoe race director, I often field questions from newbies about what to wear. This information is not always easy to come by, so I was immensely gratified to see that Jhung took a stab at the basics. As well she should in a trail running book, because at some point it makes a lot more sense and a lot more fun to avoid the postholing and trade your sneakers for snowshoes.
I have experienced my share of animal encounters and have always had difficulty trying to remember if the animal I am facing is one that should be stared down, run away from, or witness to my best imitation of a dead, uninteresting human. Here in the Adirondacks, our Black Bears are more like the fuzzy Teddy Bear variety and I am always tempted to try and make friends. Nothing like the huge Cave Bear descendants out West. Still, Jhung’s Do’s and Do Not’s pose a reminder that we are guests in their territory and need to demonstrate proper respect. I was impressed that Jhung seemed to consider every species, including cows. Now you might think Bossy is harmless, but here we have the Finger Lakes 50s Ultras which require several excursions through cow fields. Cows are big and an entire herd is even more so. Now I know what to do!
And that is pretty much the spirit of this entire handbook. At first glance it appears simplified, but packs an amazing amount of information of the “everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask” variety, including how to successfully pee in the woods. Do not be afraid to dog-ear!