Inspirational Adventure Books for Your 2021 Reading List

I joke that I’m like a dog, a golden retriever maybe, or another human loving dog who wants unconditional love and unlimited head pats. Running is my ability to give myself those head pats; that continual feedback loop of reassurance that I can, in fact, do hard things. Running is a fun way to mimic life’s challenges in an environment that is uncontrollably controlled, where you can be brave and accept fear to move into a state of flow where recklessness and impulsiveness are encouraged, yet where the consequences of failure are really just a big sufferfest or a DNF in a race or tapping out of a training run early. So when that ability to give myself assurance of my ability to face life’s challenges is taken away, I feel utterly lost. 

I’ve been injured for months with an ankle injury. Being injured has been incredibly challenging, but I have realized that reading about some of the amazing things that badass women have done in the outdoors and the impossible challenges that they have overcome, somehow allows a tiny voice in my mind to tell me that maybe, I can do badass things too.  

Here are some of the inspirational books I have read: 

All That Glitters: A Climber’s Journey Through Addiction and Depression by Margo Talbot 

This book very quickly moved from the ‘to-read’ list to the ‘already read’ list (in less than 10 hours); it was so honesty written and heart wrenching and relatable and inspiring in one quick-to-devour read. Margo is a Canadian ice climber who spent many years climbing in the Rockies in Jasper and Canmore. Her memoir is an articulate and relatable account of one woman’s learned ability to navigate childhood trauma through the power of engagement in the mountains, shining a perspective on mental illness that puts agency and power in the hands of the individual. I found her TedXCanmore talk particularly moving in providing a personal and social context to her memoir.  

High Infatuation and Learning to Fly: An Uncommon Memoir of Human Flight, Unexpected Love, and One Amazing Dog by Steph Davis  

Steph’s writing is so genuine and full of humility, describing free solos, first ascents, and B.A.S.E. jumps in a way that highlights personal growth and intrinsic learning that I almost forget how incredible these feats are. High Infatuation shares Steph’s journey from her first experience rock climbing and her resulting infatuation with the sport that led her to become a world-renowned climber and sponsored athlete. Learning to Fly digs deeper into her relationship with climbing when faced with increased adversity, sharing opportunities to develop endurance and resilience through picking up a new sport of skydiving and B.A.S.E. jumping. Her TedXBoulder talk on choosing to fly continues this discussion of what resilience really means after incredible personal loss and navigating extreme grief. Steph also shares many delicious (and simple) recipes on her blog.  

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and Tiny Beautiful Things, Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed 

Cheryl Strayed’s writing is something that I can come back to time and time again, and I feel like there is always another layer that I can relate to. That I can understand more deeply in a way that feels like the words are written to exactly describe my emotions but really highlight the commonality of so many challenging and hard and impossible moments that so many of us experience. Wild relates directly to the experience of healing through spending time outside; while I have never done any long-distance hiking, spending time on trails is something I can closely relate to. Writing from a place of unconditional positive regard, Tiny Beautiful Things are excerpts from an advice column written by the fictitious Sugar, eventually revealed as Strayed.  

Tracks: A Women’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson

This book simultaneously questions the dominant discourse of Australia’s complex relationship with Aboriginal people and the growing influence of consumer culture while sharing an incredibly intimate and personal experience of a young woman working through childhood trauma, family disfunction, and the resulting grief and loss. I found Robyn’s journey particularly relatable as I know I have similarly been attempting to navigate my place in a complex, oppressive world while working through my own injuries and traumas and experiences. 

These are some books on my to-read list:  

A Beautiful Work In Progress by Mirna Valerio

I’ve followed Mirna Valerio (@mirnavator) on social media for a while, and have constantly been humbled by her unfaltering commitment to continuing on in the face of injury and adversary in a way that redefines what being an ultrarunner (and multi-sport athlete) is beyond stereotypes of size, gender, and race. I look forward to learning more about her experiences and perspectives in a more in-depth format than social media. 

Reborn on the Run: My Journey from Addictions to Ultramarathons by Catra Corbett 

Other than being excited to read about Truman, Catra’s ultramarathon running dachshund (and an impressive athlete in his own right), I feel intrigued to learn more about such a legend in the ultrarunning community and the challenges she’s overcome through her experiences navigating mental illness, as an addict, and as a person brave enough to recreate a meaningful life from such a painful past.  

Out and Back: A Runner’s Story of Survival and Recovery Against All Odds by Hillary Allen 

This book is scheduled to be released in April 2021, outlining Hillary’s experience falling off a 150 foot cliff in the middle of a skyrunning race in Norway in 2017 and her mental and physical recovery process back to the incredible multi-sport athlete she is today. While her recent accomplishments as a trail runner and endurance gravel bike rider are impressive, her recent blog post on the mental health challenges she has faced since her accident suggests that her book will cover the multifaceted dimensions of what injury means and what recovery from trauma looks like. 

Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure by Maria Coffey

This book takes a different theme than the others listed above, delving into the relationship that people have between risk and reward within the context of mountaineering, and how the lives of so many are impacted in the different ways loss and grief are played out as a result of this relationship. As somebody who plays outside, and is still learning more about my own personal relationship with risk and reward in the activities I do in the mountains, this book seems to invite me to reflect on my own decisions in the mountains within the context of a larger outdoor community. 

Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei by Junko Tabei

Junko was the first female to climb Everest. Translated from Japanese, this book explores the history of this first female ascent in a time when mountaineering and alpinism was even more male-dominated.

Aileen McKeown

Aileen McKeown

Aileen is a runner of trails, climber of mountains, swimmer of lakes and oceans, and a huge fan of Lucky Charms and chocolate-covered espresso beans. She hangs out in North Vancouver, BC. You can find her on Instagram @aileeenpatricia

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Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!

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1 thought on “Inspirational Adventure Books for Your 2021 Reading List”

  1. Consider adding “From the Road Race to the Rat Race: Essays from a Black Executive Marathoner” by Anthony Reed to your reading list. He’s completed 131 marathons, is a certified coach, and is the co-founder and executive director of the National Black Marathoners Association (www.BlackMarathoners.org). He’s also one of about fifty people in the world to complete the marathon hat trick, which consists of finishing (1) at least 100 marathons, (2) a marathon in each of the fifty states, and (3) a marathon on each continent. He’s the first Black in the world to complete the seven continents. He also organized the Five Island Challenge – Marathon and Half Marathon (www.FiveIslandChallenge.com).

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