Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ghost Trails - An Insider's Thoughts

I suspect that just about everyone who reads this blog is also a reader of my girlfriend Jill's blog. Her blog has everything that mine doesn't: Great photos, consistent posts (at least 4 a week most weeks), and great writing. For these reasons she gets about 5 times as many hits on her blog as I do here on mine. Basically she's a blog celebrity. More than once I've had people in the lower 48 respond to me when I tell them that I'm from Alaska with, "do you know that girl Jill who rides her bike all the time?"

So by now I would also suspect that many of you have read Ghost Trails, the book that Jill self published last fall.

Ghost Trails is the story of Jill's 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational race in which she competed in the bike division. More importantly though it's a story of personal development. A look at how someone, who just 6 years ago didn't even know how to ride a bike, become someone in the midst of competing in one of the toughest bike races in the world.

My first response when I read the book was, "gee, it kind of makes me look like an ass-hole." And I'm certain to many random readers who don't know Jill or I personally (see comments on this book review) this is a common assumption when reading the book. Jill jumps back and forth between chapters about the race last year to chapters about events in her life as a young adult that molded her into the person who was then out in the Alaska Interior in the dead of winter trying to "survive" her way along the Iditarod trail to Mcgrath. Almost all of the non race chapters included stories about various camping, biking, hiking, rafting, and road trips Jill and I had been on together, often with several other friends, between 2000 and 2005. Very quickly the reader can notice a trend in these chapters of Jill always being left behind by me to fend for herself in some dangerous situation. This is what bothered me when I first read the book. I thought, "gosh, was I really always leaving her behind?" Of course I wasn't or we would not still be together more than 8 years later. After thinking about it more it made perfect sense to me from the standpoint of Jill writing a story about her development as an individual and not our development as a couple. When she was out in the middle of The Iditarod Trail last winter it wasn't the 3,000 miles that we rode bikes across the country in 2003 in which we were no more than a few bike lengths apart that helped her become a strong enough individual to tackle that race, but rather the 100 or 200 miles on that trip in which we were separated and dealing with our own individual struggles. The 4 days of flat water leading up to Cataract Canyon in which I taught her everything I knew (although she probably only paid attention to half of it) about river safety so that she would be prepared when we got to the rapids probably didn't help her become who she is today as much as the first two seconds did after I flipped the boat I was rowing about 20 minutes into the whitewater. You get the point. This story is about her and not about us. It just so happens that I tend to have been the one there through most of these "personal development adventures" that she points to in this book. I'd be the first to admit that Jill and I have been on dozens of potentially dangerous trips together that were my idea, but, as the book makes quite clear, without these experiences she would not have been out there on the Iditarod Trail last winter tackling something with more potential for danger than anything her or I had ever done.

If you haven't yet read the book and you're interested in doing so you can get it in three places:

-directly from her
-directly from the printing company
-on amazon.com

17 comments:

Evan said...

I read some of Jills book while at Daves house the other day. I hope to finish it soon.

Also I do not think Jill would have stuck around for 8 years if you werent good to her. She has to much self esteem for that.

And her blog is better than yours. You need more pictures and maybe have her write it for you. (insert smiley face here)

MOM said...

Both of you are good for each other and both of your blogs are good - different yes, but still both very good.

You are both accomplished risk takers and you have both proven that you sure do know a lot about running and cycling.

Another similarity - you have both proven that you will never stop until you accomplish what you have set your mind to do. With this in mind, best of luck to both of you on your upcoming race and we will be following both of you all the way and wish you both a successful finish to the race.

Just remember to push the little button on SPOT - it may be only a little button to you but to your family and friends that are watching - it is the whole world - the difference between sleeping and not sleeping. Good luck to both of you and remember that we LOVE both of you and wish you the best race possible.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you don't need pictures or fancy-nancy writing skills...you paint pictures of struggle, self-doubt, redemption, and the trials of the trails. Just remember, you just have to be able to outrun Jill if a bear comes along...

Anonymous said...

The book made you look like the person that pushes Jill to find what she is made of... that's not being a jackass, that's being a good friend.

footfeathers said...

I think anyone who feels you mistreat Jill is saying that Jill is a weak person, which she obviously is not. I'm sure you challenge one another just like all healthy couples.

I'm planning on getting a copy of the book at some point. I like her writing, though it's a little flowery for me at times.

Your blog holds its own because it's backed by some extraordinary achievements. You open up with a lot more personal depth than most athletes' blogs and that is what makes it interesting by giving it that extra angle by which to view your adventures.

Stay on it.
Tim

js said...

you're able to write a longer paragraph then jill. sometimes you can fit all your thoughts into just one.

Geoff said...

Evan, i thought about trying to get jill to ghost write (no pun intended) my blog posts for me but then i remembered that the last thing she needs is to spend any more time on the internet than she already does.

David Johnston said...

I'm just waiting for the sequel!

Jill said...

It's true there's a trend to the extra chapters in the book, and that's a development toward self-sufficiency. Last summer, I wrote quite a few essays about my past adventures, both with Geoff and without, that didn't make it into the book. A lot of them were stories that I thought were more entertaining or exciting than the chapters I included. However, I only included chapters that fit best with my overall point - that no inherent "hardcore" nature or athletic talent led me to do this race. What helped me achieve it was all the past times I looked my fears right in the face and learned to overcome them.

And the fact that I've spent eight years embarking on most my adventures with Geoff means he was in the periphery on most of these occasions. But I never meant to imply that he was responsible for my fears and my weaknesses. OK, he was responsible for talking me into the Caratract trip when I was really reluctant about whitewater and then flipping the raft anyway. :-)

But everything else was all me - my fears, my mistakes, my rewards when I found I could overcome and even extract meaning and joy from them. If Geoff had held my hand through everything, I'd still be terrified of being alone and having to rely on myself. But it was my growth toward self-reliance that allowed me to ride my bike to McGrath. No amount of athletism or talent (neither of which I have, unlike Geoff) could have done it alone. I really wanted people to read the book and think, "Wow, if she can do that, maybe I can do (insert impossible-seeming task here.)"

That's all. And Geoff's a good writer. He just needs to spend more time on the Internet. :-)

mountain.mama said...

I read Ghost Trails and loved it. Never once did I think "Geoff is an asshole." I'm the one who is always behind on outdoor adventures because I'm slower and uncoordinated and that's ok. I enjoyed Jill's addition of stories about growing towards self-sufficiency and competency. I see myself in those stories of being frustrated, exhausted and crying. I know what's it's like to struggle. I won't ever struggle on a mountain bike in Alaska, though. We all have our limits but I sure like reading about people who can push their limits as far as the two of you do. Inspiring and fascinating.

You might want to check out Explorers of the Infinite by Maria Coffee. She writes about the lives of extreme athletes in an effort to understand the motivation and desires to risk so much and push so hard.

Anonymous said...

good post and I echo what Sharon says about SPOT... not only nice to follow you on the journey but Ashley is actually incorporating you and Jill and the race into her 2nd grade class she's teaching. They'll be tracking you along the way and probably writing you both letters eventually.

man... if I and other 'internet watchers' can't wait for this race I can't imagine how you and Jill feel!!

~Andrew

Debbie said...

When I read the book, I didn't think you came off badly. In fact, I remember thinking that Jill does a good job of writing about her growth along the trail while keeping enough of her personal life to herself. This is a good thing; too many people tell too much. I think this shows that she respects you.

Hey, I've flipped a raft in the Big Drops; it happens. I still love that canyon.

michelle said...

I thought the book was amazing. And I never thought it made you sound like an ass hole. Maybe it's because you're my brother, but I think it was more the fact that I could relate in a way to your relationship.
Phil and I are like that in the respect that We support each other's endeavors without coddling or holding the other back. Our relationship has allowed me to grow so much as an individual and actually to become much more self-confident and HAPPY with myself.
And in the course of our years together, he has been the farthest thing from an ass hole anyone can be.
Jill couldn't possibly have done the things she has or be the self-confident, accomplished person she is if she had spent the last 8 years with an ass hole.
Good luck on your journeys and much love to you both.

Lisa said...

My favorite thing about Jill's book was that she was so honest. She was able to share her thoughts and feelings about things that she was truely terrified of. And the fact that you were there with her is significant. Maybe you didn't hold her hand and help every single step of the way, but you were supporting her still. And she needed to get through those situations by finding her own inner strength. That is why she was able to complete the race to McGrath even when she found out you were no longer on the trail.

When I read the book, I didn't think you were an ass. I felt like I had a deeper understanding of your relationship. Every peson has struggles and she just let us in to a few of hers. And you happened to be apart of them because of your relationship.

Anonymous said...

You left Jill behind because you have an overly protective mother you're subconciously trying to escape from.

Have a nice day !.

Anonymous said...

You guys make a great pair, thanks for being so open with your adventures. Best of luck in the big frozen race and everything else you face, together.

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