Scott Jurek set a new record for completing the Appalachian Trail end-to-end, finishing on Mt. Katahdin in Maine in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. That was an impressive accomplishment to say the least, but if you've been following this story at all, you already know that Jurek hasn't truly been able to celebrate his record thanks to legal issues brought on by overzealous rangers in Baxter State Park, the terminus of the northern end of the AT. Those issues were resolved last week, but they continue to cast a shadow over the whole affair.
As the story goes, when Scott arrived at the finish line on the final day of his hike he was not only greeted by a group of friends and supporters, he popped a bottle of champaign to celebrate the completion of the AT and a new record being set. Seems innocent enough right? Well, as it turns out a ranger in Baxter State Park witnessed the celebration and fined Jurek for littering because some of the champaign spilled on the ground. He was also cited for having too large of a hiking group because the 16 people on hand to welcome him exceeded the 12 person limit. It is also illegal to drink in the park too, which was also added to the list of offenses.
Last week, Jurek finally put an end to the legal nonsense by agreeing to pay a $500 fine for drinking – which Outside points out is $300 more than usual – while the other charges were dropped. He and Park Director Jensen Bissell had been waging a war of words on the Internet as well, with Bissell saying Jurek's record-setting run was nothing more than big publicity stunt, while the ultra-runner fired back for being singled out due to his high profile. In the two months since the completion of the AT, the entire thing turned into a nasty affair.
Worse yet, the park officials are now threatening to reroute the AT off of Mt. Katahdin. They say that excessive numbers of people finishing the AT, and celebrating in similar fashion, are threatening the environment there. This has of course angered trail purists who have seen the summit of that mountain as an important point on the Appalachian Trail for decades. To many, changing the route would be unthinkable.
For his part, Jurek is just happy to finally be putting all of the controversy behind him. In an interview with Outside he discussed the impact that the situation has had on his life, as he received a lot of negative press and feedback from fans. He also indicated that he is likely done with competing in 100-mile races – something that was hinted at before the AT attempt – but that he hasn't finished doing what he calls "adventure runs." Scott says that while he won't do another run as long as the Appalachian Trail, he will be looking for other long-distance running challenges.
Personally, I have avoided writing about this topic because I thought it was all big farce. Sure, by the letter of the law, Scott and his team probably broke a few rules when celebrating his accomplishment, but typically I'd like to think that most people would have enough common sense to look the other way under these circumstances. It smacks of someone trying to capitalize on this high profile event. While it is true that Jurek and his welcoming committee drank a little champaign, they weren't doing so to get drunk. Citing him for having too large of a group, and for spilling some bubbly on the ground is just down right idiotic. I'm glad those legal issues are done, and hopefully cooler heads will prevail, allowing the AT to continue on its normal route. The entire thing has just been silly.