“When I ran, I ran for pleasure. I didn’t run for times, to win, to impress: I ran for me. When I ran my bum cheeks rubbed together, so much so that if I was going on a long run I’d have to ‘lube up’. I maintained that I was not a ‘real’ runner – I just liked to run so that I could eat cake.”
Anna was never anything like those ‘real’ runners on telly – all spindly limbs, tiny shorts and split times – but when she read about New Zealand’s 3,000-kilometre-long Te Araroa Trail, she began to wonder… perhaps being a ‘real’ runner was overrated. Maybe she could just run it anyway? Travelling alone through New Zealand’s backcountry for 148 days, she scrambled through forests, along ridge-lines, over mountain passes, along beaches and across swollen rivers. Running up to 52 kilometres in a day, she slept wild most nights, and was taken into the homes and hearts of the kiwi people in between. The Pants of Perspective is a witty, colourful and at times painfully raw account of a journey to the edge of what a woman believes herself to be capable of. It is a coming-of-age story which will lead you on a roller coaster ride through fear, vulnerability, courage and failure. For anyone who has ever dreamt of taking on a great challenge, but felt too afraid to begin – this story is for you.
Back in the summer of 2017 I decided to explore the trails of the world vicariously. Whilst basking in the Florida sunshine I traversed the Appalachian Trail with Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woods, joined Cheryl Strayed on her voyage of self-discovery along the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild, and finally I took to New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail with adventurer and “mischief maker” Anna McNuff in her book The Pants of Perspective.
I first came across Anna McNuff when she was interviewed on the Tough Girl Podcast. I was drawn to her sense of fun and adventure, the way she wanted to speak to school children and inspire them to go after their dreams, so when I saw that she had written a book about her New Zealand adventure, I was quick to grab a copy and devour it straight away.
And I certainly want disappointed. Anna (it somehow feels right to use her first name rather than be all correct and write”McNuff”) is such an engaging writer. I mean, even from the title and cover art we can tell that she is going to have a sense of humour. There are certainly times when the going is tough, but we are rooting for Anna all the more because her warmth and enthusiasm come through on every page, fostering a connection with her. Reading the book almost feels like a catch up with a good friend.
We join Anna as she undertakes a 148 day run from Bluff, at the southernmost tip of New Zealand, to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, 3000km away in the north. Yet this is not really a book about running, per se. For me, it’s more a book about the journey (both literal and metaphorical) that Anna undertakes and the unforgettable “trail family” she creates along the way. Despite her taking on what feels like an overwhelming challenge, Anna is very “real” and somehow makes the whole thing seem so much more accessible. We are shown that even with some oversights in planning, taking on an adventure like this is possible and through the cast of characters she bonds with along the way, we are reminded of the inherent good in people when complete strangers look out for each other and provide support.
Yet Anna also lays bare some of the low moments, the times when it is a struggle to keep putting one foot in front of the other because she’s exhausted, or hurt, or the weather is awful (or all three!). We are inspired by her mental strength and fortitude when fear takes hold, and we celebrate her successes along with her. At times I almost wished I was there, sharing a slice of cake (there’s quite a lot of cake/chocolate consumption) before hitting the trail once more in a pair of ludicrous leggings.
Yes, the leggings (or “pants”, used in the US rather than UK sense). We’re around half way through the book when the significance of the title is revealed to us:
“Setting my empty coffee cup down beside me, I rummaged around in my bag until my fingers found what I was looking for. Pulling out the mess of brightly coloured Lycra material, I laid it flat so I could see the entire pattern. Moments earlier, over another morning’s serving of cold porridge, I had remembered something. I’d thought in spending over five months on the trail that perhaps, just perhaps, I was going to have one or two days when I didn’t want to get out of my tent and run, and instead I might just want to curl up in a ball and cry. For this situation, I had packed myself a secret weapon – a pair of magic Lycra pants.
One leg was adorned with a unicorn, the other with a robot. Both were engaged in a fierce battle and above them was a star-spangled night sky. Naturally, across the sky was a bright rainbow.”
Basically, the “pants” are Anna’s mental safety net. She may not have planned every other detail to perfection, but she had recognised the importance of mental strength in undertaking a challenge like this and had found a way to give herself a boost when the going got tough:
“Everything around me, the facts, so to speak, would indicate that I should be miserable, but it was scientifically impossible to be miserable whilst wearing these pants. They were a sheer act of defiance, flying the flag of ridicule in the face of what should be a serious and grave situation. I laughed, and immediately felt more like me.”
I loved this idea, and as someone with a penchant for more “unusual” leggings, the discovery that I could buy my very own pair of THE pants via Anna’s website was fantastic. Yes, I did buy them (and got a very lovely email from the lady herself as part of the process!). As such, I can confirm that Anna’s right – you really can’t be miserable whilst wearing these beauties!
If you haven’t already read this book then I highly recommend it. Not only is Anna easy to relate to and engage with, but she is also a very good writer. Sometimes books about adventures can have a “detached” feel about them, or they read a bit like a series of notes. But not this one. This one takes you along on the journey (whether you have the pants or not!) and leaves you feeling like you’ve made a new friend. I believe Anna has been writing a new book about one of her other adventures and I, for one, can’t wait to read it.
You can find out more about Anna McNuff here.
You can watch Anna’s TED talk here.