TLW Book Review: Push On: My Walk To Recovery On The Appalachian Trail by Niki Rellon

Written by: Beth Hudson LBK

I had high hopes for this book. Easy read, short (211 pages) and it looked like a good story. True, True, False. This is the first book review I’ve done that recommends you do not read it. There is a caveat to this, however. If you are REALLY into hiking and love the thrill of being an adrenaline junkie, then I retract; go ahead and read it and make your own observations. But for me, it was a no.

Niki Rellon, of German descent, was in the U.S. doing some extreme hiking in the midwest when she fell. The result of that fall was an LBKA. Niki made her living doing extreme sports, getting sponsorships and/or paid for them, and having an absolute blast. Living without many material objects didn’t bother her; they encumbered her. Her parents wanted her to “settle down,” get a 9-5 office job, and be quite vanilla. Her personality forbade all of that.

She learned several skills to get along before her LBKA – she is a classically trained German chef, licensed ski patrol, professional kickboxer; all things she used to get to the next adrenaline- inducing event.

Her LBKA knocked her on her ass, physically, emotionally, and psychologically – we’ve all been there at some point and used whatever strategies that worked for us to get back up. Her answer to this was something big. She had already thru-hiked the Pacific Coast Trail (thru-hiking means you start at one end of a trail and hike to the other without any detours) and was looking for something similar. She decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, or AT, on her own.

Her first decision puzzled me, as she started in Georgia, hiking north to its end at Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Most hikers start in Maine and end in Georgia, mostly because of the weather. It gets cold in the mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. It becomes very fickle and can change in an instant. Because of setbacks dealing with her prosthesis, she pivoted to a “flip-flop” thru-hike, meaning she had to get herself to Mt. Katahdin and hike south to West Virginia, where she was when she realized it wouldn’t be possible to thru-hike. If she had, she would have reached Mt. Katahdin in the winter; the road closes in October.

Being born and bred in New Hampshire myself, and having scaled most of the Presidential Mountain Range, I was a bit pissed off that she did this portion of the trail without a compass, got lost, and subsequently needed a Search and Rescue team to get her out of danger. That is way beyond the “adrenaline junkie” experience; it is stupid and idiotic. Not only did she put her own life at risk, but also those of her rescuers. I found this portion of the book anything but courageous – there is no excuse for poor planning.

Niki also took many chances with her prosthesis and counted on the generosity of many folks in the medical and O&P community to “fix” her when she was hurt or she pushed the limits of her prosthesis way beyond its capabilities. She relied on “trail angels” to house her and feed her when she needed it – there is nothing unusual about that per se, but I feel she took advantage of some people’s good nature, even when she reciprocated their generosity, usually by cooking them a meal of gourmet German cuisine. She used social media to get her story out and get sponsorships for some high tech gear as well as prosthetic fixes – she is a master at that, and many people followed the “bionic” hiker on her journey.

I was hoping this book would be great to show how a goal that is physical in nature can also help with the emotional and psychological issues that go along with any amputee’s journey, but I feel she glossed over this and didn’t get as deep into her feelings or how this event helped her emotional and psychological wellbeing. It just scratched the surface and the connections were weak at best.

This book looked like it might be perfect for teenagers. I was so hoping, but again, I was disappointed. She “hooked up” with a guy on her birthday – what does that have to do with hiking the trail and emotional healing? There were some other parts in the story that were irrelevant; I would be careful about giving it to a teenager. I’m not a prude, but stick to the subject.

Which leads me to her tangents. She very often would write off-topic about an event on her journey that would remind her of another event in her past. Most were unnecessary and bordered on bragging. I, for one, was not impressed by these side stories.

Lastly, I listened to the book, and I was a bit put off. She decided to have a male reader. I never got a sense of her true voice, because it wasn’t even a female voice. Not sure why her editor thought this was a good idea. I think I would have liked it a smiggen better if I had read the actual book and used the voice in my head that I imagined would line up with hers. Weird, just weird.

There was one redeeming quality, but I still don’t recommend you read the book unless you are an absolute die-hard hiker. Throughout the book, she has many quotes, and some of them are fabulous:

“Some people think to be strong is to never feel pain. In reality, the strongest
people are the ones who feel it, understand it, and accept it.” (unknown)

“Don’t worry about the failures, worry about the chances you miss when you
don’t even try.” (Jack Canfield)

“Ships don’t sink because of the water around them, ships sink because of the
water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you
and weigh you down.” (unknown)

“If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, but never the goal.” (unknown)

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
(Albert Einstein)

This is the first time I have not recommended a book; I hope it is the last. It’s just not worth the time. The book jacket and the testimonials on the back draw you in. I always finish a book, even if I don’t like it – I owe the author that respect. The bottom line is that it didn’t live up to its promise of helping other people with their own limb loss/limb difference journey. Niki should stick to her goals within the realm of extreme sports – that is her superpower – writing is not.

And remember: You never know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.