From Marathon Running to Bird-Watching: Chasing a Challenge Around the Globe

From Marathon Running to Bird-Watching: Chasing a Challenge Around the Globe


How compulsive are you, honestly? Maybe you love knitting–but do you love it so much you’d do it for an entire year, or travel the globe to meet other über-knitters? If you’ve got that kind of passion or stamina (not to mention the cash or time), we tip our hats to you. In fact, if you do set about taking such a journey, there may be a book in it: From bird-watching and hiking to eating strange foods and, of all things, dishwashing, we’ve rounded up memoirs by people who challenged themselves to do one cool/weird/impressive thing over and over again, regardless of where it took them.

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    1. Ultramarathon Man

    Think your dogs are tired? Get off the couch, lazybones: In 2006, Dean Karnazes ran an incredible 50 marathons across all 50 states in—you guessed it—50 days to raise awareness about America’s childhood obesity epidemic. He recalls the life-changing experience in his memoir, “Ultramarathon Man.”

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    2. Bowling Across America

    After his father’s unexpected death, Mike Walsh set out to realize his dad’s dream of playing his favorite sport in all 50 states. For his father it was handball, but Walsh tackled that other beloved American hobby, bowling, traveling cross-country and meeting a whole lot of characters along the way. He remembers the journey in “Bowling Across America.”

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    3. Dishwasher

    Pray tell: What would possess a sane person to wash dishes in all 50 states? We don’t get it, but that’s just what “Dishwasher” author Pete Jordan did for a decade starting in the ’90s, when he moved from state to state to take wash-up jobs in restaurants, hospitals, cafeterias, ski resorts and other unexpected places.

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    4. Touch the Top of the World

    Competitive athletes thrive on the rush of pushing themselves to the absolute max–and some will travel anywhere to do it. In the world of climbing, ascending the Seven Summits—the highest peaks on each of the seven continents—is an accomplishment parallel to none: Only about seven or eight-dozen mountaineers in history have actually managed it. In “Touch the Top of the World,” blind climber Erik Weihenmayer opens up about his inspiring quest to conquer the challenge.

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    5. A Supremely Bad Idea

    A few years ago, former Bookish deputy editor Luke Dempsey embarked on an epic bird-watching journey across America. Over the course of his travels, he spotted 450 different species—a big deal to birders—and met scads of eccentric fellow bird-watchers along the way. Luke writes of his journey with ample humor. (We swear he didn’t put us up to this.) His memoir, “A Supremely Bad Idea” is as hilarious and charming as he is.

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    6. Into Thick Air

    Jim Malusa flipped the script on the Seven Summits challenge by cycling to the lowest points on six of the seven continents. From Patagonia to Djibouti, he pedals his way through villages and into the hearts of locals who feed, house and befriend him. Bike enthusiasts will appreciate Malusa’s reflections on his travels in his book, “Into Thick Air.”

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    7. The Year of Eating Dangerously

    There’s a reason television shows like “Man v. Food” and “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” have developed such cult followings: People love a good food dare. For a year, journalist Tom Parker Bowles—stepson to Prince Charles—put his palate to the test around the world, sampling icky things like spleen, ant eggs and more. He recalls every stomach-churning bite in “The Year of Eating Dangerously.”


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