Saturday, August 10, 2013

A record breaking week on the AT and the PCT

At 7:20 PM EDT this past Wednesday, Matt Kirk reached the summit of Springer Mountain, better known as the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. With his final step on that trail, he became the record holder for the fastest self-supported hike on the Appalachian Trail. During his 58.4 day hike, he dealt with the wetter than normal summer along the East Coast, a twisted knee, and a pace that averaged over 37 miles per day. Even if the trail was graded like it is along the B&O Towpath for its entire distance, that would be a tough undertaking. And as anyone who has walked more than a few yards on the AT knows, it is rarely flat.

Meanwhile, seven hours later and about 2,500 miles to the northwest, Heather "Anish" Anderson reached the Canadian border on the Pacific Crest Trail. Once she reached the marker at the border, she became the fastest self-supported hiker to hike that trail. She took three more days than Matt to walk a trail that is several hundred miles longer. However, the PCT is better graded than most parts of the AT, and thus can support faster mileage, especially during the first 700 miles through the deserts of Southern California. Outside of some harrowing travails through the High Sierras, and some other places in the Cascades, there really isn't anywhere along the PCT like the White Mountains or the extended treacherous and slippery climbs through Maine. On the other hand, there are many more places to resupply on the Appalachian Trail, and during the typical hiking season has nothing like traveling across snow chutes along the John Muir trail, and even the driest areas of the AT don't match the Mojave for its lack of water.

It would have been a remarkable week for long distance hiking records with those two, but the next day, Josh Garret finished his hike on the PCT, besting Anderson's hike. His hike is the now the fastest hike ever on the PCT, but because he did use a support staff for resupplying his food, his would be categorized as "supported". Either way, both records being set in one season is impressive, even more so because they were set less than 24 hours apart.

As for me, I have no intention of becoming a record chaser. I'm pretty certain I find enough enjoyment and challenge in just getting out there, and once I get into long distance hiking, I figure I will be more of the "stop and smell the roses" kind of hiker. Especially if those roses are on uphills.

Nevertheless, even a slower hiker like me can learn something from these record breaking hikes. Because they didn't hitchhike or hire a shuttle into town for resupplies, they had to be careful about where they either bought supplies or mailed them. Pick a town too far from the trail, and you waste time and energy walking miles that don't count as far as progress is concerned. Space your resupplies out too far apart, and you add unnecessary weight, which will slow you down. Being that I'm not the kind of person who enjoys the idea of hitchhiking, using Matt's resupply strategy is something even I can consider.

The entities that manage our nation's great trails, whether they are government agencies like the NPS or the USFS, or the NFP organizations that work in concert with them, do not maintain fastest records, or typically condone attempts at breaking those records. This is understandable, as these records should not be attempted by people who don't know what they are doing. Even just going for a walk along the AT at your own pace can be incredibly dangerous, no matter your experience.

That being said, what Matt, Heather, and Josh accomplished is something worth celebrating. They used smart planning, adaptability, and just general toughness to persevere, achieving that would be a life accomplishment at half the speed they walked. Far too often it is a struggle just to persevere over minute bullcrap, such as shutting that alarm off and getting up to do a 30 minute walk before work, or passing on that third slice of pizza*. With their records, this trio showed that giving in to those impulses isn't necessarily inevitable. Even if they took it to an extreme.

*Looking at this picture of Matt after his finish, he could probably not worry about passing on that third pizza, at least for a while. Also, the woman with the baby in the fourth picture is Jennifer Pharr Davis, who also is the writer of the post at that link. She is the current record-holder for fastest supported (and fastest overall) hike on the Appalachian Trail.

No comments :

Post a Comment