A few people have had questions about my hike and asked that I post the answer on my trailjournal. Here they are!
How fast did you hike the AT?
80 days, 13.5 hours
Did you beat the women’s unsupported speed record?
Who held the record before and when was it set?
I haven’t done a ton of research on this, but Warren Doyle told me that the old record was set in 1992 (or was it 1993?) by Jenny Jardine (wife of Ray Jardine, ultralight backpacking and climbing guru).
Wait–I thought that Jenn Pharr Davis set the record.
Jen Pharr Davis beat the women’s (and men’s) *supported* speed record. She’s amazing and totally my hero.
In that case,what does an unsupported hike mean?
The best way to describe how hiked the trail is that I did it as most other hikers do a thru-hike–how most people’s backpacking trips go. I carried my own pack and food and set up my own shelter each night. I had to find my own way into town for resupply (hitchhiking, yogi-ing, or walking). No RV or car greeted me at road crossings and no one cached food or water for me or bought my gear while I was hiking or bandaged my wounds. Trail magic was all serendipitous and nothing was pre-planned. It was really important to me to only use services that are available to all hikers.
Was your hike solo?
Yes. I neither started nor ended with a partner. Occasionally, I would hike for a few hours, or in lucky instances, a few days, with other thru-hikers. But the overwhelming majority of my hike was spent alone.
Was it scary hiking the trail alone as a woman?
Not in the least. I wish there was some way to let a bunch of women who are prospective thru-hikers know how absolutely un-scary it was. Hitching is definitely a big part of the resupply process for unsupported hikers, and this year, I was a bit weary of hitchhiking alone as a woman, mostly because last time I thru-hiked the AT in 2008, another woman was raped while hitching in Virginia. Before I set off, I planned my resupply points specifically to minimize hitching. One major advantage of thru-hiking the AT in 2011 is that cell phones allow increased communication with hostels who have always offered pick-up services to thru-hikers. As a result, I think it is possible to thru-hike the AT without hitchhiking and without carrying prohibitively large hauls of food. That being said, I hitched several times along the AT and frequently on other trails, and have often found it to be the most educational and rewarding part of a thru-hike—meeting other people whose backgrounds and interests are so different than my own. It gives me a better awareness of the beauty of American regionalism and the social changes from one section of the trail to another give me an appreciation for the vastness of my hike that terrain and ecosystem differences alone could never do.
How heavy was your pack?
My baseweight (everything without food and water) was about 7 pounds. I added a few extra layers towards the beginning of the hike and in Glencliff, NH–and am certainly glad I did in both instances. I went stoveless in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern New England. Usually, I carry 1.5-2 pounds of food per day. I carried 0.5-2 L of water at any given time, depending on the terrain and abundance of water.
Were you a long distance runner or athlete in school?
No. In fact, I failed a test in PE in 5th grade because I couldn’t do a mile in 11 minutes. I was on the Varsity waterpolo and swim teams in high school, but I was so bad at it that when the other players got awards like “MVP” or even “Most Improved,” I got the award for “Best Dressed,” which, given my style, really wasn’t saying much. I like to think of myself as a really endurance athlete whose speed advantage is revealed over not hours, or even days, but months.
Did you run parts of the AT?
Very infrequently. Those who have hiked with me on other trails know the rule of the Snorkel–Snorkels don’t run. OK, that’s a bit in jest, but I usually only ran if I was trying to make it to the Post Office or store before it closed for the day. And only on the downhills. In general, I think running is a great way to mess up your knees and slow down your hike.
But you must have been hiking super fast?
I’m bad at measuring, but I’d guess that I usually hiked 2 miles per hour. Some parts of the trail, I hiked 3-4 miles per hour. Some parts of the trail (like sections in the Whites) were 1 mph. It is a running joke among some hiker friends that Snorkels hike 1.7 miles per hour. There were definitely days when I averaged that.
So, if you don’t run and walk like a normal person, what do you think is the secret to your speed record?
Dedication, perseverance, knowledge, and experience. I don’t think someone could beat the record without having hiked the AT before and without a thru-hike under his/her belt. Meeting so many people new to hiking reminded me that many of the skills I take as givens are actually things I’ve learned over thousands of miles and many trials. I’ll address some of the things I’ve learned below, but good nutrition and knowing my body’s limits is pretty key. Most importantly, I think I got the record because I put in the hours–usually from dawn until dusk and often several hours into the night.
Did you spend much time in town?
I typically would spend around 5 hours in town if I didn’t time my stay in town so that I could spend the night. Five hours was enough for me to regenerate, get my shower, laundry, internet, phone time, and 5,000 calories in. Certainly someone who is trying to beat my record (and I fully hope that some woman will do it soon! It is an embarrassment that the difference between the unsupported women’s speed record and men’s record used to be almost a month!) should spend less time in town.
What was the longest distance that you walked without resupply on this trip?
134 miles between Daleville and Waynesboro.
What was your longest day on the AT?
42 miles from East Branch shelter in Maine to Rainbow Campsite. It was my second to last day of hiking.
Did you take any zeros (days without any miles hiked)?
Yes, I took 3 zeroes and so many neros (days with barely any miles hiked).
How many miles did you average per day?
I averaged 27.25 miles per day. The way the averages work means that for every zero I took (day I hiked 0 miles), that meant on another day, I had to hike 54.5 miles to make up for it. Of course, I never did at 54 mile day, but would spread the “damage” of a zero across several days of 35-milers. Not counting the zero-mile days, I did 28.3 miles per day (but no one counts it that way).
How did you train?
Before starting the AT, I thru-hiked the Benton MacKaye Trail from Standing Bear Hostel southbound ending on Springer Mountain. I took a few zeroes, and then “turned around” back North on the AT. This helped me get back my trail legs and get back into the thru-hiking mentality and groove. I finished the CDT at the end of November 2010. Between November and March, my training schedule was fairly light on the cardio side. I walked maybe 3 miles per day in Vibram barefoot shoes, biked maybe 50 miles per week, and spent maybe an hour per week walking at 3-4.5 miles per hour on a treadmill at 12% incline. I practiced yoga 1.5-3 hours five times a week and rock climbed 3 times per week.
How do you find the time and money to hike every summer?
I try to live fairly inexpensively during the non-hiking season. From the moment that I finish a hike until it becomes hiking season again, I’m constantly aware that I need to keep money for my next hike. Hiking taught me that so many of the material “things” that people spend money on aren’t necessary, fulfilling, or rewarding. During my first few hikes, I was a graduate student during the off-season, which meant I didn’t have a lot of free time to spend on other forms of entertainment and could mooch a lot of free food at school events. It has also left my summers relatively free (technically, my PCT hike was “summer research”…). Since school, I’ve been working seasonally in office positions and found that by living simply, it is more than enough money to hike for the season.
You mentioned good nutrition is key to a successful thru-hike. What food do you eat on trail?
I usually carry lots of bars, oatmeal, and nuts to eat during the day. My favorite snack food of all time is all-natural poptarts. In general, I think all natural foods give more energy and for a speed hike, the extra buck in price is worth it. If I have to carry the weight of the food, I want to make sure every pound gives me as much energy as possible. For some of my less speedy hikes, having healthier food wasn’t as important. If I have a stove, I like to have cous cous, refried beans, rice, or a freeze dried meal at night. Sometimes, I’ll “snorkel” (the term I use for “rehydrating” beans or cous cous) food in a ziplock bag and eat it as snack in the middle of the day. This, in addition to any fresh food I may have packed out, is often the mid-day treat or upper if I’m feeling down. I think it is most important to say that drinking plenty of water is at least 60% of what I mean by “good nutrition.”
How much water do you drink per day?
It depends on the weather, terrain, and availability of water. On my first day, a relatively cool and misty day from Springer Mountain to Neel’s Gap, I drank 7 L of water. I drank more than 12L for many days of my hike. I wouldn’t advise this for everyone—it is just what I have learned works well for my body. I know my body needs a ton of water, but I definitely have heard of hikers who didn’t know their body’s limits, and ended up getting sick from over-hydration (although dehydration is a much more common problem).
How often do you eat?
The best backpacking advice I’ve ever gotten was from Frogs: eat on a schedule–I eat every 2.5-3 hours about 3 bars or bar equivalent foods per “snack.” This fills my stomach enough so that I’m not constantly thinking about food and it takes long enough for my stomach to digest the food that I have enough energy to walk until it is next snack time. I’ve heard it’s a decent amount for stretching out the stomach to make gorging in town easier, although I’ve never had a problem gorging 😉
What do you eat in town?
For a speed hike, once again, I tried to stay relatively healthy in my eating in town. I usually got a Gatorade and fruit in every town–both essential for rehydration and sugar replenishment. For a speed hike, I limited my beer and sweets intake and instead, would eat salads, vegetables, and protein in town. Usually, I’d eat around 2 entrees per meal. I’m a hungry Snorkel. On trails where I’m not speed hiking, I down Ben and Jerry’s like it’s my job.
What advantages did you feel having hiked the trail before?
I always was excited–and motivated by my excitement–for the next bit of trail. Other advantages I felt from having thru-hiked before could be learned from a good guidebook or time spent on whiteblaze.com: At some of the confusing turns and intersections, I had an easier time remembering where to go. I knew which towns are the easier hitch and which towns were worth resupplying in. I knew where there were trail angels and hostels who take in hikers.
Can I contact you if I plan to thru-hike and have questions or want to beat your record?
Yes! I like writing and talking about hiking pretty much more than anything (except actually hiking)!