Now 29 days in, Harvey Lewis quietly closes in on the fastest traverse of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail in history.
One of the perks of teaching high school history is that you get summers off to tackle a speed record along one of the world’s most storied thru-hikes.
At least, that’s how Harvey Lewis is spending his summer break from teaching at a Cincinnati public school. Lewis, 42, set off on May 30 from the Appalachian Trail’s Springer Mountain southern trailhead in Georgia. He proclaimed to his 8,000 Facebook followers that he intended to break Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy’s AT record of 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes.
And with 1,324 miles under his soles in 28 days, Lewis is on the fringe of that record-setting pace.
To Clarify: ‘Supported’ vs. ‘Self-Supported’ Records
There’s a difference between “supported” and “self-supported” records.
In a Facebook post announcing his attempt, Lewis called out three AT record-holders: Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy, Karl Meltzer, and Scott Jurek. These three athletes each hold their own record on the AT.
McConaughy holds the title with the fastest-known time (FKT) traversing the AT. What’s more impressive is that he did so self-supported — i.e., he carried and coordinated his own nutrition and other on-trail needs without outside help.
Meltzer and Jurek, meanwhile, each hold supported FKT records, meaning that they accepted assistance for food, medical stops, and other on-trail needs. Meltzer has the fastest supported AT hike (overall) at 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes. And Jurek holds the supported title for a northbound AT trek at 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes.
Like Jurek and McConaughy, Lewis is running the trail northward. Though Lewis eyed all three records, his supported attempt will stand apart from McConaughy’s self-supported record no matter what. A self-supported run is its own animal, and any attempt to top McConaughy will have to be self-supported.
Harvey Lewis Eyes Appalachian Trail Record
Although few people outside the walls of Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts know his name, Lewis is no slouch in the running world. He won the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon in 2014 and set the “old course” record at Ontario’s Sulphur Springs 100. He represented Team USA at the 24 Hour World Championships three times and ran Gandhi’s Salt March, a historic 242-mile traverse through India.
“The love of the wilderness and need to push myself to new places has inspired the seed,” Lewis wrote on his Facebook page days before his attempt. “With the help of my dad, an old work van, and some of my closest friends, I plan to finish in less than 45 days, 12 hours, and  minutes.”
That’s right, driving support for Lewis will be his 78-year-old dad.
It’s important to point out that while he is going after McConaughy’s overall AT record, Lewis will have a supply van and supported stops along the way. McConaughy impressively claimed the record last year without outside support.
Traveling about 47 miles per day, Lewis has a weekly goal of hitting 350 miles per week. As he nears the New Jersey-New York border, Lewis has about 876 miles to go and a little over two weeks to do it.
Right now, Lewis’s pace has him at around 46 days. Though he’s a bit behind, Lewis can certainly make up that time with a hard push.
Fastest-known time (FKT) nuts can follow Lewis’ progress on social media via the #WheresHarvey hashtag and on ROAD iD’s website (one of his sponsors). There, users can see his progress, refreshed every 10 minutes, as well as an Instagram feed from the trail and Lewis’ videos about his trail plan and gear.
Good luck to Harvey Lewis! We’ll follow his progress to see if that AT record creeps even lower this year.