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Woman Sets New Unsupported Record On Appalachian Trail

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[leadin]Heather “Anish” Anderson set the Appalachian Trail speed record yesterday, finishing the approximately 2,190-mile route in 54 days.[/leadin]

Appalachian Trail Speed Record Unsupported
Photo courtesy Heather Anderson

In a summer of impressive feats of human endurance, Anderson, 34, from Bellingham, Washington, just quietly crushed the record for a self-supported through-hike on the AT. Her time was 54 days, 7 hours, and 48 minutes.

Already holding the fastest known time (FKT) for a self-supported hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes), she arrived yesterday at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail having left Maine on August 1.

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That effort shaved more than four days off of the stout record that Matt Kirk established in August of 2013.

No Outside Assistance

AT record
Photo by James Varner

Throw gender out of the discussion. Anish has done the PCT and the AT faster than any other man or woman who has tackled the through-hike without outside assistance.

Unlike Scott Jurek’s supported and much more highly publicized record earlier this year, Anish did the hike without a crew or outside help in the same style as the vast majority of AT hikers.

One note: the ATC, the management organization of the trail, does not recognize any speed records. These are unofficially kept by hikers and fans. She noted her intentions to break the record on a Fastest Known Times billboard and carried a SPOT device through her trip, although she didn’t release the data for privacy until completing the hike.

Like almost all hikers, she did food drops along the way, but there weren’t any prepared meals, medical assistance, or idling cars awaiting her at the end of each day. As she shared on her Facebook page yesterday afternoon, she was on her own, wrestling with the self-doubts that any thru-hiker must come to know intimately:

“In the dark hours when I was tired, lonely, and hungry, that is when the demons came,” she wrote. “Why didn’t you stop with the PCT record? It will be your greatest achievement in life. You won’t ever do anything else. Now you’re out here and you’re in over your head. You will fail. You can’t do this. And everyone is going to know that you are nothing.”

Records East And West

A decade ago, the AT had been the setting of Heather’s first official thru-hike. She later met David Horton on the PCT, the legendary ultra runner and former holder of FKTs on both the AT and the PCT. The seed was planted though it took a long time to blossom fully into a belief that she could potentially go faster than anyone else before her.

On the Pacific Crest Trail, she proved that she could. But after a failed attempt at the FKT for the John Muir Trail last year, Heather admitted she had begun to question whether her achievement on the PCT had been a fluke. Apparently it wasn’t and perhaps now the question is “what’s next”?

Anish AT record
Photo taken on Sheephole Mountain, Calif., courtesy Heather Anderson

In the short term, much-deserved sleep and some recovery time are likely in store, but Heather did hint that she hasn’t hung up her wanderlust:

“I am aware that the end of every journey is simply the beginning of the next and that, far from being behind me, the greatest achievements of my life lie ahead.”

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