Seattle-Area Woman Breaks Appalachian Trail Speed Record | KUOW News and Information

Seattle-Area Woman Breaks Appalachian Trail Speed Record

Sep 30, 2015

A Seattle-area woman has set a new speed record for an unsupported hike along the Appalachian Trail: 54 days, 7 hours, 48 minutes.

To put Heather Anderson’s feat in perspective:

  • That’s more than 40 miles per day on a mountainous 2,189-mile trail that soars to nearly 6,500 feet elevation.
  • She knocked more than four days off the previous record for an unsupported hike of the trail, set by Mark Kirk in 2013.
  • That’s three times faster than the average hike along the trail.

Others have hiked the distance between Maine’s Mount Katahdin and Georgia's Springer Mountain faster, but those people had support teams to bring food and water and gear if needed. Anderson, trail name “Anish,” did it without assistance from anyone – carrying her own gear, walking off the trail and into towns to get more supplies. She had done the same when she set the record for an unsupported hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013.

And how did she do it this time?

“Long, long days. I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. and was typically hiking by about 4:30. And I walked all day without taking a break until 10, 11 sometimes at night and just was very consistent,” she said.

“I never took a day off. I didn't take breaks except you know to get water, whatever, and then when I would go into town to collect my supplies and I kind of had this time limit. I tried not to be there more than an hour to an hour and a half and back out on the trail.”

Anderson, an Edmonds resident, says she wasn't always a super athlete.

A little more than a decade ago in college she was overweight and insecure but got hooked on hiking and decided she wanted to try the entire Appalachian Trail. That trip changed her life. Then came the PCT record.

“Partially because I was overweight as a child, I had low self-esteem and so setting the record on the PCT was a huge boost,” she said.

But a record attempt on California’s John Muir Trail and a couple of other “intense, physical things” in the past year didn’t work out as planned. The self-doubt and low self-esteem crept back in.

“So I needed to go out and tackle something big and and be successful at it and so I chose the Appalachian Trail,” she said.

It was a return to the trail where she had started hiking, going the opposite direction, “to basically walk back in time” to places where she had learned to deal with adversity.

“When you were here, you were hypothermic, and when you were here, you lost your water filter, and when you're here this happened,” she said.

“That was empowering and helped me to see that I have value not only as an athlete but as a human being and helped me really overcome these inner demons.”

And there was one more motivation.

When she reached Georgia’s Springer Mountain at the long trail’s end, Anderson called her mom. Her mom had suffered a stroke a month and a half before the record attempt began and her speech was garbled and difficult when Anderson left.

“When I called home coming off the mountain, she answered the phone and she was talking in full sentences,” Anderson said.

Her mom told her: “Knowing that you are out there struggling and pushing to do something really hard made me want to push and work really hard in my therapy.”

Said Anderson: “It was a really incredible moment to know that we had each been inspiring each other.”

Produced for the Web by Gil Aegerter.