Labor Day is at hand. So what did you do with your summer?
If you’re anything like me, you spent some days at the pool, enjoyed some days on a lakeshore, spent some nights in a sleeping bag under the stars, did a few loads of laundry to (reluctantly) get the smell of smoke out some clothes, and—if we’re being honest with each other—binge watched a little too much TV.
If you’re anything like Joe McConaughy, you hiked more than 2,650 miles in less than eight weeks. But—and again, we’re being honest with each other—few people are much like McConaughy.
The runner set a speed record with his journey, which took him from the Mexican border to the Canadian border as he followed the Pacific Crest Trail through California, Oregon, and Washington. The trip—which he undertook with the help of a support team that met him at checkpoints—took him 53 days, six hours, and 37 minutes.
While some hikers hit the trails to enjoy nature at a leisurely pace, and other see a long walk as little more than a necessity to get to a campsite, a certain breed enjoys inhaling the open air and taking in the views while logging mile after mile after mile in a single day—sometimes even continuing to put one foot in front of the other into the night.
In 2013, Heather Anderson—who went by the name Anish while hiking—broke the unassisted speed record for the Pacific Crest Trail by finishing the border-to-border trek with no support team in 60 days, 17 hours, and 12 minutes. She still holds that title.
The next day, Josh Garett reached the end of that same path after a journey of 59 days, eight hours, and 14 minutes—earning accolades of his own for setting the record for a supported speed hike, meaning he had a team who traveled with gear to help him in his efforts. The previous record for a supported speed hike had been set in 2011.
That means hikers on the PCT have set four new speed records in as many years.
The Pacific Crest Trail Association doesn’t officially track records, but hikers who are out to risk snow in colder months, seek water amid the dry desert miles in hotter months, brave the solitary hours week after week, and power through blisters, cramps, and other inconveniences? They certainly do, and they appreciate any assistance they receive.
Current record-holder McConaughy wrote on his blog about meeting “drifters, nurses, recent college graduates, surfers, computer geeks, nature-lovers and dreamers” on his wearying trek. They shared food, they shared a few miles with him, and they shared encouragement. These encounters were vital to his success, especially on the days when the universe conspired to keep his support crew from meeting him at the agreed upon time and place.
For a long-distance hiker—often referred to as a “thru hiker”—and especially one focusing on speed, the thought of being able to collapse into a camp chair with a liter of water before crawling into a tent for a few hours of sleep at night can be very motivating. But it’s not the only thing that keeps these endurance athletes going.
What makes McConaughy even more inspiring is the reason behind his endeavor: He hiked in honor of his late cousin Colin, who died from pediatric brain cancer at the age of 2 in 2012. Throughout his hike, McConaughy encouraged people to donate money to raise awareness of and funds to help fight cancer.
Now that’s support—and a summer well spent.