Last year I followed Scott Jurek as he ran the 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail (AT). He wanted to break the speed record for a supported thru-hike set by Jennifer Pharr Davis in 2011. She completed the entire trail in 46 days 11 hours and 20 minutes. (It normally takes hikers 5-7 months to complete the entire trail.) Although Scott is a well-known ultra marathoner, he had a few injuries along the way. It wasn’t in the bag that he would break the record. Scott made it from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the AT’s north terminus at Mt. Katahdin in Maine in 46 days 8 hours and 7 minutes. An amazing record!
This year another ultra marathoner, Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, is going to attempt to break Scott’s record. Karl has won 38 100-mile races, more than anyone else in the world. While Scott ran the AT from south to north, Karl is going to start in Maine and head south. Not only is Karl getting himself in shape, he is rehearsing his rest stops with his support team to ensure they are as efficient as a NASCAR pit stop. He plans to eat dinner with ice on his legs while his crew clean and tape his feet. Sounds like ultra multitasking to me.
I understand the desire to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. It seems like we have a need to do everything faster these days. But it also makes me sad. I consider the AT to be one of our national treasures. The AT isn’t something one should rush through. It should be savored like a fine wine.
An experience I had in 2013 taught me to spend more time enjoying the moment. That year I participated with a group of women who ran Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon in one day. It was an adventure that was important to me. I wanted to prove to myself that I could take on an extreme physical challenge and succeed.
We started out at the North Rim before daybreak, wearing headlamps, and went down the North Kaibab Trail into the canyon. We stopped for lunch at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon then headed back up the South Rim via Bright Angel Trail. I completed my Rim-to-Rim adventure in about 13 hours (including an hour stop at Phantom Ranch). Except for that stop at the bottom of the canyon, we kept moving all day. There wasn’t time to stop and linger to admire the view or look for the petroglyphs carved into the rock. We had to be out of the canyon before dark.
One of my friends had tried to discourage me from doing the Rim-to-Rim before I left. The Grand Canyon, she explained, is a beautiful place. By running through it in one day I would not be able to really appreciate it. I wouldn’t be able to take time to see all the different layers of rock or observe the different ecosystems within the canyon.
In hindsight I admit she was absolutely right. I was more focused on getting from the North Rim to the South Rim as fast as possible, without getting hurt. There were rocks everywhere along the trail and I had to be fully attentive to each step. I spent most of the time looking at my feet. Looking back on it, running through the Grand Canyon in one day seems wrong. Although it was important to me at the time to run Rim-to-Rim, I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to do it. To fully enjoy the Grand Canyon you need to spend much more time there than I did (and I was slow by Rim-to-Rim runner standards). I plan to return to the Grand Canyon to see everything that I missed, including the petroglyphs.
So while Jennifer, Scott and now Karl scamper along the AT, I hope others take a slower route. One that allows them to stop and listen to the birds, to pause at an overlook and enjoy the scenery. Because there is more to life than just getting from Point A to Point B as fast as you can.
Read more about Scott’s AT adventure at his web site: http://www.scottjurek.com/appalachian-trail
Brooks Running put together this video of Scott Jurek’s 2015 Appalachian Trail speed record.
Karl has a web site – http://karlmeltzer.com – where you can read more about his achievements as well as his blog. His sponsor, Red Bull, has set up a web page for people to follow Karl’s attempt to break the record. It should be interesting to watch his progress.