This summer I am going to be attempting to break the unsupported Appalachian Trail record. I have been asked a lot of questions about my trip and wanted to clear up exactly what I am doing by addressing some of those common questions here.
What exactly are you doing?
Self-supported Appalachian Trail record thru hike attempt. It is done backpacker style without a support crew. I will resupply in towns and pick up packages I mailed to myself but cannot have prearranged support from friends or family nor will I be able to accept rides into towns.
How far is it?
It is a 2185 mile long trail that passes through 14 states.
When and where are you starting?
I have chosen the start date of June 10, give or take because this seems to have worked well for previous Appalachian Trail record attempts with weather and trail conditions. I have also committed to leaving from the northern terminus in Maine. The reason for this is to knock out the hardest part and traverse the unpredictable unbridged crossings early on, and it puts me closer to home when I finish so I can hopefully see some friends and family in Georgia in late-July or early-August on top of Springer Mountain.
What is the Appalachian Trail record?
58 days 9 hours set by Matt Kirk in 2013. It is an average of over 37 miles per day.
Why do you want to do this?
In 2009 I hiked the majority of the Appalachian Trail between years of college. It was an awesome adventure but this trip combines the athletic challenge with the technical aspects of traversing a long trail with only myself to depend on. It is my last big summer break so I chose to make the most of it and do something I may not be able to do again for a long time.
What have you done to prepare?
After I returned to college after not completing the Appalachian Trail in 2009 I began section hiking the trail. But with only a couple to a few days at a time to hike, I wanted to hike as far as possible. I ended up settling into 30+ mile days and covering up to 120 miles in just 72 hours. With a background in short course triathlon, I enjoyed the athletic challenge of long distance backpacking and being able to carry everything I needed in a small pack. I have been running competitively for most of my life and have been training specifically for this goal for the last six months. I have tailored my gear specifically for this goal and studied the feats of the current holders of fastest known times of long trails in the United States.
What do you eat?
I have mailed myself packages to towns and post offices along the trail. I eat mostly junk food because from past experience anything that tastes less than amazing is unappetizing when everything hurts, you’re thirsty and tired of chewing. I am also choosing to not cook and instead will opt for quick and easy snacks to save time and weight. I will be stopping at stores and restaurants along the way to supplement with hardier meals. You can read more about my diet here: http://graysoncobb.com/2015/04/19/a-guide-to-ultralight-no-cook-backpacking/
How do you manage to cover those distances when normal backpackers take about 6 months to do the trail?
For one, I am not carrying what they carry. My pack weighs 3.5 pounds without food or water. It’s a simple setup with no amenities that makes for some uncomfortable situations but I don’t do a trip like this for comfort. Secondly, I will not take any rest days. I hike from dawn to dusk and take very few short breaks throughout the day. If I am not sleeping, I’ll be moving.
How will you verify you actually did the hike?
I will be signing trail registers along the way, introducing myself to other hikers, and will share geotagged pictures.
With that said, one of the amazing things about records such as these is that they’re based on the integrity of the hikers who claim them. I have absolutely no doubt that Matt Kirk did what he said he did on his Appalachian Trail record. One of the goals of my transparency about my gear and preparations is to eliminate any doubt about my readiness and ability. Matt Kirk has been extremely supportive of my goal and the way I see it, this isn’t a challenge against him. It is a battle against the limits of human endurance, the terrain, and against my own limitations. In reality, the reward for accomplishing this goal is highly personal and as such I see no benefit to deceiving the public.