One task. It’s simple: walk on the Superior Hiking Trail from end to end. North to South. Walk, eat and sleep. Simple! The ultimate challenge is completing this task as fast as possible.
My life focus in 2016 is to train my body, accumulate gear and experience, and execute a fast through-hike of the entire Superior Hiking Trail. The ~320 mile trail should be finally done this year. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll have hiked the entire trail as fast as my two feet can carry me, knowing that I left everything I have out on the trail. (Of course, not literally. I won’t leave anything on the trail as per Leave No Trace principles!)
Instead of devoting my free time to training for triathlons and running fast, I’ll spend my time conditioning my body and mind for hiking big miles day after day, and camping in the woods night after night. Of course, I want to write about what works, what doesn’t, and the trips and adventures that will prepare me!
The plan is to backpack as many weekends as possible during the year, and set off on the entire trail sometime in August, September, or October. Hopefully by then, I’ll know what’s possible, what’s realistic, and what sort of speed it will take for this adventure to stand up as the Superior Hiking Trail’s Fastest Known Time forever.
I wrote those words on a newly formed Backpacking webpage in January 2016. This idea of thru-hiking the Superior Hiking trail was over two years old at the time, but had been festering in my mind for the whole year of 2015. I trained for Ironman, timed races on the weekends, and didn’t camp much. But I thought about hiking the SHT. I thought about FKTs, and thought about how cool it would be to have a Fastest Known Time forever, one that would be untouchable. In January 2016, it because reality and I set out plans.
My initial thought was extreme mileage, and unsupported. I figured 50 miles per day would be realistic. I set out 10 hiking trips over the year that would get me in shape for a speed hike. This would of course hinge on the daily grind of becoming proficient at exercising at a very low and sustainable intensity. My first training program wanted to incorporate these 10 trips:
- 160 miles in 4 days (40 miles per day)
- 120 miles in 3 days (60, 15, 45)
- 120 miles in a weekend (60 miles per day)
- 100 miles in a weekend (20, 55, 25)
- 80 miles in a weekend (10, 45, 25)
- 75 miles in a weekend
- 60 miles in a weekend (10, 25, 15)
- 60 miles in a weekend
- 50 miles in a weekend
- 40 miles in a weekend
25 weekends from the last weekend in April to the last week in September, hike on 10 weekends. BOOM.
As I started, the plan modified drastically. I quickly realized how hard it was to plan and execute a trip. It was more than just the weekend, and to sleep in the woods the only two non-work nights was difficult. The planning and packing took time, and it was easy to drop out of a trip! I bailed on a couple. However, I got some good hiking in. My final training plan is here:
#1 – April 29-30, 2016 – 40 miles.
#2 – May 13-15, 2015 – 65 miles.
#3 – May 27-30, 2016 – 46 miles.
#4 – June 3-5, 2016 – 50 miles.
#5 – June 24-26, 2016 – 45 miles.
#6 – July 8-10, 2016 – 68 miles.
#7 – July 22-25, 2016 – 41 miles
#8 – August 12-15, 2016 – 128 miles.
So only 7 trips instead of 10, but I didn’t really count a few long weekends of hiking that were just too boring to write about. Also, I got in some long running races, two 50-milers, a 50k, and a marathon. I was in good shape going into the hike, and the long trip on August 12 was by far the biggest confidence booster and the only real test.
Mentally, I knew the trail very well. There were certain parts that I had traveled many, many times–hundreds of times–and only perhaps 10% to the very north that I hadn’t hiked at all. I plotted out my campsites exactly. I knew exactly how many miles I was to hike each day, and where I’d sleep that night.
I fiddled with my gear all year, knew pretty much exactly what I was going to take, and only made a few last minute adjustments and additions. I spent the week before the hike, that last week in August 2016, preparing my food and making sure things were in place. I did one last recon mission to the southern terminus with Chris Rubesch and dropped my car off on that Monday, and I was nervous and excited as I packed up on Tuesday, and work Wednesday was not very productive.
When I biked home from work, I saw my brother. Random! He said he was going to my house. My dad came over to pick me up, and all my roommates were around as I took the final weigh-ins. My pack was about 25 pounds before water, and there was no debate that it was dense and heavy.
I wished everyone a good bye, especially my doggie Diamond. Me and my pops set out to the North Shore on a beautiful night. On the ride up, I made some last proclamations on social media and forums. We stopped at a delicious restaurant outside of Beaver Bay and mowed on pizza and chicken wings and beer. My last meal…
As it was getting dark, we drove farther north. Into the blackness, with the big Lake Superior to our right, and finally to Cascade River State Park. I chatted with my dad on early morning logistics once we got settled in to his travel trailer. 5:45am it is! I slept like a baby that last night in civilization.