Photo: Scott Williamson on the trail. Credit: Pacific Crest Trail Association
Upon finishing his 13th jaunt down the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico this month, hiker Scott Williamson set two firsts. He completed more trips by foot on the 2,627-mile path than anyone had before.
With a time of 64 days, 11 hours and 19 minutes, the 39-year old tree climber and trimmer from Truckee, Calif., also set a new speed record. He walked an average of a little more than 41 miles a day and broke the record that he and a friend had set in 2009.
This trip was the toughest of the 13, he told the San Diego Union Tribune, mostly because he did this one alone. Of course, the paper reported, there were also plenty of bear-sightings, blisters, scrapes, and rashes, along with severe sleep deprivation.
Williamson gets extra credit for adding more than 20 miles to his route to pick up supply drops in nearby towns. And he took more than five hours to help rescue a Forest Service employee with a broken pelvis, though those hours were deducted from his record attempt.
The feat was the second major through-hiking record to go down this year. In July, Jennifer Pharr Davis posted the fastest time yet on the Appalachian Trail.
All of these records raise questions about the meaning of cruising through nature at such high speeds.
They are clearly intense physical experiences. Williamson was walking before 5 a.m. most mornings and he often wouldn't stop until after 9 p.m. He regularly hallucinated and occasionally fell asleep on his feet.
Record-setters often report that pushing themselves past their limits like that builds strength, mental stamina and the feeling that anything is possible. Their accomplishments make overcoming adversity seem possible.
But do those messages come through to the public at large? Williamson has struggled with that question, he explained to the Union Tribune:
"I'm searching for a way to take all this hiking I've done and give something back. I feel all this hiking has been very selfish. My hiking has basically been all about me. I'm out there hiking. That's it. I'm the only one benefiting from this. No one else is benefiting or enjoying my hiking. I would like to, in the future, integrate my hiking, or to take my experience and knowledge of hiking and use it to benefit the trail itself, my community or the community at large. I feel like my hiking is all about me. I'm out there on the trail and I'm not doing anything good for the trail."
What do you think? Are long-distance hiking records inspiring and motivating? Or are they missing the point?