A 29-year-old New Hampshire man broke the speed hiking record for the Appalachian Trail on Monday, completing the 2,174-mile thru hike in 47 days, 13 hours, 31 minutes.
"I started at 190 pounds and I finished at 160," said Andrew Thompson, who grew up in Derry and now lives in Hampton Falls.
Thompson began the quest at Mount Katahdin in Maine, on July 15 at 10:26 a.m. and crested the summit of Springer Mountain in Georgia, at 11:57 p.m. on Monday.
The previous record was 48 days, 20 hours and 11 minutes, set by Pete Palmer on June 28, 1999. Palmer's time was over three days faster than David Horton's previous mark from 1991.
Thompson unsuccessfully attempted to break Horton's record in 1998, and in 2001 he fell short of Palmer's milestone following a Nor'easter on Mount Washington during the 43rd day.
Unlike his previous two attempts, Thompson started from the northern terminus in Maine this time around and tackled the most challenging terrain in the beginning.
"I think the mountains in the north toughened him up for the rest of the race," said Andrew's brother, Tyler Thompson, who provided daily updates of the record attempt on the Web Site innov-8.com. "When he went south-to-north, it's easier in the south and you're not as ready for the north. His theory this time was go through the north first, get rid of the bad weather, get rid of the hardest part in the early stages and just try to eliminate the possibility of him getting knocked off."
In addition to the help of Tyler, Andrew Thompson was supported throughout the trek by his best friend John Basham, his girlfriend, Bethany Charron and his father, Chip Thompson. Basham helped Thompson in all three attempts and was the only crew member present for all 48 days.
"J.B. was my main man," Andrew Thompson said. "This record is as much his as it is mine."Thompson also credited a close-to-ideal weather window and was fortunate enough to avoid any major injuries. For the first two weeks he was hampered by a swollen left knee, but the pain eventually subsided.
"When you start doing 40 or 50 miles a day on that weak knee, the miles naturally exploit that weakness," Andrew Thompson said. "The unbelievable climbs in Maine and New Hampshire exploited the weakness in my left knee, and deep in my mind I really considered quitting. Not because I couldn't go on, but because of the well-being of my body and being able to run and hike in the future. It wasn't worth permanent damage, but in the end I continued to go on and it was the right decision."
Aside from other bumps and bruises and the occasional lightning storm, Thompson said one of his chief obstacles was constant run-ins with animals such as bears, moose, wild boars and snakes.
"A rattlesnake could end my hike," he said. "From Connecticut all the way to the finish, my eyes were on the ground specifically looking for snakes. In past years I've seen dozens of rattlesnakes and copperheads, but this year thankfully I only saw one rattlesnake in Northern Pennsylvania."
A typical hiking day for Thompson began around 5:30 a.m. and ended around 9 p.m. Ultimately, he said the AT end-to-end record was less about his average speed and more a factor of his time spent on the trail.
"A typical thru hiker will be out there eight hours a day, but I'm out there for 16 or 17 hours a day," he said. "I'm moving at the same pace, but not taking any days off."
Over time the lack of sleep took its toll on Thompson, who said that the AT record has grown so competitive that "continual sleep deprivation is just the name of the game."
"You have constant first-stage hallucinations called character recognition (hallucinations)," Thompson said. "You're having trouble with character recognition where you see a stick on the ground and it looks like a dollar bill. You look at a physical object, but your mind turns that object into something else. It just comes with sleepiness and absolute physical exertion."
Thompson consumed 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day, starting out with a light breakfast of coffee and a doughnut. His main breakfast often included seven to eight pieces of French toast, four to five pieces of bacon or sausage and more doughnuts. A typical lunch included sandwiches, bagel pizzas, bacon and pasta, while dinner featured more sandwiches, pizza, bacon, steak, sausage, potatoes, and plenty of pasta.
In addition to snacking on gel packs, sandwiches, fruit and trail mix, Thompson hydrated himself with ample water and Gatorade.
"The heat was just unbelievable – 95 percent humidity, 90 degrees just about every single day," he said. "But that's just the nature of the southbound hike. Because you have to wait so long for the snow to clear up in Maine and New Hampshire, once the snow-melt occurs it's followed immediately by extreme heat and humidity."
Thompson is currently back in New Hampshire, freshly showered and basking in the afterglow of victory.
Asked what he missed most while hiking, Thompson pointed to simple pleasures like a garden salad.
"It doesn't sound like stuff you typically want, but it's hard to find fresh vegetables or fruit on the trail," he said.
For someone who just finished the equivalent of 83 marathons, Thompson sounds surprisingly easy to please.
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