Interview: Patagonia Employee Sets New Record on the Pacific Crest Trail
- First the basics: Tell us what record you set, and how it relates to the previous one.
On the evening of August the 12th Scott Williamson and I set the unsupported Pacific Crest Trail speed record. Our time from the international border of Baja California Norte to the northern terminus was 65 days 9 hours 58 minutes and 47 seconds. This is 21 hrs faster than David Horton’s supported 2005 Pacific Crest Trail speed record, and 6 days faster than Scott Williamson and Tatu Joe Kisner's 2008 unsupported record.
[Scott Williamson in the High Sierra, on his way - with partner, Adam Bradley - to a new PCT speed record. Photo, Adam Bradley.]
- How does it feel being the record holder?
It makes me take life more seriously. It comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility to continue to push my limits physically and especially mentally. As far as setting a new record goes, I am happy if hikers respect what we accomplished. I wanted to bring the record home for the hikers and make them proud.
- Have you spoken to David Horton? What was his reaction?
I have not spoke to David Horton directly but Scott Williamson emailed him. Scott was in contact with David Horton before we began our journey so David was aware of our attempt. His reaction was very congratulatory. He believed what we had accomplished was very important and that it should be recognized. He was surprised we hadn’t gotten any media attention.
- It’s notable that your record was set without any external support. How did this approach complement your experience?
Traveling unsupported is more of a commitment. If something goes wrong it most likely will result in not finishing; it’s kind of all-or-nothing. Traveling an average of 40.5 miles per day while carrying all of one’s gear is just that. Either you do all of that each day or you don’t get to British Columbia.
- By setting this record, you – a backpacker – have broken what was essentially a runner’s record. Is this just a new twist on the tortoise and the hare?
No. Scott and I took over the lead on day 27 and held it to the end. So in that sense Scott and I were the hares.
- You must have had to plan pretty intensively – I remember hearing about gear weighing and lots of spreadsheets. All that sounds pretty intimidating to someone who just daydreams about one day doing the PCT. Can you give a quick overview of what you did to get ready, and the pre-trip decisions you think made all the difference?
I start every thru-hike off with an itinerary; from that I get an idea of how much food to purchase. Then I put together a mail-drop schedule for packing my food re-supplies. The logistic part of this trip was one of the key components of our success. Training was a important part of my prep as well, I did road/trail-running of 50-70 miles a week, along with Pilates daily and stretching. I ended up getting more benefits from this type of training than from walking 40 miles with a loaded pack. It is very time-consumptive to do the long walks as training and difficult to get the cardiovascular benefits as well. Running made my body used to the pounding it would get and the cardio helped with the long climbs in the Sierra. This year the training paid off as I never felt run-down and there was no week-2 soreness which comes with not enough base.
- You’ve got some pretty disco gear in your kit. What were your favorite pieces?
Mountain Laurel Designs is the manufacturer of some of my most important equipment. I carried the Prophet Pack which was bombproof. I also used the MLD Superlight Bivy which bumped up the rating of my down bag, kept it cleaner, kept dew off, and was a safe haven in Oregon from the bugs. I also used the MLD Silnylon Pro Poncho which kept me warm, dry and moving forward through wet weather in the North Cascades; it’s hands down the most feature-rich Poncho on the market. I am also very attached to my Western Mountaineering HighLite down sleeping bag, only 16 oz, kept me warm and didn’t weigh me down. Saucony Exodus where my shoes of choice. These where a vast improvement over what I used in 2008. They’re a very stable trail runner that fits like a moccasin and weighs only a ounce more than my road-running shoes. Petzl e+Lite headlamp, Leki trekking poles and my Steripen were crucial as well.
- Of course you carried some Patagonia stuff – any highlights/lowlights you want to share?
I was dressed from head to toe in Patagonia. I wore the Ultra Lightweight Endurance Ped Socks, Long Haul Runners, Airius T Shirt (no longer available), Wool 2 Zip Neck, Houdini Pants (no longer available) Houdini Jacket, Lightweight Alpine Beanie and Lightweight Glove Liners. There where no negatives about the above equipment otherwise I wouldn’t have carried it 2,700 miles. The clothing was as important as my gear in the success of my trip. Our socks are like butter and I found myself drooling thinking about my next pair in my maildrops. The Long Hauls are the most breathable short I have ever worn, and they can be wrung dry by hand too. I miss the Airius line despite its snags/ runs/ pills; I have found no other shirt that breaths, dries as fast or is as durable as these. Our Merino Wool line is like butter against the skin, and for me it feels as warm as Capilene® 4, but about 3 oz lighter, and the wool controls odor much better for me than the Cap 4. Again, I miss the Houdini Pants and I don’t go on any hike anywhere in the US without the Houdini Jacket. The Lightweight Alpine Beanie holds in the perfect amount of BTU for how light and thin it is, and it stays put. The Lightweight Glove Liners I only wore once, but when I needed them they kept my hands warm.
- FOOD – What did you eat? How many calories did you need each day and how did you make sure to get them without ending up lugging a heavy pack?
I wish I knew my exact caloric intake, but I don’t. I more know what I need to eat on a daily basis so as not to go hungry or bonk. I pretty much dumped something in my gut every hour on the hour. I am a big fan of Hammer Nutrition products, Clif Bar and Pro Bar. I also carried dried fruit, dark chocolate, pistachios, cheese, tortilla chips, and dehydrated refried beans. The beans would be re-hydrated by pouring them into a plastic container, adding water and giving them about 30 minutes. Then we would crush corn tortilla chips in them, little bit of queso and bam! You have cold beans. I cannot claim this brainchild, it is Scott Williamsons own imprint on the ultralight hiker scene. No need to carry a stove, stove fuel, pot and pot stand; no measuring fuel, no lighting stoves and no stirring. Food definitely outweighed gear carried, however it is like fuel in a rocket. As it diminishes, the miles come easier. If we had done our food correctly, we came into town running on vapors.
- I’m having a hard time getting my head around the daily routine required to pull off your record time – could you walk us through your daily schedule?
Up at 4 am eating cereal. Scott doesn’t eat in camp so he would sleep in while I crunched on food. He awoke when he heard me swishing out my plastic container. I was usually on trail by 5 am, about 10- 20 minutes ahead of Scott. Most of the morning I cruised on my own; I felt good as long as he was behind me. He would catch up around 9-10 am and we would hang most of the rest of the day. Short breaks of 10 minutes would maybe be taken in the morning, but usually would push as much as we could until anywhere from 12-2 pm. A long break would ensue of about 30 minutes. This break was hectic though, as our day’s chores would have to happen while eating. This included stuff like sock cleaning, shaving, gear repair, foot cleaning, etc. From here, there’d be more walking with maybe 10 minute breaks. Sometime around 7-ish Scott and I would get our beans re-hydrating. Camp would be made somewhere between 8:30-9 pm. Of course as you move north the sun rises later and sets later, but the above was pretty much our daily routine. I liked the morning and evening best; about a hour was necessary for our bodies to warm up and not be so stiff, and then I would charge pretty hard until it either got hot or the sun would be intense. I would notch it back during the heat of the day, and after that, when it cooled down in the evening I would ratchet it back up again. I really liked racing the sun each evening to get our miles.
- It sounds as if the mental aspects of your record attempt were at least as difficult as the physical ones. Which was the bigger challenge? How did you motivate yourself each day?
The mental aspect is by far more difficult than the physical. I had trained hard enough that I never felt like I couldn’t physically make this happen. However, there where times mentally that where difficult. Seeing Scott ahead of me charging would spur me to stay on it. I knew if I wasn’t with him or ahead of him I wasn’t walking a record pace. Another big motivator was going-to-town day; if I knew a killer meal was available or new shoes and socks were waiting for me, I would be pretty amped.
- A long hike is a great opportunity to think –you just strung together 65 high-quality thinking sessions. Did you solve any nagging problems? Figure out the answer to any persistent problems? What did you think about all day?
I did have plenty of time to think. Obviously it is very important to think about positive things. Spending time dwelling on things beyond my control was unproductive and sapped my energy. I was amazed at my new-found friendship and deep respect for Scott Williamson, who I was traveling with. I actually spent much of my time in the here-and-now. I watched my foot placement diligently. I took in some incredible views. I got high off what we where accomplishing daily. I spent some time thinking up the next escapade.
- Was there a point when you doubted you’d make it? How’d you push through? Was there a point when you knew you were going to make it? Describe it.
There where several times I wondered about my ability to pull it off. I never let the mileage itself intimidate me, however there where environmental factors that caused my will power to wane. I did have a sore left knee coming out of the Sierra. The bugs were horrible in North Yosemite. However on that very day when I was waning, later that night I was having the best day ever glissading down Sonora Pass. I came to see the lack of willpower or doubt as transitory. It would pass. I believed by the time we reached Crater Lake that the record looked like a go; however, then we entered the worst insects of the trip again. This made the evenings a little more difficult. I came to realize on a attempt like we were on, you really don’t know if you are going to make it or not. When you set foot in British Columbia you have made it; otherwise, too much can happen. Better to be vigilant and diligent about being safe and not rolling an ankle then getting all starry-eyed that your success is secured. Oddly enough, being 3-4 weeks out from BC was difficult. The closer to the northern terminus we got, the further it seemed for me. Crazy mind-game during these weeks. I definitely got well-versed in mind-over-matter.
- Are you relieved? Does it feel like you can rest for a while, or are your sights already set on something else? Any hints?
It was a relief to wake up on August 13th and for the first time not have to race off to get our miles; however, our trip was over too. Finishing in the dark was surreal and bittersweet. Yet I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. I think the process of the trip and training were bigger highs than accomplishing our goals. I am currently training at home now, so I am just as tired at home as I was on trail. But I am better-fed and cleaner. There are several trips I would like to do. Time will be a issue as well as what my peers might be up to. I am interested in attempting some supported records as well, but with a more low-impact approach.
- Would the techniques you used to streamline your thru-hike of the PCT apply to any long trail? More specifically – what techniques do you think worked specifically for the PCT that might not work on other trails (i.e. bear camping)?
The techniques we used on the Pacific Crest Trail this summer are applicable to other trails and could be used to best other records as well. I don’t think anything we did this summer was specific to the PCT. As far as the direct question about bears go I would assume this usually centers around bears in the Sierra. Bear barrels are not a consideration for hikers carrying as light a load as we do. They are cumbersome, heavy and don’t hold enough food. Then there is the whole logistic issue of mailing it to yourself and at some point mailing it home. I wouldn’t recommend anything we do to other hikers.
That being said, I slept with my food under my legs nightly. I used it to elevate my feet to drain the blood out of them., which was very important to my recovery. I never had a problem with “ursus vampirus” or rodents. That doesn’t mean someday a bear won’t rip my leg off; however, the benefits versus the set backs of carrying a bear barrel create a risk I am willing to take. Walking 2,700 miles in trail runners might be considered risky to some – the same could be said about covering that distance with just a windbreaker.
- You mentioned in one of your earlier trail journals the reasons you like to go fast. In your words, hiking the trail at the pace you hiked it enhances your experience. To read those earlier entries, they sounded like they came from someone who was tired of being asked what the rush was. Now that you’ve set the record, have any of those early thoughts changed?
I still like to go fast. I really don’t care about touting the record as it is minor compared to our experience this summer. I had a really good time this summer and don’t think I would be capable of walking a 40-mile-a-day pace if I didn’t. I learned a tremendous amount from Scott, it being his 12th PCT thru hike. It has made me aware of the fact that physically I am well suited for this kind of thing. It makes me think about what else is possible.
- Does your idea of hell include covering less than 10 miles a day?
No, I like the short days too. Of course on this hike there couldn’t be any short days. However my partner and I regularly cover 22 miles a day on our weekend excursions. 10 miles is more like a short run for me.
- You’ve gotten to know the PCT better than most people ever will – which part(s) of the trail do you feel a special attachment to? Which parts do you feel deserve a little extra love – perhaps are undeservedly overlooked?
I will never know the PCT as well as my teammate, Scott. He has been on the PCT pretty much every summer since the late 90’s - he is a true ambassador to the trail. The thru hikers, section hikers and weekenders all flock to him, they get pumped just because they saw him on the trail. I could see the glow they had after the talked to him. I have a special attachment to the Sierra of course. The North Cascades are incredible and reminded me of my childhood in Alaska. Pretty much all of the PCT is worthwhile in my experience except that first 700 miles of the Mojave/ Socal.
- You’ve been known as El Monstro, Listo, and now, krudmeister. Why the name change? What advantages do you feel being ‘the krud’ has lent to your success?
I mostly hike solo, so I really never have had a true trail name. However I like my self-given ones anyway. Krudmeister makes people laugh, so I guess that is a good thing. The name is a fusion of Kruder and Dorfmeister who are a Austrian duo known for their downtempo-dub remixes. It definitely was unknown amongst the thru hikers this year so it helped me keep a lo pro much like Scott’s name of Bink helped him.
- It only makes sense that someone out there is going to want to best your time. What advice do you have to those who want to best your record?
Get a hold of Scott Williamson and see if he will walk with you.
- Now that you’ve finished, do you see new ways to shave time off your current record?
We constantly were thinking of ways that we could better our record. Whether Scott or myself attempt it again is another question. In a way, our record can only be beat by a backpacker in the same style we did. A runner may claim the overall record, but would be “supported” and in that sense our record would still stand as the unsupported.
- It’s likely most of the folks who read this have never done a long trail. What can you say to convince readers who’ve never done a long trial to get out there and do it?
Thru hiking is a way of life for me. However for most time, work and responsibilities may limit most people from spending as much time on the trails as I have these summers. I do have a unique life situation that allows me to spend a lot of time on trail. The most important thing I would say to people thinking about long distance hiking is build up to it slowly. My first long distance hike was the Long Trail in Vermont. I met some Appalachian Trail thru hikers and the seed was planted. Since those first thru hikes my approach and style have developed. I like the things I have learned about myself through these walks, most importantly is that the more I know the less I need. Walking can be a very social thing for many hikers, but having worked in the river guiding industry for 15 years I preferred to go solo. I have had to spend most of my adult summers with 30 people at a time. Being alone has made me learn to be my own best friend; if you can’t be comfortable with yourself no one else will. This form of travel can be very inexpensive if you want it to be. I definitely see myself traveling the world in this fashion. I could purchase a RV when I retire and motor around the US, or I could load up my pack and walk - I can spend much more time, spend way less money and know the wild places better by walking. In the end it is a very old thing we are doing, walking vast distances along the surface of the earth, drinking from streams, and laying under a pine tree on thick duff. What could be better than this simple life? Other than the initial investment for equipment and food, this can be a very affordable way of life. I now know many retirees who spend their entire life living like this.
- After a long stretch in a wild place it can be hard to come back to “normal” life. What was the hardest thing for you to deal with upon reentry? What sort of advice do you have for folks to keep in mind before they unplug from civilization – what do they need to be ready to wrangle with upon coming home?
The craziest thing about our reentry was getting in a car and driving it. After 65 days of avoiding vehicles it felt weird to get in one and start moving at 70 mph. I like walking better myself. In the end, I am very lucky to be employed by Patagonia and to work with people who are all charging it in their own way. It would be tough to return to a corporate job where no one could relate to your accomplishment. Many long-distance hikers kind of put their life on hold to afford their trip. They have things like work, school and families waiting at home - any loose ends you leave will most definitely still be waiting. This can cause some unneeded anxiety while on trail as well as a mess to come home to. So my advice would be to err more on the front end of wrapping things up and getting things in line so that when you come home you plug right back into work etc. I wouldn’t want to spend my last week on trail thinking, “ Where am I going to live? Where am I going to work? …”
- What keeps you coming back home?
Running water, Greek Gods Yogurt, Betos carne asada tacos and my best friend and the life I share with Shelly Culbertson. She also ran base command and I couldn't have done any of this without her.
- How long are you usually home before you start thinking about the next trip?
I was already thinking of my next trip while I was on trail.
[Photos, top to bottom - Scott Williamson makes his way down a tricky slope somewhere near Glen Pass in the Sierra. - The day of hurt, self-portrait of a man in pain. Says Adam "I took this picture of myself on the one day I was really in pain. I wanted to know what I looked like later." - Scott Williamson takes a break to talk with a school teacher who was quite excited about the encounter. - Scott and Adam at the finish. All photos: Adam Bradley collection.]