Heather Anderson–a.k.a. ‘Anish’ Completes Gutsiest Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike Ever
Below are the words of Heather Anderson–PCT Class of 2013. Hopefully you have read about her courageous journey up the 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail this year. It may be one of the gutsiest outdoor adventures ever (I would like to begin a discussion from people with any relevant knowledge about whether or not that is true).
I had assumed Heather–trail name, Anish–was a great athlete, in the mode of Jennifer Pharr Davis who broke the Appalachian Trail speed record and was a college basketball player. But Mrs. Anderson’s words put her feat in a different context when you read first about her physical awkwardness while growing up, and second about the grueling, to the point of inhuman, schedule each and every day on the trail to break the unsupported record. (Josh Garret also deserves a callout for his feat of completing the trail in 59 days, even if he did have some support. But having hiked the trail myself, Anish’s record seems the more amazing accomplishment. Personally, it took me 168 days and 43 pounds to do the PCT (Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail). And about all I can tell you is that I could never again do it as fast. Fortunately, having begun long-distance hiking in mid-life, I have no ego to get in my way and can unabashedly admire Mrs. Anderson’s feat.
People may think I am a natural athlete, the girl who played sports all through school. The exact opposite is true. I was an overweight child, a bookworm who sat with her nose in an adventure book and daydreamed. I never exercised and couldn’t make it around the track without walking. When I graduated high school I weighed 200lbs. I daydreamed of adventure, but the thing I daydreamed the most was that I would someday set a record. Not just any record though, an athletic record. I wanted so desperately to not be what I was. I hated my body and myself. I consoled myself by eating a bowls full of oreos and milk as though they were cereal. But somewhere deep inside I knew I was capable of doing something more. When I was 20 I met something that would forever change my life. A Trail. Though my first few hikes were miserable as I forced my body to work, I was enthralled. Trails took me on the adventures I craved and to beautiful, wondrous, wild places. I lost my heart and soul…and eventually 70 lbs…to the trails. Now, I am a few short days away from fulfilling my oldest daydream: setting an athletic record. I cry when I think about all the things I have overcome to get here, both on this hike and off. It makes me ever so grateful to that chubby girl who dared to dream big, audacious dreams. I am even more thankful that she grew up to be a woman courageous enough to make those dreams reality.
And some words about what it takes to hike record pace:
My day starts at 5 am. I will walk all day at 3 mph, stopping only to get water, dump sand from my shoes or such. Each stop lasts but a few minutes. I walk until the miles pile up, until night falls and my headlamp comes out, until the aching in my feet and legs seems unbearable. The last miles I am stumbling, tripping. Finally, I pitch my tent on whatever surface is available. It may be flat, or not, or rock hard, but it is home for the next few hours. Inside I struggle to choke down a protein shake; my exhaustion overrides my hunger. I peel socks off from blistered swollen feet. I crawl into my sleeping bag and prop my feet on my food bag. Pain, spasms, cramps, sharp cries that shoot along my nerves; my legs and feet make it hard for me to sleep. I clench my teeth against the jolts and wait for exhaustion to overcome me again.
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago, and Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.