Most people who take to America’s spectacular Appalachian Trail like to take their time, hiking through the fourteen different US states it encompasses. Many actually pick and choose short parts of the route because of its enormous 2200-mile length.
For this endurance athlete however, there were no shortcuts and absolutely no delays as he broke the record for hiking the entirety of what is lovingly called the AT. Joe McConaughy from Seattle has just finished the entire trail in 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes – beating the old record by ten hours. That was 48 miles a day as he travelled the long journey north from Springer Mountain in Georgia all the way to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The 26-year-old told Lonely Planet how he battled the elements, close encounters with bears and rattlesnakes, and a string of injuries. Every day, he had to eat between 8 and 10,000 calories to keep him going. He said: “eating was a part-time job. I immediately woke up at 5am and would try to eat 1000 calories. Every hour I’d try to eat 2-300 calories and in addition always have a few breaks to amp that up. And then at the end of the night, it was a free-for-all. I packed food for four days and if I was going slow or something came up, I had to be smart about things. Every time I got food, I would eat it.”
Joe explained how he tried to keep moving as much as physically possible. “I’d have fifteen active hours and I’d have three to four camp hours, and five to seven sleeping hours. Fifteen hours and pretty much that whole time I’d be moving, running maybe 35 to 50% of it and hiking the rest. I’d really only take one or two breaks during the days.” With such a huge distance to cover, injuries were of course a problem. He said: “half way through the trip my knee swelled up to the size of a water melon and I had to walk for the next day and a half, it was pretty miserable. In the White Mountains [in New Hampshire], I took a wrong turn and my body couldn’t handle fifteen hours. I could only do twelve or thirteen around Day 36 and Day 37. I was battling multiple injuries in my knee, hamstring, calf, and ankle.”
Wildlife was his constant companion on the trip: “I saw sixteen bears, four rattlesnakes, and I just saw so much, a bunch of hawks, lots of spiders, mosquitos, ticks, and black flies. The only state I feel like I left out was Maine, every other state I felt like I really saw it. I was always really involved with the trail, and I got to see a huge amount. Even though [parts of] it didn’t seem too challenging, it could be the easiest part that I would hit a tree root and fall on my face.”
His record-breaking trek along the Appalachian Trial is not the only remarkable thing he’s done. He did a similar speed hike along the even longer Pacific Crest Trail and just this April completed two ultra-marathons on back to back weekends this April, which is the subject of this inspiring short film. If you want to keep up to date with Joe, you can follow him on his appropriately named Instagram account The Stringbean.