The thru-hiker known on the trail as “Anish” is, back home in Seattle, known as Heather Anderson. At 34 years old, she has made trail history. She has set an unsupported speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail in 54 days, 7 hours and 48 minutes. Not only did she smash Matthew Kirk’s former record by over four days (4 days, 1 hour, and 50 min) but she averaged 42 miles every day. The previous women’s unsupported record was 80 days, 13 hours, 30 minutes set by Liz “Snorkel” Thomas in 2011.
Anish also currently holds the speed record for an unsupported hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (60 days, 17 hours and 12 minutes for the 2,663 mile trek) from Mexico to Canada. She is the first hiker to hold this speed record for both the AT and the PCT simultaneously.
Heather achieved the “unsupported” status by packing her own supplies, water and shelter and collecting all her re-supplies by herself. She had no support team following her efforts with meals and shelter…. no vans, trucks or cars following her hike with supplies and gear and food.
As a kid, Anderson was rather unathletic and struggled with weight issues until she developed a love for hiking and backpacking. Even as a well known speed hiker, she’s been pestered by self doubt. On her Facebook page she shares that every footstep was a commitment to face her inner doubts. She writes, “But, every footstep I took was a choice. A choice to face my own perceived inadequacies. Every footstep was a commitment. A commitment to deny that there was any truth to the words of the internal foes.”
Heather’s Facebook entries are filled with a rich philosophy of responding to the negative baggage that many carry in life. “The trail has a way of answering the questions you most need answered, even if you are afraid to ask…. As the miles dwindled into the double digits I became aware that I was crushing more than miles. I was crushing a lifetime of self defeating beliefs.” I do not know of her faith in God or her spiritual perspective but her determination reminds me of Philippians 3:13-14 “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. .”
In contrast to Scott Jurek’s supported thru-hike record filled with celebration, fines and media coverage, Anish hiked from Katahdin to Spring Mountain in humility and determination. As she completed her record breaking hike she said, “So now, I walk off of Springer Mountain, alone just as I came. My pack, my feet, and my heart are light, unburdened at last.”
Photo: James Varner – Anish on the trail