Just in time for hiking season, two West Coast trekkers break the Pacific Crest Trail record
You could call it the walk of a lifetime. Think about it: Beginning June 8 last year, Adam Bradley and Scott Williamson walked 2,665 miles from Mexico to Canada, over some of the West’s most rugged territory, in 65 days, 9 hours, 58 minutes and 47 seconds.
It was a speed record. The previous best was held by endurance runner David Horton, who ran the Pacific Crest Trail in 66 days, 7 hours and 16 minutes, another amazing achievement. But Horton ran the trail with a support team of cars to carry food and water from contact point to contact point. Bradley and Williamson did it with careful planning by which they sent food by mail carriers to arrive on certain dates at certain locations.
Williamson is a legendary thru-hiker who has even yo-yoed the PCT, which means he started at one end of the trail, walked to the other, and then turned around and walked back. It’s a race against the elements, as a hiker must wait until much of the snow is melted off the trail to begin, and winter is beginning as he or she turns around and returns south.
Adam Bradley, 38, works in customer service at Patagonia. He exudes a refreshing aura of healthiness and integrity. He’s got long, straight brown hair, glasses and that rangy feel of an athlete.
He’s kind of a new phenom in the world of hiking. He’s not a runner, although plainly he can best runners at long distances. He calls his style of long-distance hiking “fast-packing.”
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail begins in a little town called Campo, outside of San Diego, adjacent to Baja California. It’s a desolate beginning; nothing there but the Tortilla Curtain and a thru-hiker-built monument. The trail winds through California, Oregon and Washington and finishes on the Canadian border, outside Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia.
Bradley developed his love of hiking when he lived in Vermont in 2004. America’s oldest long-distance trail, the Long Trail, was right out his back door. He started with backpacking and, “being a goal-oriented person,” he said, decided to walk the length of Vermont on the Long Trail (about 220 miles). The Long Trail is part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which, at 2,178 miles, is the nation’s longest marked footpath. (There are still about 300 miles of the PCT in private hands.)
Bradley was intrigued by hikers on the Appalachian Trail who traveled light and long. That was the beginning. His record-breaking PCT trip was his third thru-hiking the trail. He failed on his second, coming down with a bacterial infection.
“My base pack weight, not including water and consumables like food, starting out was probably five-and-a-half pounds,” he said. That’s an extremely light pack. “And then going through the Sierras, I picked up some extra warm clothes, and then finally I picked up my tarp, so it was probably 6 or six-and-a-half. Then coming out of the Sierras, I shed a lot of that and went back to, like, 5 pounds.”
Since from the very beginning the pair knew they were going for record speed, they also knew their techniques would be documented.
“I wanted to be very clear as to what I meant by unsupported,” he said. “That meant never riding in a vehicle, so our feet never left the earth the entire way, walking to all our resupplies.” (“Trail magic,” like a cooler of food or pop left out for hikers, or handouts from “trail angels” was fair game.)
The itinerary was partly designed by that refusal to ride to resupply spots, so pickup spots had to be close to the trail. Bradley plans down to minute details, using Excel spreadsheets that show things like distance to next stop, cumulative miles, miles per section. When all was said and done, the pair finished within hours of the planned finish.
And while this sort of hiking is incredibly arduous, hard on the whole body but especially the knees—Bradley went through eight pairs of shoes—it wasn’t a crash diet for the pair.
“We lost each about a half-pound per day,” Bradley said. “I had gone from 173 pounds down to 158 [at the Carson Pass], which was exactly a half-pound per day that we were on trail. That was the lowest I weighed, but by the time we got into the North Cascades, the day we finished, I had gained 5 pounds back. So I know I have my food down to a T.”
Not surprisingly—to those who spend long days on hiking trails through the Sierra, anyway—Bradley receives as much as he gives from his time in nature. Plainly, he’s making good time, but there’s plenty of time to soak it all in.
“It’s very peaceful on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “The trail has had a profound effect on me, and I feel indebted to each long-distance trail I’ve walked. No one trail is better than another, they’ve all got their own thing. And I hope to walk them all someday.”
Bradley’s next big thing is a 500-mile hike, sponsored by the Nevada Wilderness Project, called Southwest Intertie Project, or SWIP, beginning this Earth Day, April 22, which will show the environment before a green-energy power line is installed. NWP will post photos and videos of the trip at www.wildnevada.org.