Fastest Known Time (FKT)
Clint “Lint” Bunting
Fastest Known Time (FKT) record-setting attempts on the long trails have been gaining popularity lately. Until recently, achieving an FKT was a bit of a novelty. Mostly undertaken by ‘repeat offender’ hikers like Scott “Bink” Williamson. His FKTs weren’t noticed by many outside of the hiking community, and there was relatively little fanfare when he set these records. Ten years ago, thru-hiking the PCT in less than 80 days was considered lightning quick, a speed barely obtainable by mere mortals. Nowadays that perspective is being continually challenged and is changing fast.
As more and more endurance athletes learn of the National Scenic Trails, they’re coming to them in droves, each seeking out a unique mental and physical challenge. Thru-hiking a trail is tough enough if you have no time restrictions, as readers of this article undoubtedly know. Hauling your filthy carcass and all the gear it needs to be warm, fed and dry for thousands of miles is an endeavor that many attempt, but few complete. Trying to best a record established by a speedy predecessor is a whole new version of challenge, and being that I’m on trail nearly every year, I often hear thru-hikers voice confusion and dismay at folks attempting an FKT. “You can’t see anything going that fast” is a popular one. “What’s the rush? Who are you trying to impress?” is another common utterance I hear. “I just don’t get it”… oh man, this one kills me.
Now, I have never set an FKT on anything other than “race to the buffet restaurant”, but I understand the drive that brings people out to test their mettle and luck (never-ending pasta bowl, duh). It’s easy to understand, really. To help yourself grasp why anyone would subject themselves to 50 mile days in pursuit of a record setting pace, all the average hiker needs to do is remember how most of THEIR friends and family reacted when they informed them they were headed into the wilderness to walk a long trail. Do you remember telling your peers you were headed out to walk 2000+ miles instead of using your vacation time to relax on an ocean cruise? Do you remember how they furrowed their brow and raised eyebrows, at a loss for understanding why you didn’t want to drink Mai Thais and dip anything you could find into the chocolate fountain, while a DJ played endless dance music and everyone got tan? Remember how you tried to explain to your peers that this epic hike of yours was fulfilling a dream, a challenge to yourself, and a way to connect with a deeper, primal lifestyle?
Lint, on the PCT 2009
You remember. I know you do. It’s quite common for most people to question your sanity when you tell them of your thru-hike plans, and it’s precisely the same confusion your average thru-hiker has when confronted with someone setting an FKT. They just don’t get it.
It reminds me of a bit that the late/great comedian/social commentator George Carlin used to do, observing a truth about the experience of freeway driving.
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an
IDIOT, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
That mentality permeates the opinion of most hikers when confronted with the pace of others. THEY happen to be hiking the correct amount of miles per day…THEY are correctly enjoying the wilderness at an appropriate speed. Anyone hiking slower or faster than them elicits judgment and dismissal. DO YOU SEE HOW SILLY THAT IS?! There are countless ways to enjoy our natural national treasures. Just because most thru-hikers walk 20 miles a day on average, that doesn’t make
it right. Hike 5 miles a day and stop to spread paint across a canvas at every scenic vista, if you want. Hike 12 miles a day and sleep in late if the desire strikes. Hike 50 miles a day and test your endurance in ways that make seasoned ultra-runners cry. Hike at whatever pace you damn well please, but please consider the irony and uselessness of casting judgment on the distances covered by others.
I’m not the fastest hiker, but I routinely cover 30+ miles a day with relative ease. When people say things like “you can’t be seeing anything,” I remind them that while I’m up hiking early, catching the first rays of dawn as it spreads across the horizon, they’re still slumbering away in their shelter. When they stop at dusk to pitch camp at the end of their day, I’m still moseying down the trail, watching nocturnal animals creep out of their hiding places and observing that silent, magical time when purple dusk fades slowly to inky black. By hiking longer, I see much, much more than they do. When on a hike, I want to see everything…not just the inside of my tent. In 2013, I had the good fortune to tag along with Heather “Anish” Anderson for three days while she was on her way to setting an FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail. We were both doing the exact same thing…she was just doing it for more hours each day. During those three days we spent together, she wasn’t so fast that the experience was a blur. She walked just over three mph, an average hiking pace, and was keenly aware of her surroundings. We laughed at each other's jokes, contemplated armchair philosophy, farted loudly and with relish (ok that was mainly me). Pretty much the same thing every hiker does, but without stopping for anything other than to sleep, take a daily 20-minute break, and pee. Well, she stopped to pee, I urinate while walking. It’s an ultra-runner thing.
Hiking the Colorado CDT 2015
The point of this whole silly story is that you don’t have to understand an FKT, but you should respect it the same way you hope folks back home can respect your hiking obsession. Just because someone is doing something different, in hopes of expanding their consciousness and facing the limits to their capabilities doesn’t mean you should look down your nose at their efforts. Fastest known time, slowest known time – it’s more important to see the similarities, the main one being that we’re all spending time, that singular most precious thing we have on this earth, doing what we love. Time spent in the wilderness is never a bad thing, regardless of speed.