Hiking in Record Time, Kaiha Bertollini Champions for Sexual Assault Awareness
“I didn’t choose the AT, the AT found me.”
Kaiha “Wild Card Ninja” Bertollini was at a crossroads in her life when the Appalachian Trail found her in January 2016. After a chance encounter with a friend of a friend who was just finishing his SOBO hike, Bertollini decided to get on the trail herself. She quit her job, entrusted her mother with her dog, packed up her possessions and on January 4th 2016, hiked the last 630 miles with a stranger who would become a good friend. Now she’s southbounding on her yo-yo hike.
On September 19th, 2016 she plans to finish her thru-hike, just 46 days from her start date. The AT’s self-supported Fastest Known Time currently belongs to Heather “Anish” Anderson who hiked it in 54 days, 7 hours, and 48 minutes. The supported FKT currently belongs to Scott Jurek with a time of 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes. Because of the spontaneity of this hike, Bertollini is not carrying a GPS tracking device, and thus is not in strict compliance with FKT guidelines.
In 2010, Bertollini was sexually assaulted by multiple men in her unit while serving in the military. She was discharged due to the PTSD she had developed as a result of the attack and what followed was a period of intense disconnection and grief. After meeting another survivor and seeing how important it was to share their stories of pain and hope, Bertollini’s life changed. “Just maybe I could keep it from happening to anyone else… I was able to empower myself through being there for others like me. I started to tell my truth and took back my life.”
Bertollini created the site, Hike For Our Lives, with which shares her mission, features video updates from her hike, serves as a place for supporters to donate and an offers a space for other survivors to share their stories. Here she writes:
“The events of that night forever changed the way I connect with the world around me. However, with time, the events from that night also lead me down a path of self-empowerment, self-love, and self-respect that no one will ever be able to take from me again. Although, some things will never be the same, I am no longer afraid to speak out against sexual assault and oppression of any kind.”
Jenny “Meatballs” Carrington met Bertollini at PermaJam, a festival that her own non-profit organization, Freedom2Fit partners with. Carrington is a sexual assault survivor and activist herself. Like Bertollini, she is using her past and physical expression as a way to heal, connect and empower others. Carrington says that, “We are looking for anyone and everyone who is passionate about this cause to join the conversation, share their stories of molestation, harassment, sexual assault, and rape, sign the petition, or become a funder.” One of her larger goals being to:
“Create an application process for Freedom2Fit, Inc. to sponsor at least one female and one male per year (particularly that have been victims of sexual assault) with full funding to hike the Appalachian Trail as a part of an ongoing Hike for Our Lives project.”
The physical aspect of Bertollini’s hike is daunting. She hikes 36 to 53 miles a day stating that, “The only way to get used to walking 40 plus miles, is to walk 40 plus miles. I’m not fast, just, walk all day and night.” Her base weight without food is ~8lbs. The contents of her pack, which is a Gorilla 40L, include:
- 15L food bag
- Emergency blanket and fleece bag liner
- Mini toothbrush & toothpaste
- Hand sanitizer & wipes
- Fleece pants & wool thermal
- Two pair socks
- Sawyer Squeeze Mini & syringe
- Half of a Thermarest sleeping pad
- Hammock & straps
- Dress & underwear
- Pack cover
- Ground cover
Much of Bertollini’s gear has been given to her on the trail during her NOBO hike. She has also received generous donations from Hoka One One, ZPacks, and Classlink.
“It matters not if I break the record or not, nothing happens if I don’t try and I choose try.”
The Trail community is renowned for its unparalleled support and welcoming attitude. Bertollini says her message has been well received by those she’s met. “Of course, there has been some who doubt, or don’t understand why I would put my body through this. I knew once I started hiking and showed them, then no one would be able to ignore my project and what I was trying to accomplish for myself and for others. And the encouragement and emotional support flooded in. The support of the trail community has made all the difference in my hike and builds the strength in my heart to keep going.”
Like any thru hike, there are challenges however. “I experience so many highs and lows in one day with my miles doubled. There is no trail family to lift my spirits or make fun of me. No one to embrace or talk to at the end of the day. No pat on the back for another day completed. I have to encourage and motivate myself to take another step and most days, I still struggle to believe I am really making a difference.” Her PTSD has also been a challenge.
“PTSD never fully goes away. When I first started walking it was nonexistent. Then as I began my speed hike I am becoming more aware of it and what triggers my episodes. The beautiful fact for me today is, I see and feel when it’s happening and can pause before I act. That is such a gift for someone like me and I give all credit to hiking the AT. Mentally I am more at ease with every step.”
Her spirits are also renewed whenever another victim of trauma connects with her. “What I am doing is bigger than me and my individual goal of smashing the self-supported record in 49 days. I’m trying to change the world with my story in a big way by giving back to my community and my brothers and sister in humanity that have impacted my life for the better. There is only one choice, to keep walking, running and sometimes crawling until it’s done.”
“The relationship between hiking and healing is complex and never ending it seems most days. I thought I had dealt with my attack but really I had pushed it down and put bandaids on a wound that will never fully heal. Hiking made me face that. Some things won’t ever be the same but that’s okay. I don’t have to run from it….Hiking breaks you, and then it rebuilds you over and over and with each time it has made me stronger of heart, mind and body.”
As Bertollini approaches her deadline, she says there’s one thing she wants trauma survivors and hikers to know:
“Sometimes we have to start broken, but in the end you have a choice and if they can find even the smallest thing to hold on to, it will lead them out of the dark, into the light of a life they love, and is worth fighting for.”
We’re hiking in solidarity with you, Wild Card Ninja! Follow her journey here.
Photos courtesy of Kaiha Bertollini & Jenny Carrington.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
So excited to see this great story. Way to go sis! I love watching you reach for this goal.
Sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination is one reason I got out on the Appalachian Trail to try to heal as well. I’m inspired by this hike and proud of Wild Card Ninja and other organizations using hiking to raise awareness about this issue to empower women and men! And on top of that to attempt a record breaking hike! Amazing!!
Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I had no idea that women were not safe in our military. You are a true warrior, and my heart goes out to you.
You sound like a strong woman, and others will gain from your experience.
Sorry, no way she beat Karl Meltzer, a guy who holds the world record for most 100 mile races won. She has no endurance past. No ultramarathons to her credit. No multi-day adventure racing. I’m calling BS. I’m not a hater. If she were legit I’d be cheering her on, but she is NOT legit. I know a shyster and a fraud when I see one. She’ll be called out.
I agree this is complete BS
What other things have you fabricated?
Fraudulent. I’m having trouble believing anything you say at this point.
“I met Kaiha on the evening of August 12 in Andover, Maine at Pine Ellis Hiker Hostel. On August 13 she took a zero in Andover on a rainy day and sat around drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.”
Wow! What a joke!
First, we have Rob Young ride in an RV across America while claiming to be on pace to break the fastest crossing of America on foot and now this!
Rob claimed that he was doing it for the kids, while Kaiha says she’s doing it for sexual assault awareness. The real truth is that they are both attention whores/narcissists and are doing it for the same reasons that Rosie Ruiz cheated at Boston – ill-gained attention and praise from clueless sycophants. She can look forward to being exposed in the coming days on sites like letsrun. Better to come clean sooner rather than later.
Shame on this woman. For fraudulently claiming to do something she didn’t. because I broke the at record a long time ago. I did it in 20 days. All by myself. Bc I’m so spontaneous I didn’t carry a GPS watch. But trust me I did it
This poor girl needs professional help. She’s completely delusional. A smoker carrying extra weight (on her and on her back), a drinker, a former felon (once a felon always a felon) and a chronic liar whose phone “unfortunately died” at the end of the trip, and who managed to forget to carry a GPS unit! Rules are rules, the truth is the truth. Play by the rules or suffer the consequences.
I for one am standing up for Karl Meltzer and Scott Jurek and Jennifer Pharr-Davis and Heather Anderson, as they’re all likely too polite to comment on this sick chick.
“Wild Card Liar” is more like it!
The photo taken at the ATC HQs in Harpers Ferry is dtd 1 Sep 16, which is approx. 1022 miles from Springer Mountain. Ninja would have had to hike just 60 miles a day for 17 straight days to reach Springer on 18 Sep. Lets say she was able to maintain a 3 mph pace for 20hrs a day, she could travel that distance. However, that leaves 4hrs a day to eat, sleep, obtain food, pack and unpack, and of course get rides to and from hostels. I’ve done my share of high twenty mile days on the trail, but never back to back to back to back to back to back to back … She has had a great adventure but she should retract her record claim. I wish her well in all of her future endeavors.
An objective review of Kaiha’s and her cohorts’ own claims of locations and dates/times she was at those locations reveals that she is a pathological liar. She needs professional help. Don’t believe me; create your own spreadsheet. Include calculated average paces, zero days, resupply hikes, etc.. Then include parallel data for verified record-holders. Look at the contrasts. Look at the laughable variability in her pace. She started off MUCH slower, which left her needing to hike at an even-faster pace to catch up. But then, instead of catching up, she took breaks, putting her even further behind! In order to catch up, she would have needed to outpace drastically the world’s greatest hikers and ultra marathon runners. Then, after Meltzer finishes and she knows what time she has to beat to get attention, she suddenly shows up at Springer. Her claims fall apart. It is obvious that she skipped hundreds of miles of the AT. No wonder credible reports are coming in from witnesses who contradict her. Shame on her and even more on Jenny Meatballs aka Jenny McArrington (look her up on fb) who appears to be exploiting Kaiha’s mental illness for personal gain.
One look at her physical condition, the fact that she’s a smoker, and the fact that she’s an unbalanced attention whore (as can be verified by watching all of her youtube videos), was enough to convince me, but the rigorous perspective of someone who knows the realities of distances and trail times removes any doubt.
Unfortunately this woman is doing no favors to any of the alleged causes she claims to be supporting with her ‘record breaking’ hike. She’s a complete fraud.
An issue has been made of alleged “body shaming” of Kaiha Bertollini. That needs to be addressed. Body shaming is an inexcusable practice which causes far too much emotional damage, particularly to women and girls, in our image-obsessed culture.
Having read many posts which opine that Bertollini has too much body fat to have done what she claims to have done, the impression I get is that such comments have nothing to do with body shaming in the usual sense of the phrase. It’s not about what the commenters think Bertollini should weigh in order to conform to some theoretical ideal image of a woman in general. It’s all about knowledgeable runners’ and hikers’ matter-of-fact assessments of how fake her claims are. It’s not that she should be ashamed of her body at all, it’s that she should be ashamed of lying, and her body is just part of the plethora of evidence that she has lied.
Reminds me of the excellent Malcolm Gladwell book “Blink,” which addresses how people who are experienced at any particular task can often make accurate assessments at first glance. If this wiki link regarding that book works, check out the Research And Examples section. One expert spotted a very expensive, fake “ancient” Greek statue instantly, and when others tried to verify the statue’s history, they found that its documentation of provenance included zip codes and bank accounts which didn’t even exist at the times the documents were allegedly written. This statue had supposedly been buried for many centuries, but this expert had seen authentic statues when they were unearthed and cleaned, and this didn’t strike him as one of them. It had looked real to less-skilled appraisers, but to him, it was instantly recognizeable as inauthentic. The museum which paid handsomely for the counterfeit statue still refuses to admit it was duped, and tries to muddy the waters, but the art world’s consensus on the statue is similar to the hiking world’s consensus on Kaiha’s wildly-absurd claims.
The book also cautions against the innate weakness of what it calls the adaptive subconscious, including the potential to rely upon stereotypes. But when you have a hiker who probably topped out with her longest day-after-day-after-day pace being no more than 30-mile days claiming she hiked roughly double that (or more!) for many days, the hiking experts who have been accused of body shaming are probably right with their first-glance assessments. If Kaiha had been white blazing 60-mile days instead of sitting on her ass yellow blazing with Jenny Meatballs, she wouldn’t have been able to keep those pounds.
This woman is a fraud and needs help, any doubts, have a read of this:
Hike For Our Lives FB page is gone. Kaiha’s FB is gone. Gasp, no evidence package. She was embarrassed and never fessed up. Big surprises there.