Jeff “Legend” Garmire Just Set the Long Trail Unsupported FKT, his Third Speed Record of 2019

You might know the name Jeff “Legend” Garmire from another 2019 Fastest Known Time (FKT) or two. Garmire has set three FKTs on three separate trails this year. On April 19, 2019 (yes, just over three months ago), Garmire successfully set the Arizona Trail Self-Supported FKT, completing the 800 miles in 15 days, 13 hours, and 10 minutes. He also set the Self-Supported Pinhoti Trail FKT this year. And it’s not even August.

Garmire at the Northern Terminus of the Long Trail.

On July 18 at 5:59 a.m., Garmire started his unsupported FKT attempt at the Northern Terminus of Vermont’s Long Trail (LT) on the US / Canada border. He reached the Southern Terminus of the Long Trail at 5:47 a.m. on July 24, hiking the rugged 273-mile trail in five days, 23 hours, and 48 minutes, beating the previous unsupported FKT of six days, nine hours, and 48 minutes. This means Garmire averaged 45.5 miles per day on some seriously brutal terrain, pushing himself past a mental and physical limit he had never before experienced.

Garmire’s hiking resume is extensive. He hiked the PCT in 2011, the Pacific Northwest Trail in 2014, summited the Colorado 14ers in 2015, and completed a Calendar Year Triple Crown in 2016. In 2018 he set the Unsupported FKT on the Double Trans Zion route and hiked the Great Western Loop. This year, he set the Self-Supported* Arizona Trail FKT and the Self-Supported Pinhoti Trail FKT, along with thru-hiking the John Muir Trail (just for fun, he says). Now, Garmire can add the Unsupported Long Trail FKT to the list.

Garmire during his Pinhoti Trail FKT. “Just say I’m an aspiring model.”

*For the uninitiated, “Unsupported” means hikers carries all of their supplies start to finish and do not resupply. “Self-supported” means hikers resupply themselves, but have no crew or outside assistance.

28-year-old Garmire grew up in Vancouver, WA,and currently resides primarily in Denver, CO. When he isn’t hiking long miles on trails around the country, he works a variety of jobs to fund his hikes, a far cry from his background in finance.

Garmire was kind enough to take time out of his busy life to answer a few burning questions I had about what keeps him motivated, how the Long Trail FKT compared to his Arizona Trail FKT, and what food he wanted most when he finished setting this record.

Special thanks to Boston local Laura Peters for her consultation on helping Garmire navigate Boston public transportation during the production of this article. Turns out spending most of your time in the woods is not conducive to figuring out multiple public transit lines. 

Maggie Slepian: Where did the trail name “Legend” come from?

Jeff Garmire: On my first thru-hike (PCT 2011), we were camped outside of Wrightwood and complaining how we should have brought a pizza out for the evening. I walked back to the road, hitched to town, and showed up an hour later with pizzas and steak for the group. It was deemed legendary and the name stuck. Now I hate it because it sounds conceited and people think I named myself.

MS: How did you get into long-distance hiking? 

JG: The PCT in 2011 was my first thru-hike. I first heard of the PCT in high school when my family met two thru-hikers in Oregon and were trail angels to them, inviting them to our cabin and feeding them. We were surprised by how much they ate.

MS: What inspired you to attempt the FKT on the Long Trail?

JG: To test my limit and see how I could handle one of the most brutal trails out there.

MS: Did you train for this trail? Or are you just perpetually in hiking shape?

JG: I trained by doing about 400 miles of hiking and running in the High Sierra, including the John Muir Trail.

MS: Was the Long Trail FKT harder than the Arizona Trail FKT? 

JG: The Long Trail was harder because it was unsupported, as well as the fact the terrain was much more difficult. They are almost incomparable, because within the Arizona Trail there were resupplies, which were like micro-goals. On the LT it was harder to segment into smaller goals and tackle in increments. It was just one big beast.

A familiar sight to anyone who has set foot on a trail in Vermont.

MS: Did you think you had a good chance to get the LT FKT?

JG: Yes. My goal was always to break six days, not to only break the LT FKT. My personal goal was right at the edge of possible most the trip, which is why I only got it by 12 minutes.

MS: What section of the LT was the hardest? Easiest?

JG: The first 130 miles were the hardest. The last 100 miles, which are the same as the Appalachian Trail, were easier.

MS: What was your longest day for mileage and time? How did you have time to sleep?

JG: I hiked 58 miles in 24 hours. The most sleep I got was four hours on night one, and I slept one hour total during the final 49 hours.

Garmire at the Southern Terminus of the Long Trail after successfully setting the unsupported FKT.

MS: Tell me a few key items you carried. What was your total pack weight?

JG: I had very little. A key item was my headlamp and enough battery to charge it. A tarp, quilt, SPOT, and rain gear is about it. My base weight was around seven pounds, but I don’t keep track of stats too much. The total pack weight was about 28 pounds at the beginning, mostly made up of food. It quickly got much lighter.

MS: How did you track your location? GPS? How often did you check in?

JG: I used a SPOT (which sucks) and had it on interval tracking. It went out as often as it could get a signal out, which was anxiety-inducingly intermittent. I also was able to track the majority of it on my watch, when I could keep it charged since I only had so much battery power for the entirety since I could receive no support.

MS: What particular challenges did this trail present that others haven’t? Terrain? Weather?

JG: The terrain was ridiculous. Carrying a heavy pack through some of the most technical terrain in the US was tough. There was rain and fog and 93-degree heat and humidity. It was all there. Definitely the toughest section of any trail up north. The mental struggle of having lower miles despite extreme exertion was tough to reconcile. It was an emotional roller coaster and a constant adjusting of expectations.

MS: Since this was unsupported, you had no resupply, correct? 

JG: Yes, all unsupported. I even carried all my garbage along the way for the entire length, plus the microtrash I picked up from the trail along the way.

MS: How do you maintain speed to do big miles over challenging terrain?

JG: Speed is probably not the right word. It was more about hours put into it and relentless forward motion as well as efficiency, because most of the time speed was just not possible over Long Trail terrain. It was more about efficiency and maximizing moving time.

MS: Fair enough. What were your strategies for saving time and being efficient?

JG: Quick pack-up after sleep, and also how I had my pack packed. I left one-third of my food at the bottom of my pack and one-third at the top. I never had to touch the bottom half until the second half of the trip. Everything I needed during the day I could reach without taking my pack off.

MS: What goes through your head during an FKT attempt? Are you thinking about the record the whole time?

JG: I try to focus on the day at hand and attempt to not dwell on yesterday or think about tomorrow. It is impossible to do this, but I make the most effort possible in trying to maximize my productivity for the time at hand. I often use mantras and during the tough times I would think, “This moment is short,” to remind myself that I may feel awful or have bad hallucinations or messed-up vision because of sleep deprivation, but the moment will pass quickly in the grand scheme of things and to just wait it out and keep pushing.

Garmire’s feet post-FKT. Try unseeing that.

MS: What is your fueling strategy for speed records?

JG: Eat a lot early to get the pack weight down, and then depend on fat burning and a strong head and willpower to make it the final couple days.

MS: What’s the first food you wanted to eat when you were done?

JG: Anything. I was out of food. I ate like 12 quesadillas that Mugwort (trail name) made for me once I finished and made it out to the road. I would have eaten anything

MS: Anything else on the books for you?

JG: I have a full write-up on the Long Trail FKT coming out within a couple of days, and I have a book dropping in a few weeks called Freeoutside about my Calendar Year Triple Crown. Possibly some more FKTs. I’m running low on money though, so who knows.

Related

All photos courtesy Jeff Garmire

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