FKT: Ben Mercer, Allison Mercer - GA Appalachian Trail (GA) - 2020-10-03

Gender category
Mixed-gender team
Route variation
Standard route
Multi-sport
No
Style
Unsupported
Start date
Finish date
Total time
23h 23m 35s
GPS track(s)
Report

I don’t remember exactly when my wife got the idea to run the Georgia Appalachian Trail in one push. I’m guessing it was sometime after her Georgia Loop FKT? But, it was definitely my idea to attempt the Georgia AT unsupported. I figured successfully completing the route in this manner would be more challenging and rewarding to me personally. I was curious to see how far I could travel with just the essentials and no bailout. Also, I couldn’t think of any better way to spend some quality time with my wife.

Since we we’re going unsupported it was incredibly important to maintain the integrity of the rules. Prior to starting I discussed with her that we wouldn’t be able to lend any assistance to the other in terms of support (no mulling, pacing, or even touching) and made sure she was on-board. With all the rules laid out, we packed our packs to meet our own specific caloric/gear needs and picked a date to make the attempt.

With yesterday being the day, the plan was to get off work Friday and then sleep five or six hours and then drive to Blue Ridge Gap. Hike the four miles up to Bly gap and start by 5AM. However, it was our luck that our neighbors left their dogs home along in their apartment and they barked non-stop from 5PM to 9PM. After tossing and turning, I finally rolled over and asked Allison if she would be okay to go ahead and start early on no-sleep. She was in. This is where not having a crew comes in handy because you have the flexibility to change plans on a dime.

So we made the couple hour drive early and started the hike into Bly Gap at about 12:40 AM Saturday morning. The hike in was about 4 miles with 1,800 Ft. of climbing on our way we stopped at the state line for a photo-op and then proceeded a maybe a tenth of a mile further to officially start at Bly Gap.

The morning was very brisk and we had a beautiful full moon which allowed us to dim our headlamps to conserve our batteries as much as possible. The run from Bly Gap to Dicks Creek went smoothly without a hitch despite Allison taking a little spill on the first decent. It was hard to watch and know I couldn’t lend any support but that’s why we do these things.

From Dicks Creek to the top of Tray Mountain is about 11 miles with some very steep climbs but since it was mostly dark we just settled into a very easy rhythm and clicked away miles. This seemed a little too easy considering I was already 24 hours without sleep by 7AM. By the time we got to the top of Tray my stomach was a little uneasy from too much sugars. So I decided to incorporate the solid foods I carried to supplement the gels which worked.

The pace was laid back all day but we knew we could get a leg up on our time if we ran the section from Unicoi Gap to Hogpen quickly which we were able to execute on. During this stretch we ran into our friend Brian Montero who we hadn’t seen since pre-covid. He was running from Woody Gap to Unicoi. We caught up on things for two or three minutes before we continued to press onwards.

The next section from Hogpen to Neels Gap sucks and after Tesnatee Gap the trail is seemingly nothing but loose rock which destroyed my feet. In retrospect, I think should have sacrificed having a plush shoe for something a little more rigid. My tender feet definitely played a huge role in how the rest of the day would unwind. The descents almost became un-runnable. When I was able to run it was mostly done when the trail was decently buffed out. Which if you know the AT is almost nowhere. Despite my tender feet we were still able to click of the miles at a respectable time and just kept plugging away.

We pulled into Woody Gap just before sunset and took a few minutes to arrange our packs for what we would need going into the night. This is where things started to get real. All day filtering water from the springs and streams we crossed went well but this late into the effort I kind of started getting lazy with my hydration. I wasn’t taking enough salt caps to mitigate cramping either. So, there were some pretty rough miles from Coopers Gap to Hightower and on to Hawk Mtn but I just kept one foot in-front of the other. It became apparent that we probably wouldn’t be able to close hard enough to touch James Wray’s time but the unsupported time and a sub-24 hour finish were obtainable even if we hiked. So that’s pretty much what we did from Three Forks on.

We arrived at the top of Springer in 23:23:35 and stopped our watches then collapsed in relief by the plaque. We were so happy to be done and it was nice to be able to give my wife a hug and a kiss. Then we had the pleasure of hiking a mile back to the parking lot where we had our car shuttled too. What a day! The AT was 76 miles with almost 20K of vert and we hiked an additional 5 miles with another 1,800 ft. just to get to the start/finish. All of this was done on no-sleep. Needless to same I’m exhausted but extremely satisfied.

Thanks to my wife for being the best adventure partner and my parents for shuttling our car to Springer Mountain.

Gear used:

Salomon Advanced Skin 12L Pack

Two Speed Flask

One UD body flask with Katadyn filter

Black Diamond Distance Z-Poles

Black Diamond Spot Head Lamp with extra set of AAA batteries

Patagonia Waterproof Gloves

Soft Shell Jacket

Emergency Blanket

First Aid (a few band aids, safety pin, toilet paper, and a lighter)

Nutrition:

2,000 or 3,000 calories of GUS or GU products

4,000 calories of real food (two tunasalad sandwiches, two mashed potato quesadillas, chips, oreos, and poptarts.

Comments

Allison Mercer report - A week ago, as we were standing in ankle deep mud lost somewhere along Bly Gap Rd and the sun was starting to set, I wondered to myself, am I stupid for attempting this.  The answer is yes, but of course am I going to give it a go, FUCK YES!  After completing the Georgia Loop with Ben in June, I thought we could totally attempt the Georgia AT FKT… well maybe when it was cooler.  We had done all of our training section by section creating memories along the way that I would look back on during our run and just smile no matter how many times I fell, tripped, or cursed at a rock. Of course the two most important parts of the Georgia AT to me are Unicoi Gap where Ben and I had our first date and Woody Gap where I first met Ben (well he started following me on Strava after an eventful run with Eli Dickerson, Andrew Catanese and some other characters we met along the way).

The beauty of FKTs is you can choose when you want to attempt the route, so we waited til the perfect time where we felt our bodies and the weather were aligned.  Low and behold two other people were attempting it the same day so it felt like a race almost (nearly forgot what that felt like). We planned to start at the top of Bly Gap and head south at 5am since Springer is the appropriate terminus of the AT.  However, our neighbor’s dogs had other plans for us as they wouldn’t stop barking all night, so Ben asked if I wanted to start earlier.  I agreed and said at least starting at night we can maximize the daylight and it will force us to start slowly.  As we started down Bly Gap towards Dicks Creek I was scared since I hadn’t done a lot of night running (except for the 4x4x48 challenge) so I was definitely cautious, but soon found a flow (thank you full moon) after we made our way across Dicks Creek towards Tray, one of the hardest sections.  I guess when you do it in the dark you don’t see the mess you sign up for.  During that section I thought of Ben’s friend Michael Patton who attempt the GA AT FKT a few weeks ago and had some struggles.  I reminded myself how lucky we are to do this and inspired by the effort Michael put forth.  After reaching the top of Tray (where we actually had a decent view!) we made our way down to Indian Grave where we refilled our bottles and headed towards the fun climb up Rocky Mountain and down to Unicoi Gap only to deal with those lovely rocks along Horse Trough to Jack’s Knob.   After Jack’s Knob I knew it was running time to gain ground and time.  I couldn’t believe running felt good and just relaxed as it got warmer.  Of course, dumb me took off my long sleeve and forgot to pick my poles up so I had to double back to retrieve them.  On our climb up to Hogpen Gap we came across our friend Brian Montero who we hadn’t seen since probably new year’s.  It was nice to see a friendly face and chat, but of course had to cut it short as we still had 35 miles to get done.  After Hogpen we had to deal with another tough stretch from Testnasty to Cowpen towards Neels.  While it isn’t long, some of those rocks and climbs aren’t fun especially on a Saturday afternoon with lots of other people.  However, Neel’s Gap to Blood was even more crowded so once we made it to the top we took a break and ate some delicious quesadillas. Heading down Blood we gained that momentum back but then I started feeling a little nauseous and didn’t want to eat but forced myself as we were getting close to Preacher’s Rock and knew after that we would only be 20 miles out (yeah only)  At Woody Gap I put my long sleeve on, switched batteries out of my headlamp and prepared for the sunset and another night of running.  Heading to Gooch Gap was mostly runnable and also to Coopers Gap where it was nice to get more water around Devil’s Kitchen.  However, I knew we were not in the clear even with 12 miles to go as those rocks along Hawk Mountain and Hightower just wouldn’t end.  Finally, when we got thru that section and could hear Long Branch Falls, we knew we were going to do it.   But of course, as I crossed the bridge at Three Forks, I had a typical me fall.  I was SOOOO close to have a blood free run but of course not.  After that we took our time to Springer knowing we would break the unsupported time.  We did it in a Michael Jordan time of 23:23!  We laid there for a while then headed back to the car to drive home feeling accomplished, shocked and ready to be home!

 

Thank you for everyone that followed us along (well while the InReach worked).  Special thanks to the GA AT FKT overall record holder James Wray for answering my million questions as well as Daniel Cates!  And of course, last but not least thank you to my amazing husband to whom makes these adventures so worthwhile.