FKT: Danny Mejia - Hundred Mile Wilderness (ME) - 2020-08-02

Gender category
Male
Route variation
Standard route
Multi-sport
No
Style
Unsupported
Start date
Finish date
Total time
1d 9h 18m 55s
Photos
Report

I started at 7:55:00, but didn't start the tracking on my watch until 7:58 according to Garmin. (my inReach died and that verification data is no good) I have photos at the sign from 7:54, and in a video submitted here, you can see my watch at 7:55:47, just after I started though no longer at the sign. Adding 3 minutes (the time between 7:55:00 at the sign and 7:58 when I started my watch tracking) to my GPX time would be 33:18:55, which is the time I am submitting here.

Also of note: for whatever reason, my watch took ~30 some minutes to connect to GPS, so I unfortunately don't have GPX data from that part of my fkt, but it was tracking time throughout. Hopefully the Strava link makes this clear.

REPORT

I took a deep breath when I arrived at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson, Maine at 6pm on Friday, July 31, ready to start my FKT attempt the following morning. Shaw's was familiar to me—I stayed there on my AT thru hike in 2018, and really enjoy the services and general vibe hostel owners Hippie Chick and Poet provide. I rented myself a solo room, ate a dinner I packed, connected with a few hikers outside, and got in bed early.

I slept a solid 6 hours without interruption, and then on and off until 6:30 when my alarm rang. I got my bag ready and trail clothes on, and went downstairs for breakfast. After a huge helping of potatoes eggs and bacon, and one blueberry pancake because I just couldn’t say no (enjoyed outside/away from people), I got a ride along ME-15 to the start of the hundred mile wilderness. I took my photos at the sign and I was off.

This year felt different than last year, when I also attempted the hundred mile wilderness unsupported FKT. Last year, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into. I was incredibly nervous at the beginning last year, unsure how sleep deprivation and 50+ miles would affect me. Spoiler alert: not well, and I bailed at Jo Mary road in 2019, 58.5 miles in. But I learned a lot in that attempt, and started this year with a greater sense of confidence, more intentional training, and a better mental plan for fighting the sleep deprivation that robbed me last year.

The first ~18 miles up to Barren Mountain were as expected—relatively easy except for the climb to Barren Ledges. It was really hot, I think the forecast expected 81 degrees, so the name of the game for that first chunk of day 1 was to try to log as many sub-20 minute miles jogging where I could, and to keep as hydrated as possible.

By the time I was up on the Chairbacks, I could feel the deep fatigue beginning to settle in. My legs were getting tired, and I started to question my confidence being able to extend this effort through 100 miles. I thought I was on top of Chairback 2 when I was only on 3, and felt myself slipping a bit mentally. My achilles tendon, which I first injured on my FKT attempt last year, began to flare up, only 27 miles in. I decided I needed a break. I found a nice little patch of moss and curled up in a ball, just for 2 or 3 minutes, and although I didn’t fall asleep, I felt rejuvenated when I continued again. I think my mind and body just needed a brief break after being dehydrated all day, and from the constant reading of foot placement amongst rocks and roots. Picking back up, it began cooling off, and the new name of the game became trying to get as much of the Whitecap range done as possible before it got dark.

Down at the flatter section between the Chairback and Whitecap ranges, my achilles continued to hurt, and I really doubted my body’s ability to do this thing. As I crossed West Pleasant River, and recorded a video on my phone expressing my concerns, I reached a sign telling me I was only 83 miles from Katahdin. It was a gut-wrenching sight; I couldn’t even imagine doing anywhere close to that number of miles with the pain my achilles was causing me. I was especially discouraged with the fact that my achilles hurt most when I tried to run, and knew that I had to run this section as well as the section around Jo Mary road if I was to have a competitive time. I was worried, and actually really angry, that I would have to make a decision by Jo Mary whether I would continue attempting this record and run the risk of ripping my achilles off my heel bone, or concede for the second consecutive year on what had become my number one project.

In a weird twist of events, getting angry about my achilles felt really good, because it allowed me to feel something other than feeling deeply tired. I got a little second wind, and felt able to jog downhills without too much pain. Rather than opting to jog flats and risk furthering the injury, I decided it would be best to just speed walk the flats and hope my achilles would feel better later.

As the sun began setting on the climb up Gulf Hagas, I actually started gaining more light, gaining elevation quick enough to offset the sun setting behind the ridge to the West. The idea of gaining light, while hiking the most technical part of the trail riled me up, and I found myself moving quicker than I imagined across the entire range. I couldn’t believe how much easier it is in the light as compared to the pitch dark of last year. I felt myself gaining stoke again, and carried that all the way to the top of Whitecap. I described in a video I took of myself that the last five miles across the range were “out of this world.” The summit of Whitecap was entirely still and although the sun had set by then, the large near-full moon provided a decent amount of light. It was a beautiful moment, and I cruised downhill knowing I had easier terrain ahead.

Once I got to little Boardman, I ate a celebratory bag of Tostino’s Pizza Rolls for being halfway. I changed my socks, took a poop, and continued forward. I had terrible blisters on my feet at this point, but it felt pretty low-grade on the pain scale, and I figured it was inevitable for an attempt of this magnitude. Then I ran a good bit to Jo Mary road, as my achilles felt better, but a surplus of blowdowns across the trail slowed me down. Still, I was proud of being able to pick up time in the middle of the night, and wasn’t yet tired enough to need a power nap. I hit Jo Mary road at 18h39m, and continued onward, excited to make a real run at this attempt past the place I had bailed a year earlier.

By 4:15AM, I could tell I was fading and would need a nap. My legs were throbbing and I figured also could benefit. I curled up in a ball essentially right on the trail, and set alarms on my phone and watch for 10 minutes. Within a few minutes I was asleep, but I woke myself up with 4 minutes still left on the timer, concerned about getting moving again. I realized that with the current shape of my legs, I might not be able to run any of the remaining section of trail, so I started walking again as fast as I could. I had 35 miles remaining, and felt incredibly confident being nearly 2 hours in front of the record time, but also felt my body slipping.

The sun rose, bringing renewed energy, and the trail in front of me was smooth, but I still felt like I was just surviving and “holding on.” The idea of holding on for 30 miles after working hard for 70 miles might not sound terrible, but thats 10 hours of holding on—that felt like an unimaginably long time to be in pain and have to keep moving forward. At one point in this stretch, I went over a small hill that was maybe only 100 ft, and felt like dying. My legs did not feel normal, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was wrong with them. I guess they were just very very tired. I also found myself so so hungry at this point in the journey, which made hiking fast hard, as I was constantly chewing or drinking or reaching into my pack.

The climb up Nesuntabunt at mile 78 was one of the hardest climbs of my life. You could have told me the 1,522 ft mountain was a 4000ft’er and I would have believed you. I pushed as hard as I could to keep half-decent pace on the uphill, and drank all my water knowing there wouldn’t be any good drinking water for another 4 miles.

Then on the downhill, something changed deep inside my right knee. I wasn’t sure what was happening at first, but taking normal steps was painful. I tried to disassociate, pretending the pain was happening in another realm rather than this one where I still had 20 miles left and was out of water, but the pain became overwhelming. When it would spike, I would throw my body onto the ground, because that move would often hurt less than whatever was convulsing in my knee. During one particularly painful episode, I threw my body onto its left side and popped the two remaining caffeinated gels I had in my left pocket. Now my left leg was coated in a thick slimy layer of double espresso gel. Just a few hours ago, I thought I had this attempt in the bag, and now it felt like my worst nightmare was becoming a reality. I was injured, and the next 16-20 miles were going to be profoundly painful.

At some point in the next few miles, I realized I could tilt my right foot nearly 45 degrees out to the right and walk super duck footed to avoid the knee pain. If the space in front of my heel was a clock, it was like stepping between the 1 and 2 for each step. It felt weird to step like this, definitely, but prevented the violent convulsions that were now causing me to yelp in pain when I misstepped. I had 16 miles left, and entirely doubted my ability to walk on this injury, even if I had time to spare on the record. My 16-19 minute miles power walking were now 20-23 minute pained hobbles, but I figured I could still get the FKT with the time I banked in the first 70 miles.

30 minutes later, and I could care less about the FKT. The pain was all-consuming, and I wanted it to stop as soon as possible. I sat for a moment and felt myself falling asleep, and a voice inside my head said bluntly “are you dying?” A different voice answered “No, you’re just falling asleep,” and I woke myself up. I looked on Guthook for any possible escape routes, and there was nothing, so I was stuck with the reality of hobbling out, even if it would take me another 4 hours to walk the remaining 10 miles.

I felt disappointed and sad that all I had worked for, in training and preparation for this attempt, was gonna come down to how quickly I could hobble on an injured knee on no sleep. But I had no option. I maneuvered my right leg like a club, as quickly as I could up to rainbow ledges. I played favorite albums into my headphones, hoping to provide myself any sense of normalcy or comfort as I struggled forward. Getting down to Hurd Brook was especially painful, as the downhill brought out the worst in the convulsions and the knee was definitely getting worse. But now I only had 3.3 miles remaining to get to the road, and had over 2 hours to do it to break the record. Barring a catastrophe, I could do this thing.

I hobbled and I hobbled some more to the 100 mile wilderness sign, where my uncle met me and took my photo. Getting to Golden Road, I still had to walk to the middle of the bridge, but at this point I knew I had done it. Tears filled my eyes as I thought about all I had worked towards finally becoming reality, and also from knowing the pain would soon be over. I finished in 33h18m55s.

My aunt and uncle cooked me Haddock for dinner and I showered the gel off my leg at the Abol campground. After dinner, I crawled inside my car and into my sleeping bag, able to shut my eyes and rest my body. It wasn’t the ending I dreamed up, but I had finished a 2-year project in finally setting an unsupported FKT on the 100 mile wilderness. I smiled a smile of deep contentment and nodded off to sleep.

I want to say thank you to all my friends and family who supported me in this wild endeavor. Special shout outs go to Witt, the previous record holder, for being such an inspiration and positive force throughout this process, my aunt and uncle for shuttling my car and helping me become human again at the end of the effort, to my close friends who recorded motivational videos of themselves for me to watch during the attempt, and to everyone I’ve ever shared a mile of thru-hiking with on a national scenic trail: y’all all inspire me more than you could ever know. This effort was for you all.