My first steps on the Long Trail came in 2019 when I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail. For whatever reason, I didn’t love it. Perhaps it was because I had bad weather through Vermont. Perhaps it was because I was in a weird mental space at this point in my thru hike. Whatever the case, I didn’t leave Vermont longing for more.
I then spent three years setting speed records in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, the biggest two being the supported and unsupported Fastest Known Times (FKTs) for the New Hampshire 4,000 footers. After getting both of those records, the Long Trail seemed like the next logical multiday effort to pursue, but I didn’t feel called to it.
That changed in the Fall of 2022 when I moved to the NH/VT Upper Valley for medical school at Dartmouth. I began training on the local trails in Vermont and started to understand why these trails are so loved. Over a couple of months, the idea of the Long Trail snuck back into my head. If I were to try to compete for a record with a national profile, the Long Trail is easily the one that best fits my skill set. Alright, fine, we’re doing this. What am I up against?
When you’re coming up in the unsupported multiday scene, people like Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy and Jeff “Legend” Garmire are, well, legends. And they were the two people I’d be competing directly against for this record. Stringbean’s technically self-supported record of 4 days 23 hours 54 minutes was an incredible time, and for all intents and purposes, it was the true unsupported record. If I was going to go for it, that was the mark. It was intimidating. But throughout the entire process, I kept coming back to one truism – everyone seemed to think that the Long Trail was the most difficult terrain they’d ever hiked.
I knew that this wouldn’t be the case for me. Objectively, the White Mountains are just harder than the Green Mountains, and I’d just spent three years cutting my teeth in the Whites. Don’t get me wrong, the Long Trail has its moments that are just as difficult as the Whites, but that only accounts for probably 70-100 of the 272-mile Long Trail. With this knowledge, it was time to craft a training plan to make it happen.
Being in medical school, I didn’t have a ton of free time to play with. However, I knew that I had eight weeks between my first and second years during the summer when I would be able to train hard and race. I knew that I would need to formulate a training plan that would fit within the constraints of my schedule. This was also complicated by the fact that for much of the winter, I was dealing with an Achilles injury (thank you to my physical therapist Neil MacKenzie for helping me get back to full training).
My plan wasn’t very complicated or glorious. Until mid-June (when classes ended), I consistently trained 8-12 hours per week and tried to hit as much vertical as possible. I was more focused on training time and vertical gain than the actual activity, so I did a mix of ski touring, cycling, trail running, hiking, and stair stepping. I set a minimum vertical-per-week of 10,000 feet, which I almost always greatly surpassed.
This consistent volume was to prepare me for a cluster of large training days in the summer; it’s a method that Xander and I refer to as the “get in shape to get in shape” method. Basically, when finals ended, I wanted to be fit enough so that I could handle a few weeks of very high-volume, specific training. As the spring progressed, I started adding in threshold workouts and strides under the guidance of Jordan Fields.
The strategy worked. In the 23 days after finals ended, I hiked and ran approximately 400 miles with over 100,000 ft of elevation gain. In that time, I paced Xander for 40 miles of his 100 Mile Wilderness FKT, paced Bill Tidd for 60 miles of his New Hampshire 4,000 Footers FKT, and completed a 12-day scouting thru hike of the Long Trail. Hiking the Long Trail in its entirety as a practice run was very intentional. I highly value knowledge of the route, its quirks and terrain, and what it feels like to go end-to-end.
One other training note - around New Year’s, I started buying into the concept of intentional heat and cold exposure. Specifically, I’ve never been good with heat, and I figured that since I was shooting for a late July start date, it might be hot. For months, I would go to the sauna at the Dartmouth gym at least four times per week for at least 20 minutes. I finished each session with a cold shower. During my taper, I went even more aggressive with the sauna, going almost every day and doing a cycle of 3X (15 minutes in the sauna, 5-minute cold shower). It’s all anecdotal, but I felt like I had far fewer problems with heat this summer than I normally do.
Now all there was to do was wait for a decent weather window. Those have been few and far between in New England this summer. In the meantime, I finished up the final logistics – I created a spreadsheet with the help of Bill Tidd that split the Long Trail into 52 manageable sections. I set goal paces based on what I felt like was reasonable from my scouting hike. In the end, I came out with a projected time of around four days 17 hours - provided I sleep four hours per night. I spoke with John Kelly about his sleep strategies and decided to cut down on some of my sleep, giving me a new projected time of just under four days, 15 hours. I thought this was aggressive. Jack Kuenzle mocked my projections. Xander said I wasn’t being aggressive enough.
Lastly, I created flashcards that contained a dumbed-down version of the spreadsheet information for each segment. That way, when I was on trail, I could glance at a card and get an idea of pace, elevation gain, profile, water sources, time goals, etc. These would be invaluable throughout the effort.
Finally, a weather window seemed to take shape. It was looking quite hot and humid, with most days in the low to mid-80s, but it looked to be clear of rain. Based on the trends this summer, I felt like I might have to choose between rain and heat. Based on my consistent heat acclimation training and how disgusting the Long Trail is when it’s really wet, I chose this hot window. I put out feelers to multiple friends for a ride to the northern terminus. My friend and legendary FKT athlete Jordan Fields kindly offered to drive me up early morning. With all the logistics figured out, it was game time.
***Quick note on nutrition. My nutrition breakdown for this effort was as follows: 30,500 calories of Infinit nutrition powder, 1,700 calories of assorted gels, and 2 Nature Valley bars. I chose liquid nutrition for this effort because it is incredibly simple, and as long as I adhered to the program, it essentially eliminated the possibility of a nutrition-related bonk.***
DAY 1 – SUNDAY JULY 23, 2023 – 45.7 MILES, 14,500 VERTICAL FEET
I was already wide awake when my alarm went off at 3:30 am. I ate a good-sized breakfast just in time for Jordan and his dog Wendell to roll up to my house. Jordan kindly agreed to drive me two hours to the northern terminus on fairly last-minute notice. On the way out the door, I snagged a couple of Nature Valley bars that I had lying around – I thought they might make a nice treat for later in the effort since I'd be drinking nearly all my fuel. I curled up in the back of the car and slept as best I could on the way up.
It was shaping up to be a beautiful (albeit hot) day as we arrived at Journey's End Road, but on the way up the approach trail, Jordan commented on how wet the trail was. We were spending a lot of time hopping around puddles and mud on the trail. I remembered the approach trail being particularly wet on my scouting hike, so I hoped that the actual Long Trail would be better. Jordan carried my pack up the approach trail, and Wendell splashed straight through the puddles.
We arrived at the northern terminus at around 6:35. I made all my projections and flashcards based on a 7:00 am start, so I wanted to start exactly then. Wendell didn't seem to understand why we were just sitting around – he seemed anxious to get a move on and go do something. Same buddy, same.
Finally, 7:00am rolled around, and I said goodbye to Jordan and Wendell as I left the northern terminus with my 33-pound backpack. There wasn't a specific mileage goal for the day. I didn't even know ballpark how many miles to expect per day. My only goal was to get to the end of the current segment at or before my projected time. I knew I was in good shape if I hit my splits. Nothing else mattered. One worry was that my splits in the northernmost 50 miles were the ones that I was least confident in.
I worked fast through the first few splits, opening an hour lead on my projections by mile 27. I was shocked and thought I might have made an error in my calculations. I called Xander and had the following conversation:
"Am I reading it right that I'm an hour ahead of my splits?"
"Sick. Thanks. Bye".
Somewhere in these first few hours, I started having horrible stomach cramps. Some of the worst pain I've ever experienced. At one point, I was literally balled up on the side of the trail for a few minutes. In the past, the transition from solid food to Infinit has sometimes caused me some mild stomach upset, but this was not that. I don't know the cause, but it was terrible. In any case, it subsided after about an hour and didn't return.
I love these first 50 miles. They remind me of some of the more remote sections of the Appalachian Trail in Maine – not heinously difficult by east coast standards, but solid vertical with a very wild feel. I got turned around briefly on the ski trails on Jay Peak but quickly course-corrected and hit the split on the climb. The trail was wet and muddy but manageable. Directly after rain, this section absolutely soaks you because there's a lot of foliage draped over the trail. My body and feet were sneakily damp through most of the day but not soaked.
Towards the end of the day, the heat and humidity started catching up to me. I was still moving fast, but I was starting to feel heavy and sluggish. Having already opened an almost 90-minute lead on my projections, I worried I had gone out too hard and already burned myself out. Luckily, as the sun went down and things got cooler, I started feeling much better. I cruised through the first part of the night, not feeling tired or sleepy at all.
I knew that I should try to sleep that first night, if only for a couple of hours. I came upon the empty Roundtop Shelter just before midnight and decided it would be a good place to stop so I wouldn't have to deal with setting up the bivy. Pulling off my shoes, my feet were surprisingly wrinkly and tender. I didn't think they were that wet, but apparently, they were. Despite that, I felt good about the first day. Now it was time to get some quick rest.
DAY 2 – MONDAY JULY 24, 2023 – 55.1 MILES, 17,700 VERTICAL FEET
I did not sleep at all that first night. My hips were throbbing from the mileage of day one, and my mind was too excited to fully shut down. I figured the rest would do good things for my mind and body regardless. Perhaps I should have just packed up and kept going once I realized I wasn't going to be able to sleep.
Whatever the case, I only rested for about 90-100 minutes. I quickly reorganized my pack, pulled out the "Day 2" bag of Infinit nutrition powder, threw on dry socks, and got moving at 2:00 am. One of my four Ultraspire waist lamp batteries had spontaneously stopped working a couple days before the effort, so I resolved to get through the first night with just a headlamp.
The first few miles of the day were a breeze but simultaneously frustrating. A section of trail around the Lamoille River is closed from flooding damage, so I had to take an official but lengthy road-walking reroute around. Comparing my time on this section to Stringbean, I lost 23 minutes due to the reroute. This was annoying, but I think it's very important that anyone trying to set a high-profile record set a good example and respect the trail.
From a terrain perspective, this was lined up to be the toughest day, with four huge climbs and multiple technical ridgelines and descents ahead of me. Still carrying a 29-ish pound pack, my goal was to hold on to the rope through the climbs and just try not to lose time.
The first big climb over Whiteface Mountain and across the ridgeline to Smuggler's Notch was tough, but the sun rose during the climb, giving me a little extra boost. I made good time across the ridgeline and began my descent to Rt. 108.
On the technical descent, I slipped and took a hard fall. I tried to brace myself on my trekking poles, and one of them snapped in half. In the moment, I was absolutely livid. Because I was unsupported, I had to finish with everything I had started with. I angrily strapped the broken trekking pole to my backpack. I would spend the next 200+ miles catching it on every fallen tree that I ducked under. Soon I stopped using the second pole as well. In hindsight, I think breaking a pole was a blessing in disguise. When I'm exhausted, it's easier not to expend mental energy deciding where to place my poles, but I never would have discovered this unless I was forced to.
I made good time up and over Mansfield. My climbing legs didn't feel strong, but Xander texted me, saying that I beat the split on the climb by 25 minutes and warned me to take it easy. The heat and humidity were high, and I took any chance I could to get my hands and face wet to cool down. The descent off Mansfield is extremely technical and includes multiple large ladder sections. Through all the technical portions of the day, I constantly repeated to myself the mantra Jordan told me on the way to the northern terminus: "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."
I worked my way up Bolton, a large climb - number three of the day, taking a few minutes to rest and change socks at the Puffer Shelter. Once again, somehow, my feet were damp, wrinkly, and painful despite it not having rained recently. I think wet feet are just part of the game on the Long Trail.
On the long descent down to US Rt. 2, a non-forecasted pop-up thunderstorm drenched me and my new socks. I checked the weather and saw that it was now supposed to storm off and on until 8 pm – right when I should be reaching the summit of Camel's Hump. I decided that I'd have to start climbing Camel's Hump, and if the weather wasn't good enough to summit, I might have to try to sleep at an early hour.
This Rt. 2 section is also the location of the second reroute due to water damage. This reroute saved me six minutes vs. Stringbean's time; therefore on the two reroutes combined, I overall lost 17 minutes.
The 4,200 ft climb up Camel's Hump, the largest climb on the LT, was smooth, and by the time I reached the summit, the chance of thunderstorms had dissipated. It was incredibly windy, but I was able to get up and over the summit without a problem just as the dark of the night set in.
I popped up and over one more peak, Ethan Allen, before setting up my bivy near Sheppard Brook around 11:15 pm. I was still feeling good, but despite the shooting pain in my hips when lying down, I could fall asleep this time.
DAY 3 – TUESDAY JULY 25, 2023 – 63 MILES, 15,900 VERTICAL FEET
After three hours of restless sleep and half an hour of just lying there hating myself, I was up and going by 3:41 am. Putting on my wet shoes and clothes was particularly freezing and miserable this morning. My whole body ached. I really wanted to quit basically from here until partway through the last day. For this effort, I wanted to embrace Jack Kuenzle’s mentality that you’re only racing hard enough if you’re miserable and want to quit. I do believe it helped me maximize my time, but I truly was not having fun for most of this effort.
I hit the 48-hour mark shortly after Appalachian Gap. I’d gone about 109 miles in the first 48 hours, which was exciting because no one had broken 100 miles in the first 48 hours on an unsupported effort before me.
I quickly worked my way over Ellen and Abraham, picking up almost an hour over my projections. Xander sent me another text warning me to chill out and keep it sustainable. Xander’s role in this effort can’t be understated. He kept me in check and was there to call to pick me up when I needed it.
The terrain gradually starts getting easier after Ellen and Abraham. Over time it also becomes incredibly monotonous. I worked my way through the miles, stopping at a stream every few hours to re-up on Infinit. On one of these re-ups, I realized that I probably hadn’t brought enough caffeine to fully get me through two more nights. I decided to stockpile caffeine for the last night (night four), which meant forgoing caffeine tonight (night three).
This may have been a mistake. The sun set, and I started feeling sleepy. I was losing my balance and couldn’t walk straight. My decision-making and mental capacity were also suffering – at one point, one of my water bottles fell out of my pack, and I didn’t notice it until a few minutes later. I had to double back and find it. At another point, I saw a water source down a steep embankment and decided to just go for it, not realizing how hard it would be to get back up.
I was struggling to keep my eyes open while walking and running. This had never happened to me before. For a while, I was still making decent time, so I kept pressing on. This changed in an instant - I tripped on a root, and my balance was so bad that I clumsily stumbled forward and slammed head/shoulder first into a tree. I just laid there for a minute, assessing if I’d done any serious damage, but it seemed like I’d just gotten my bell rung.
I knew that this was not safe. At this point, the Rolston Rest Shelter was only a few miles away, so I pushed a little bit farther until I got there. There were some folks at the shelter when I stumbled in at 1:20 am. Not wanting to disturb them, I set up my bivy as quickly as I could a few feet away from the shelter and called it a day.
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY JULY 25, 2023 – 53.4 MILES, 11,600 VERTICAL FEET
I set my alarm for 5:00 am, which gave me about 3.5 hours of sleep. On waking, I couldn’t force myself up for about 30 minutes. I was cold, sore, and miserable. This is maybe my biggest regret of the whole effort. Both days three and four began with me just lying there hating myself for 30 minutes. That’s a full hour someone could save if they have a little bit more mental toughness.
I packed up my stuff and got moving at 5:51 am. I cruised to the Maine Junction, where the AT and the LT meet. It should have been a great feeling connecting with the AT, which also meant I had just over 100 miles to go, but I was still miserable and wanted to quit badly.
Xander texted me, saying, “Some relatively significant rain has developed for tomorrow. You’ll likely have to deal with it for most of the day”. Great. During the climb up Killington, I called my dad and Xander and had a good old-fashioned pity party – complaining to them about how stupidly hard and ridiculous this was and how I desperately wanted to come home. I didn’t cry, but honestly was pretty close. They talked me off the cliff, and I kept crawling along.
On the way down the back side of Killington, my nose started bleeding profusely. I tried plugging it with toilet paper and continuing to run, but it just saturated the toilet paper and started running down the back of my throat. I was worried I might have stomach problems if I ingested too much blood. The only way I could get it to stop was to sit down for a few minutes and wait for my heart rate and blood pressure to go down.
This process repeated itself three times throughout the day. It was infuriating because it felt like any gains I was making on my projections were gobbled up when I had to stop my nosebleeds. Despite that, I was moving well. Although it was another hot and humid day in the mid-80s, the terrain was getting much easier, and my Unbound 40 was feeling light. Sections I remembered feeling difficult on the scouting hike didn’t feel so bad now. My body was getting tired and stiff, but my climbing legs were getting stronger as time went on.
One of the most difficult parts of the day was passing by three separate trail-magic locations and having to sadly explain to the trail angels why I couldn’t take any of their delicious food. One of them asked me if he could at least give me some water. No, especially not water! (Apologies to Stringbean).
The last important decision for the day was how far to push into the night. The longer I went before sleeping, the shorter my last day would be. Either way, I planned on the break being relatively short. After how poorly things went the night before, I was nervous about pushing deep into the night. Plus, I figured I could sleep before drinking any caffeine and then absolutely jack myself up on caffeine right after I woke up. With that strategy in mind, I reached the top of Bromley Mountain just after 11:00 pm. There was a newly constructed lean-to up there, so I tossed down my sleeping pad and curled up to sleep.
DAY 4.5 – THURSDAY JULY 26, 2023 – 59 MILES, 11,200 VERTICAL FEET
My alarm went off at 1:30 am. This time, I didn't let myself lie around. A cold wind was whipping on top of Bromley, which incentivized me to just pack up and get going. Plus, I had resolved that I had to get done before nightfall on this last day or else I might lose my mind.
I got going around 2:00 am. I cruised fast for a few miles, but around 4:00 am, my nose started bleeding heavily again. I was wildly frustrated and called my dad. He was awake. I was running out of toilet paper to plug my nose with, and if that ran out, I wasn't sure how I'd stop the bleeding. He suggested cutting up a shirt or dirty socks.
My nosebleeds were triggered by either breathing too hard or blowing my nose, each of which was hard not to do because the blood clots forming in my nose made me feel very congested. The only surefire way to avoid more nosebleeds was to not use my nose. For the last 50 miles of the effort, I breathed exclusively through my mouth. Whenever I started using my nose, I would remind myself, "I don't actually have a nose"; therefore, I can't use it." I didn't have any more nosebleeds.
Ben Feinson's 2021 supported time of four days, 11 hours, 44 minutes had been on my mind for much of days three and four, but with all the nosebleed stoppages, I thought that it was too far out of reach. I was still moving decently through the last day, but outside of finishing before dark, there was nothing to make me really push myself hard.
I reached Glastonbury Mountain just after noon, marking about 25 miles to go. Okay, 25 miles. I've done this a million times. It's just like I'm going for a long training run after morning classes. Plus, the terrain from here to the end is easier than the terrain in Hanover, NH where I train. I started telling myself a story - I was just on an afternoon training run and needed to get the run done at a decent hour because I was meeting up with my friends Grace and Noah later to hang out. My mind was malleable enough at this point that, for a time, I was able to half fool myself into thinking it was true.
The problem was that my legs and joints were incredibly sore and tired from almost 250 miles of rocks, roots, and using rocks and roots to hop around the mud. I could only move so fast. Then something happened that completely changed the complexion of that last day – the sky opened and started dumping rain. When I say dumping rain, I mean it felt like I was in a shower. It must have rained an inch over 45 minutes. The entire trail became an ankle-deep river. There was no avoiding the water.
At first, I thought it would slow me down, but then I realized that this new water and mud was great cushioning. Not only that, but I also didn't need to worry about hopping around the ludicrous mud pits any more; I could just run straight through them! My running stride returned, and I started running hard. I knew I was probably destroying my feet, but it felt amazing, and I was flying.
I reached Harmon Hill and checked my watch. I had 12.5 miles left to go with just under three hours until the deadline for Ben Feinson's time. I might be able to do that! With another shot of adrenaline coursing through me, I hauled towards the finish line. It continued to absolutely dump rain. I could feel the blisters forming as I plowed straight through the muddy water. I took a couple of hard falls and banged my right knee. Thunder started in earnest as I plowed up the last climb on Consultation Peak. I didn't care. I could taste the finish line. It was so close.
As I got closer to the finish line, I started yelling out, hoping to hear someone yell back. Eventually, I heard a response. The sign came into view, and I shouted out a very dramatic LFG as I finished the Long Trail in four days, 11 hours, 34 minutes.
I beat all my friends to the finish line. The two people who yelled back were two random Appalachian Trail thru-hikers – Reddog and Maren. They celebrated with me, took the first pictures, and fed me my first real food in days. This moment really hit home for me.
The Long Trail is fundamentally all about history, natural beauty, and community. Without the people that travel it, the Long Trail would be nothing, and in return, it's our responsibility as travelers to treat the trail with respect and to be stewards of thru hiking culture for those who will come next.
Reddog and Maren eventually moved on, and I finally broke down crying in the woods by myself. I think it was a mix of being overwhelmed by the moment and relief that I could finally rest. I was on and wired for 4.5 days. In an effort like this, things could always go better, but this was close to as fast as I could have possibly gone, and pushing myself that hard for that long broke me. This was the hardest effort I've ever done by a significant margin. It was pretty miserable.
Bill and Mike Tidd came charging up the trail a few minutes later, followed shortly by Xander Keiter, Noah Jennis, and Josh (Jolo) Lombardo. I'd only expected to see Noah and Xander, so I was happy to see some more familiar faces. A new round of celebrating, eating, and photo-taking ensued. After my body had sufficiently locked up, we made the four-mile walk out from the southern terminus. There we met my mom and dad, Ann and Eric Peterson, who drove four hours each way from Maine just to see me for a few minutes at the end. It was an extraordinary moment to end a truly special effort.
Anyone who has done a large unsupported effort knows that it’s not really unsupported. There are tons of people behind the scenes that make an effort like this possible. Here are the ones I can think of right now. I hope I didn’t miss anyone, but I’m sure I did.
• Ann, Eric, and Ben Peterson – my loving and supportive family who believed in my silly dream and who always helped me to become a better version of myself. And to Mom and Dad for driving all the way to the end.
• Xander Keiter – for being an absolute workhorse. Xander worked on the planning of this effort with me for hours and hours. He ran my Instagram during the effort, managed two group chats, and updated the master spreadsheet throughout the effort. This effort would not have been nearly as smooth without Xander. Xander took time out of his life to be at the end of both my scouting hike and the FKT.
• Bill Tidd – for loads and loads of incredible advice, miles shared on trail, the Outdoor Research bivy that he let me borrow for the effort, and for being at the end for both the scouting hike and the FKT. Bill also drove me home after my scouting hike, which was well out of his way.
• Jordan Fields – for lots of incredible training advice and for completely changing the way I think about training generally. I had so much more fun during this training cycle, thanks to Jordan. He also drove me to the northern terminus to start the FKT.
• Grace Palmer – for lots of fun training days this spring and for spending four days with me on the Long Trail during my scouting hike. Domey’s Dome will never be the same.
• Brandon Grinovich – for going out of his way to bring me new shoes and a new backpack when I was hurtin’ for certain on my scouting hike.
• Joe McConaughy, John Kelly, and Jack Kuenzle – for taking the time to talk through route logistics and strategies with me. Even if Jack’s insistent advice often made me want to throw my phone through a wall.
• Lillian Spalla – for giving me rides to and from the trail and a couch to sleep on when I needed a spot during my resupply in Burlington during the scouting hike.
• Noah Jennis – for lots of fun training days on trail, and for coming to the southern terminus at the end of the FKT and driving me home.
• Michael Nguyen – For driving Grace and me to the northern terminus to start the scouting hike. Turns out it is *not* really on the way to Montreal. Thanks so much, Michael.
• Jolo and Mike Tidd – for coming to the southern terminus at the end of the FKT and celebrating with me. And to Mike for taking the incredible photos you see throughout this article.
• Holly O’Hara and Vincent Busque – for being hype beasts and for cooking me an amazing breakfast the morning after I finished the FKT.
• Neil MacKenzie – for being an awesome PT and helping me get back to full throttle running in a smart way.
• Mark Sirek and Hyperlite Mountain Gear – for believing in this effort and supplying me with my Unbound 40L backpack and 40-degree down quilt. Those two pieces of gear were absolutely essential. The Unbound 40 is the best pack I’ve ever used.
• Infinit Nutrition – for supplying me with all the liquid nutrition I needed to sustain myself for 4.5 days. It still boggles my mind how I can just drink their powder indefinitely. It made fueling so simple out there.
• All my absolute hypebeast friends and followers who cheered me on and sent well wishes throughout the effort. Too many to name here, but you know who you are.