Pacific Crest Trail speed-hiking champ looks back

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - “I’m not a particularly fast walker,” ?Heather Anderson said - much to the relief of ?her interviewer - as she recently hiked a North Idaho trail.

“The difference between me and the thru-hikers who have a fast pace is that I walked 3 mph all day and into every night, averaging 5 hours of sleep, without a rest day.”

For two months!

That’s how Anderson, 32, beat the unsupported backpacking speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail by four days. Starting June 8, 2013, at the U.S-Mexico border, the Bellingham hiker averaged nearly 44 miles a day gobbling up nearly 2,700 miles along the PCT to arrive at the Canada border in 60 days, 17 hours and 12 minutes.

“Once I realized this was not a backpacking trip - that it was all about pain and suffering - it was easier to cope,” she said.

Anderson, who works at the food co-op in Mount Vernon, has no current plans to set another record of any kind. She says she’s content running 30- to 100-mile ultra-marathons and disappearing into the wilderness regularly to climb peaks and hash out obscene mileages with friends.

She’s already proved herself to herself - hiking through obesity, fear of the dark, self-doubt, a marriage and the triple crown of the USA’s long-distance trails.

She started from scratch 12 years ago.

“Never in my dreams did I imagine setting a record of any kind, much less an athletic record,” she said, noting that she grew up in a relatively inactive Michigan family. “I weighed 200 pounds when I graduated from high school.”

Her epiphany came that summer after she landed a job at Grand Canyon National Park.

“I fell in love with the trails,” she said. “I had never hiked before.”

In college she majored in religious studies and minored in creative writing. “I wanted to be a Christian missionary,” she said. “I had my sights on Mongolia until I realized I was no good at proselytizing.”

Meantime, her introduction to hiking had been taking root and was ready to blossom into another sort of mission.

“The day after I graduated from college in 2003, my friends dropped me off in Georgia at the beginning of the Appalachian Trail,” she said. “I said goodbye and took off on my own for four months hiking to Maine. Most people prepare for something like the AT, but I had never backpacked overnight.

“At the first resupply opportunity, I had to go shopping. I had to shiver under a space blanket for a week to realize I needed a sleeping bag.”

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