By Ed Zieralski
August 24, 2008
One of the amazing things about Scott Williamson and Tattoo Joe Kisner's recent speed hiking record on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail is that they never had one disagreement. That's a record time of 71 days, 2 hours and 41 minutes treking together from Mexico to Canada, through California, Oregon and Washington, without so much as a, “Dude, will you please shut up about how sore your feet are,” or, “I'm hitting the buffet in town, see ya.”
Nothing, not one feud between two men who set off to break the PCT speed record, did that by more than eight days and also found a best friend along the way. “I'm really surprised because neither of us even got a little grumpy,” said Kisner, the 42-year-old father of two and marble mason from Huntington Beach who said he lost his huge gut and 50 pounds during the amazing trek. “We just really got along.”
These are veteran unsupported through-hikers, the term given to these driven adventurers who spend months, sometimes years of their lives, hiking the Continental Divide Trail, PCT, Appalachian Trail or lesser routes, nonstop without a support team.
Williamson, 36, of Truckee, has done the trail 11 times now, including an unprecedented second up-and-back hike in 2006 (his first yo-yo of the PCT was in 2004).
Kisner set the speed mark on the PCT in 2007 when he hiked it in 79 days, 21 hours and 42 minutes. It takes mere mortals four to six months to do it. For them to do it in just more than 71 days has the hiking community buzzing.
“Seventy-one days in the wilderness, without a stove, cranking 40 miles a day, amazing, truly amazing,” said Reinhold Metzger, the ex-Marine from Point Loma who once held the unsupported speed hiking record on the John Muir Trail. “They truly are two of America's premier backpackers.”
They started June 8, much later than usual, but they wanted to miss the snowpack in the Sierra, and they did. They started in the hot sun of Southern California and finished in rain at Manning Park, Canada, on Aug. 18.
It was hotter than either remember it being on the trail, and it was smokier than ever with the hundreds of lightning-ignited fires in Northern California in June.
“The big challenge for me was the continual heat and the smoke we were in from the time we hit the Tahoe area until we reached Crater Lake in Oregon,” Williamson said.
Both spoke of the many mental challenges. Kisner had one physical ailment, his knee, which started aching with about 400 miles to go. A trail angel gave him a knee brace and he was able to continue.
“Had that started in Southern California, I would have had to stop,” he said.
One of the things that kept them compatible is that Kisner went to bed earlier than Williamson, who spent an hour or more taking care of his feet each night. By morning, both were ready to roll.
Today, both are back to their lives, the one with responsibilities, jobs, families. Williamson returns to his wife and job as a tree climber and arborist; Kisner to his wife and two daughters and job as a marble mason.
Kisner finds himself drifting back often to the trail and the incredible journey he and Williamson completed.
“You figure you've just spent over 71 days averaging 40 miles a day, and the way you survive is to daydream,” Kisner said. “It's a bit hard to concentrate again.
“But I'm already committed to go back to work Monday,” Kisner added. “One of the things I'm really struggling with is that I miss my friend already. I never had a best friend like that, someone I could hike with. I'd say the thing I miss the most right now is hiking with my friend.”