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[at-l] article on Peter Palmer's AT speed hike

New unofficial speed record set on A.T. By Jonathan Van Fleet Lewiston
Sun Journal June 30, 1999

MOUNT KATAHDIN, Maine — 48 days, 20 hours and 11 minutes. That’s how
long it took Peter Palmer Jr. to walk, run or crawl from Springer
Mountain in Georgia to Maine’s Mount Katahdin to become the fastest
person ever to complete the 2,160-mile-long Appalachian Trail.

Palmer, known on the trail as Cujo, arrived atop Katahdin at 11:11
a.m. Monday in a rainstorm. He broke ultrarunner David Horton’s 1991
record of 52 days, 9 hours and 42 minutes. Palmer started in Georgia
at 3 p.m. May 10.

“I was hurting coming up, but the pain is gone,” he said. “I’m just
blown away by the whole thing. The whole trip was perfect.”

Palmer was so excited he stood in front of the Appalachian Trail marker
posing for pictures for about 10 minutes in the rain without putting his
right arm into his green jacket that hung over his left shoulder.

The 46-year-old Palmer looked thin and worn. The hair on his face was
longer than the hair on his head and his ear lobes had scabs from the
scorching sun.

He celebrated his feat with five of his support team members by passing
around a bottle of champagne and then a bottle of stout beer.

“I haven’t had a beer in 50 days,” Palmer said before his first sip. The
toast was to Horton.

“I’m real happy that not only did we get the record, we crushed it,”
Palmer said.

The former record-holder said from his Virginia home on Sunday the one
word that described his emotions was depressed. At age 49, giving
another run at the record is tempting but it’s something he has to
consider, Horton said.

Palmer accomplished his feat without carrying a backpack. He relied
heavily on a support crew of friends who kept him fed and made sure he
had a place to sleep. Most thru-hikers, who finish the trail in four to
six months, are completely self-sufficient, lugging stoves, sleeping
bags, food, clothes and a tent. Palmer had none of that, only water
bottles to stay hydrated.

Palmer beat 90-degree temperatures, a stomach virus, 14-hour days and a
monumental lack of sleep in order to reach his goal and maintain an
average of about 43 miles a day.

On Sunday, his crew said he covered more than 55 miles from 4:30 a.m. to
11:30 p.m., much of it in 90-degree heat, to reach Abol Bridge
Campground in Township 2 Range 10. That hike set up a 15-mile trek from
Abol to Katahdin’s Baxter Peak. He began his final day at 5 a.m.,
hitting the summit shortly after 11 a.m.

Earlier, in Virginia, Palmer had suffered a bad gut that kept him near a
toilet and awake at night, but he was still able to make 80 miles in
those two days. You just keep going, he said.

Some people say that Palmer wasn’t able to enjoy the trail because he
was going so fast. But Palmer says all the way to Pennsylvania, the
journey was nothing less than a pleasure. After that point the trail got
tougher and it turned more into a race.

Palmer, of Avon, Conn., does many things fast. He once played 18 holes
of golf in 52 minutes and shot a 108. And at his job as a U.S. Postal
Service mail carrier, the people on his route get their mail faster than
anyone else in Connecticut, his friends say.

 On Katahdin, Palmer gave his first autograph to another hiker. Setting
 the unofficial record for the fastest AT thru-hike ever is as much a
 physical challenge as it was a mental one.

“The closer you get, the more you think of the end,” Palmer said. “It
feels good to be at the top.”

The two things he credited for his success were his support crew and the
weather. During his whole trip, it rained less than one day. In fact,
Palmer said it rained more on the final day of his journey than it did
on any of the previous 48 days.

The support crew, who took turns keeping Palmer going, are his friends,
mostly from the Constitution State. The team took vacations from work to
help him achieve his goal. Despite his Herculean effort, they still
think he’s just a regular guy. He just has some incredible genes.

“They’re more than half the battle,” Palmer said of his support crew. “I
just had a ton of fun. I couldn’t have dreamt that much work could be so
much fun. All I had to do was hike.”

Palmer never asked for any attention on the trek and paid for it from
his own bank account. He didn’t seek any media attention during the trip
because he wanted to remain low-key. The father of two grown children
wanted this to be a personal challenge.

That’s just the type of person he is.

“I didn’t seek any publicity. I just wanted to get out and get it done,”
he said at the top.

Now that it’s over, Palmer will return to his slower, more normal life.
He said he doesn’t plan to hike the AT again. Instead, he said he would
like to hike the Pacific Coast Trail, but he’s not planning to break
any records.

Along the way Palmer passed many thru-hikers and nearly everyone wished
him well, he said.

“They were all interested,” he said. “There’s so few people that do it
fast. It really doesn’t have an impact on the trail.”

The same day Palmer finished, a 20-year-old traditional thru-hiker
finished her own 2,100-mile-plus trek. Recent trail books calculate the
mileage at 2,160 while a sign at the summit of Katahdin declares
Springer Mountain to be a mere 2,135 miles away.

Munching on a Snickers bar, Whitney “Timber” Pratt said she was glad
Palmer didn’t beat her to the top, but said his goal is a worthy one.

“If his goal is to do it as fast as he can, great,” said Pratt, who
started the trail March 1. “One of the worst parts of the trail is
competitiveness. I’m not racing anyone.”

But by the same token, she noted the trail is for everyone to use. “You
can’t be selfish about it. It’s not just for traditional thru-hikers.
The trail is out there for anybody,” Pratt said.


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