By Jessi Loerch
This summer, Heather Anderson hiked from Mexico to Canada. No matter how you look at it, that’s an impressive achievement.
Anderson, however, did it in 60 days, 17 hours and 12 minutes, the fastest known time for an unsupported hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail. She hiked an average of 44 miles a day.
The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile (give or take, the exact mileage varies each year) trail that stretches through California, Oregon and Washington.
Anderson, a Bellingham resident, will speak about her adventure Thursday, Jan. 9, in Bellevue. The event, sponsored by the Foothills branch of the Mountaineers, is a fundraiser for the Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue team and TRACKS Outdoor Youth Program in Bellevue. The helicopter team is in a rough financial spot after it lost a major source of funding last year. Anderson selected the team as one of the groups to receive help from the fundraiser.
Steve LeBrun, chairman of the Foothills branch, organized the event. He invited Anderson to speak because he was impressed by her journey.
“I think it’s an inspiring story when you look at her life history and how she got to this place,” LeBrun said. “I think all people need to seek out challenges of some sort and test themselves and accomplish their dreams.”
Anderson wasn’t always the athletic type. One summer, she worked near the Grand Canyon. Her roommates invited her on a hike. They hiked nearly to the bottom of the canyon and back in scorching heat. She was inactive and overweight. She felt like she was going to die.
“A few days later, after I was over the trauma, I thought, ‘That was cool. I want to do it again,’” she said. And she did. By the end of the summer she had done more hiking than any of her friends.
She took up running and going to the gym. She dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail. The day after she graduated from college in 2003, she started the trail, and finished it.
She said the trip changed her perspective on life. She met so many people who told her, “you’re so lucky that you’re doing this now while you’re young.” So she’s organized her life to make her hiking possible. She works jobs where she can quit or take chunks of time off. She saves money when she’s working to support her while she’s out enjoying the outdoors.
She previously hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2005. That time, she had a hiking companion for the trip. This time, she did it by herself, except for occasionally when a hiker would join her for part of a day. Hikers didn’t keep up with her for long, though.
Most people aren’t willing to get up every day at 5 a.m. and hike well into the dark. She usually made camp about 11 p.m. The trail took its physical and mental tolls. As first, the challenges were mostly physical, as her body adjusted to the work and the heat of Southern California.
By the time she reached Washington, the challenges were more mental. Keeping going every day while you’re tired and hurting isn’t easy. One day, due to a problem with a resupply box, she ended up hiking 53 miles to Snoqualmie Pass. She got there to discover her boyfriend waiting to surprise her. She was thrilled to see him, but then had to get up and walk away from him the very next morning. She said that was her emotional low of the whole trip. She hiked 32 miles that day, the shortest of any day on her trip.
She kept going the next day, though, and finished with her record pace.
“The best part of the trip was pushing my limits and seeing myself be able to respond to it and discovering I was stronger and more capable than I thought,” she said.
Now she’s settled back into normal life. Or maybe not what some would call normal. She’s still pushing her limits. In January, she will run the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team 100-mile ultra-marathon, known as HURT.
If you go
Heather Anderson will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, at the Highland Center in Bellevue. Tickets are $10. Get more info and a link to buy tickets online at www.mountaineers.org.