When 28-year-old Jeff Garmire arrived at the sign marking the southern terminus of Vermont’s Long Trail, on Friday, July 26 he was in tough shape.
His ankles had nearly disappeared from swelling and his stomach was roaring with hunger. His mind, twisted with the effects of sleep deprivation, was beginning to play tricks on him: leaves that covered the ground were childrens’ toys; a puddle reflecting blue sky was a hole in the earth that could send him spinning, endlessly into space. He felt no pain.
But when he looked at his watch, he knew that he’d accomplished what he’d set out to do just five days earlier; he’d hiked unsupported the length of the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the country in five days, 23 hours, and 48 minutes, beating the time Josh Perry set on June 13, 2019 of six days, nine hours and 48 minutes. Prior to that, the record had been six days, 17 hours and 25 minutes, set in 2010 by Travis Wildeboer.
Garmire is no stranger to the long haul and this was his third fastest-known-time (FKT) on a trail this year. He also set the Arizona Trail Self-Supported FKT, completing the 800 miles in 15 days, 13 hours, and 10 minutes and broke the Self-Supported Pinhoti Trail FKT this year, which traverses Alabama and Georgia.
Garmire, who previously worked in finance and this past year worked at Alpine Meadows ski area near Lake Tahoe, is from Portland, Oregon. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he regularly went out into the woods with his parents for weekend-long trips. He hiked his first through-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2011.
“That got the ball rolling and ever since I’ve made it a point to do it as much as I can,” he said.
Garmire completed one of the toughest feats of thru hiking in 2016, the Triple Crown, by completing the 2,653-mile-long PCT; the Appalachian Trail, 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine; and the Continental Divide Trail, which runs 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Rocky Mountains. In total, his year included about 8,000 miles of hiking.
Last year saw him hike the Great Western Loop, a 6,875-mile loop through several states and links five long-distance trails. Garmire finished it in 208 days and was the second person to finish it.
This year, Garmire set a goal to hike not for distance but for speed. In April, he set an unsupported speed record on the 800-mile-long Arizona Trail, breaking the previous record by three days to set a new record of 15 days, 13 hours, and ten minutes.
“I wanted to see if I could stretch the comfort zone even further from the Arizona trail to the 272-mile Long Trail, which is known among ultra runners,” he said. “It’s almost like a different sport.”