“My dad hiked in with me to the terminus and carried my bag on the approach trail,” Mikaela Osler wrote in her Long Trail Fastest Known Time (FKT) log in June. “He is a stickler about rules so he took a video of me hiking out and shouted “I’m not supporting you! I’m not supporting you!” as I hiked away.”
Over the next six days, Osler, 27, cried —“loud, ugly, embarrassing crying,” sang at the top of her lungs, drew water from puddles when there was no clear water in sight, ran through the night, heard a moose huffing in the dark, endured torrential downpours, was constantly hungry, and dealt with trenchfoot that became so painful she could barely walk.
She considered quitting multiple times. But in the end, she did what she set out to do: she set the fastest known time for an unsupported Long Trail hike for a woman. She finished in 6 days, 11 hours and 33 minutes, taking 7 minutes off Nika Meyer’s 2019 FKT. The supported FKT was set by Alyssa Godesky in 2018: 5 days, 2 hours, 37 minutes.
Osler grew up in Jericho and like Meyers, has completed the Triple Crown of trails – the Pacific Crest (2,650 miles), the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles) and the Appalachian Trail (2,190.) In October 2020, she also set an unsupported FKT for women on the Colorado Trail, running the 485-mile high-elevation trail in 10 days, 12 hours, and 36 minutes – shaving a full four days off the record. The Stanford University grad sent three food drops to herself along the way but otherwise carried or foraged for what she ate.
Osler’s was not the only FKT so far this summer. A few weeks later, on July 14, Ben Feinson, 29, a carpenter from Richmond, Vt. ran the same route and set a supported record of 4 days, 11 hours, 44 minutes —the fastest time ever recorded on the trail. He took an hour and two minutes off Jonathan Basham’s 2007 record. Jeff Garmire set the unsupported FKT of 5 days, 23 hours, 48 minutes in 2019. Feinson averaged about three hours sleep a night and had a support crew meeting him with food and supplies along the way and pacing him for sections of the route.
In May, Feinson finished second in the Infinitus 100-miler in Goshen, running the trails at the Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center. Prior to that, he had posted top three finishes in three 50-mile trail races.
Feinson first hiked the Long Trail just after graduating from high school and did it with a friend. He estimated it took about 20 days. “I feel like any Vermont ultrarunner kind of wants to know how fast they can do the Long Trail,” Feinson told Alex Potter of Irunfar.com. “And it’s just one of those things that every year since 2017 I would draw a little plan for the Long Trail. This year just happened to be the right year for it.”
SECURING THE LONG TRAIL’S FUTURE
While there has been a spurt in trail running this season the Long Trail, the oldest documented long distance hiking trail in the U.S., has also seen a surge in all minds of usage. “We’ve seen a 35 percent increase in usage since Covid-19,” says Mike Debonis, the executive director of the Green Mountain Club, which manages the Long Trail and its more than 70 shelters along the way, as well as many of the side trails. There’s also been an 80 percent increase in use of the overnight shelters and campsites.
“Before Covid, I might have said that the biggest threat to the trail was climate change,” said Debonis. “Now, I might add – though it’s a good problem to have—overuse.”
To that end, the Green Mountain Club is launching one of the largest fundraising campaigns in its history” The Long Trail Legacy Campaign hopes to raise $4 million. “There are still about 6.5 miles or so that we need to secure for the northern section of trail,” says Debonis. “Much of the central and southern portion of the trail is on state and federal land but the northern sections cross a lot of private property. We never could have built this trail today if we had to,” Debonis adds.
The campaign will help acquire the Codding Hollow property in Johnson and Waterville, which will secure another mile of trail. It will also go toward rebuilding the Waterbury Center campus and headquarters and add to the existing general endowment and create a new Caretaker Endowment to help protect the fragile mountain ecosystems the trail passes through.
Thanks to donations, the campaign is already 62 percent toward its goal. But to reach the rest of the way, the GMC is hosting Long Trail Appreciation Day on Aug. 28 and encouraging hikers who sign up to pledge a dollar for every mile of the trail to the campaign. One donor has pledged to match the first $30,000 raised. (see www.greenmountainclub.org/longtrailday.