We met Snorkel just 6 days into our southbound thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. Having followed her journal that spring/summer, we were pretty stoked to come upon her just as she was headed into the hundred mile wilderness in Maine.
Snorkel set the female Appalachian Trail Self-Supported record that summer in 80 days, 13 hours.
When did you first get the idea to the try your first “record breaking” hike? Was there a specific event that prompted that goal?
Before I started long distance hiking, I had been into big mile days and peak bagging and seeing what kind of hikes I could do in 24 hours. I noticed in 2008 that the speed record for the AT seemed manageable relative to the sort of distance I had been dayhiking, but very wisely chose to let the thru-hike itself be the adventure and not let speed detract from the lessons and joy of a first thru-hike. In 2010, when I thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail, I fantasized about going back and hiking the AT again. The CDT was really hard for me physically and emotionally, so going out and hiking a well-marked trail with plenty of water and resupplies and shelters and turning it into my own adventure was really a dream for me. I didn’t go out there with the intention of breaking the record, per se, but I wanted to see if I could keep a consistent pace of 25 miles per day (which ended up being the record at the time).
How do you prepare differently for a hike when you are trying to break a speed record?
I prepared my speed record attempt the same way as I would for any thru-hike where I was trying to be efficient. I sent mail drops to various resupply points along the way because I know that I get bogged down in grocery stores trying to make decisions because I want to eat everything. I packed extra soap in those boxes so I wouldn’t have to run around trying to find soap.
Do you feel that the goal of breaking a speed record enhances or detracts from the hiking experience?
Detracts. I set out on the AT with a goal of hiking my own hike and seeing how far I could go. It ended up beating the previous record. I see far too many people out there these days who think that to make their thru-hike a meaningful event, that they have to speed hike it or break a record. Going out on a long hike for glory is hiking for the wrong reason.
How do you decide what your next hike will be? Is creating a new route or breaking a speed record part of your decision process?
I believe someone like Andrew Skurka said with regards to speed records that someone faster will always come along, but if you pioneer a route, you will always be the first. These days many of my next hikes are chosen because a friend wants to do it or more often, because I’m curious about a place and want to explore. I’d say like most thru-hikers, though, my decision process for choosing hikes is mostly dictated by my time availability, best season to hike something, and how much money is in the bank.
Trying to break a speed record would mean that you are likely hiking solo, and just passing other hikers on the trail. Do you prefer the more solitary mode of hiking, or would you prefer to hike with a companion on longer hikes?
For a long hike where time is of the essence, I will choose solo every time. Speed hiking requires you to give it all, and that means not saving any energy for social niceties. My friendships with hiking partners are far more valuable than the safety or convenience that comes with having a hiking partner on a speed hike.
Since you have speed hiked in the past, do you get bored when hiking at a more typical pace?
A lot of speed hikers get bored going at a typical pace. The way I see it, as long as I’m hiking, I’m probably not bored. And really, if I am hiking with others, I only get bored if I am hiking with boring people.
Does your gear change for record attempt vs a non-record attempt?
I tend to use lighter gear on a record attempt and hope for the best weather. On a speed hike, I don’t spent much time hanging around camp, which is when you need the most warm layers. I bring enough to have a warm, dry night.
Do you hike much outside of long distance trails?
I am car-less, so I do quite a bit of walking to get to-and-from where I need to go. I try to get out every weekend, and have the advantage of working in Golden, CO where there are many open spaces and county parks that have shorter trails. I try to hike 3-10 miles a day.
What is the best book that you have read lately (or current favorite podcast)?
I just finished Just Bill’s Lying on the Trail, a series of vignettes about long distance life. I found some of his stories very funny, and the other bit was quite profound. It was a quick read
What is your favorite way to relax?
Eating ice cream.
Favorite Trail Town?
Hot Springs, NC. Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn may be the most relaxing place anywhere. The town has hot springs, a gear store, and Elmer’s fantastic all you can eat vegetarian food. The library is close by, and it’s right under Max Patch, one of my favorite places anywhere. The cherry on top is that the trail is routed right through town, so no hitchhiking is necessary.
Favorite restaurant or bar on the trail?
Elmer’s is high on that list, but the Mobil Station in Lee Vining, CA is the winner. I spent spent three summers working in Lee Vining, so the Mobil station is like home to me. With its view out over Mono Lake in one direction and view towards Yosemite in the other direction, it’s live music, really good food, amazing outdoor seating, and great selection of beer you can buy by the 6 pack, it remains the most magical place anywhere not on trail.
Tell us a little about yourself… Work, where you live, etc..
I spend my winters based in Denver, CO. I work part-time for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition as the trail information specialist, helping thru-hikers, dayhikers, section hikers, and backpackers get ready for a trip on the CDT. As many hikers, I also do contract work to help fund my summer hiking. In my spare “not hiking” time, I enjoy reading, inventing new recipes, and playing board games.
Check out Snorkel’s website -> http://www.eathomas.com/