When Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer sauntered onto Springer Mountain, Ga., at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail this past Sunday, it was 3:32 a.m. He’d covered 83 miles straight in the past 24 hours. He hadn’t showered since Shenandoah National Park, 18 days prior. He was spent, starving, and in need of a beer, but he was smiling.
That’s because Meltzer just set the new supported speed record for completing the Appalachian Trail at 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes, just under 10 hours faster than Scott Jurek’s 2015 record.
“It’s game over,” Meltzer said in a phone interview from Red Bull’s Atlanta headquarters. “The monkey’s off my back.”
The accomplishment is one that, for Meltzer, has been eight years in the making. To read more about Meltzer’s two previous A.T. record attempts in 2008 and 2014, check out this profile we ran on Meltzer in the August issue. As for how he managed to swipe the record and kill 19 pairs of shoes while only losing four pounds, well, you’ll just have to check out the Q&A below for that.
BRO: First off, congratulations! What does it feel like to finally have the record?
KM: At first it felt weird to not have to go on the trail, but it felt damn good to be over.
BRO: I can only imagine. Was there ever a moment when you started questioning whether or not you could get the record this time?
KM: Near McAfee Knob I slept on trail for 20 minutes before crashing in the van for two hours. I was a mess and frustrated and kinda pissed off but I still went further after I took that long nap in the van. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t do the record. I was still ahead of the pace and that’s when I realized to myself, I’m still in this thing so don’t give up quite yet. The next morning wasn’t so pleasant either. That’s just how it is out there. It’s a battle. It’s not like I’m jogging down the trail everyday with a smile on my face.
BRO: How was your crew this year? Any conflicts or issues?
KM: My crew was money. They executed everything perfectly. My dad had my foot cleaning station ready when I got to the van, Eric had already made dinner. All of those extra minutes we saved in the morning and the evening makes a huge difference over 46 days. After three or four days in Maine, they had it wired.
BRO: How often were you meeting your crew?
KM: Every 10 miles.
BRO: Wow. That’s pretty frequent. Did you ever beat them to a crew stop?
KM: In Massachusetts they ended up on a different road. It was getting dark. I stayed at this guy’s house for a couple of hours until they came and got me. It was a little scary at the time but in hindsight, you know, things happen. It’s nobody’s fault.
BRO: What in general was your day-to-day routine?
KM: Every morning I was up by 5 a.m. Some days a little earlier. I finished around 8 o’clock, cleaned my feet, iced my legs, ate dinner, went to bed. Just about every night I was in bed within 30 minutes after I stopped, usually by 8:30 or 9.
BRO: How did you get your fuel?
KM: I would just nibble and sip all day long. I was always carrying food on me. When I was hungry I ate something, like Spree candy. I’ll probably never eat candy again after this whole thing. After a crew stop, I’d walk away with more food on me, a piece of chicken, slice of pizza, a cinnamon bun, a Red Bull. I stayed away from gels and chomps—those get old super fast. I went with real food pretty much most of the time.
BRO: Aside from food, what else were you carrying on you?
KM: Toilet paper. A lighter to burn my toilet paper. Some fluids. SPOT tracker. And one small light just in case something happened when I was out in the dark.
BRO: Before you hit the trail, we talked a lot about your strategy with mitigating foot problems. How were your feet?
KM: I had no blisters on my toes. Zero. My feet are perfect. And I didn’t have any shin stuff after Duncannon, Penn.
BRO: What about weather? I know you’ve dealt with some pretty hellacious rain on past attempts.
KM: It only rained four times. The trail was dry pretty much all of the time. Mother Nature treated me well. In Maine, four days into the record, I was walking along the trail and it started lightly raining. The second I got to a shelter, it started pouring rain. I stepped under the shelter, sat for nine minutes, and then it stopped as fast as it started. I walked out and stayed dry. That was a good sign.
BRO: On average, what was your daily mileage?
KM: 47 miles per day. My lowest day was 16 miles but most days it was around 55 miles.
BRO: How many group selfies did you end up taking?
KM: If someone noticed me and wanted to take a selfie I did. Because my days varied a lot, it was hard to find me. But the bubble of hikers was in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont. The further south I got, I became a web walker. I’d clean all of the spiderwebs off the trail. It was pretty quiet after northern Virginia.
BRO: Everyone wants to know the big question: What’s next?
KM: Right now just rest and relaxation. I’ll think about my next year later. I’m just going to hang out and do nothing.
BRO: You’ve certainly earned it. How long do you think your record will go unbroken?
KM: It’ll probably go down next year. It’s okay if someone else breaks it because records are meant to be broken. I’ll always help someone who wants to try the record.
BRO: For those who are eyeballing the record for future years, what advice do you have to give?
KM: Stay in your comfort zone. Do your homework. If you try to wing it, your chances are slim. You have to get on the trail and understand the logistics and your crew is super important. And you gotta have mental power to finish this thing. It was tough. I had highs and lows out there. It was super hard.
BRO: What do you have to say in response to those who look down on these recent speed records?
KM: Hike your own hike. If you want to do it slow, do it slow. If people don’t like the speed hiker that’s okay. I’m seeing and enjoying the trail the way I like to and that’s just the way it is. I’m not doing any damage to the trail. I’m actually doing less damage to the trail cause I’m not sleeping on it. And really, three miles an hour is not that fast. I’m not doing it that much quicker.
BRO: So if you have to sum up this hike in one word, what would it be?
KM: Success. It’s simple, right? But finally, success. It feels good. I finally did what I set out to do.
Stay tuned for the release of Red Bull TV’s documentary about Karl and his record setting hike in 2017.
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT KAIHA “WILD CARD NINJA” BERTOLLINI BROKE THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL SPEED RECORD? VOTE NOW IN OUR LATEST ONLINE POLL.