[at-l] Enola, PA AT attempt for Nov 10

RockDancer rockdancer97 at comcast.net
Tue Oct 25 08:41:24 CDT 2011

Enola man attempts to shatter Appalachian Trail record

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That's what Matthew Huffman will be chasing when he embarks on a bold
endeavor to "not break but shatter" the Appalachian Trail speed record.

The 25-year-old Enola resident plans to depart from the trail's northernmost
point in Mt. Katahdin, Maine, early next month - probably on Nov. 10 - in an
attempt to complete the trail, which snakes through 14 states from Maine to
Georgia, in record time. Just this August, hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis
managed to motor through the approximately 2,181 miles of the trail in 46
days, 11 hours and 20 minutes, according to records at the Appalachian Trail

Until Pharr Davis hiked along, Andrew Thompson's 2005 record of 47 days 13
hours and 31 minutes hadn't been touched since he established it in 2005.

"I don't just want to break it," Huffman said of Pharr Davis' record in a
recent interview. "I want to shatter it. It's kind of a statement for me."

Huffman's plan is to carry his 32-pound pack by himself, and he will only
receive two food drops, courtesy of his younger brother, 22-year-old Adam
Huffman - the first in Shippensburg and the second in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"I'm zoning the world out. I don't want anyone taking me in," Huffman said.
"It's supposed to be raw. It's supposed to be me and nature and wilderness,
not me living it up."

He doesn't want to jinx himself, but admits he's gunning to break Pharr
Davis' record by three days.

That kind of speed averages out to 60 miles a day.

A statement

If crushing Pharr Davis's record is a statement, what, exactly, is he saying
to the world?

On the surface, it's a simple message about pushing the human body beyond
normally accepted limits.

"People are capable of far more than they give themselves credit for," he
said. "They say psychologically we only tap into 10 percent of our potential
and I think it's the same physiologically, too. It's about getting your head
past what your muscles are doing."

Oh, and "good nutrition" is equally crucial, he says, which is why he's
packing plenty of tuna, Power Bars, tortillas and his own hand-blended kind
of granola bars bursting with almonds and peanut butter.

Delve a little deeper into Huffman's motivation and the 5-foot-8-inch,
160-pound Navy veteran will tell you he wants to heal a heart that's right
now in smithereens while resurrecting some self-respect.

He had a job as a maintenance technician. But he and a former employer
recently parted ways due to irreconcilable differences.

He was on the cusp of getting married. But he and his fiancee broke up two
months ago.

The way he saw it, he could allow himself to plummet into a pit of despair
or he could set his sights on a tangible - albeit Herculean - goal.

"I felt like my life was crumbling around me," Huffman said. "I almost
picture myself like Forrest Gump when he just starts running and doesn't
stop. I'm not me anymore. I lost my motivation, I lost my push."

Huffman said that instead of brushing aside failure and forging on, as he's
done in the past, for the first time, he began soaking it in and believing
that if he failed, he was a failure.

Going for the AT speed record is a way of getting that "push" back, of
"starting [himself] from the ground up" again. He might finish his college
degree in legal studies or become an outdoors adventure guide when he gets
off the trail.

"This is about proving to myself, more than anything else, that I am what I
know I am," he said.

He's promised himself he won't worry about what's ahead.

"Never get too far ahead of yourself is how you have to do it," he said, "so
I'm going no more than 100 feet at a time, to to that rock, or whatever."

'Honor system'

Bob Sickley, trail resources manager at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Visitor Center in Boiling Springs says he encounters people like Huffman
"almost never."

"Most people want to complete it [the Appalachian Trail] and have a
wonderful, meaningful experience," Sickley said. "We don't officially
recognize speed records. The trail is out there for contemplation and
enjoyment. The only recognition is completion."

It's not that the conservancy is opposed to keeping speed records, but doing
so is often a thorny task, added Brian King, a spokesman with a branch of
the conservancy based in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"It's on the honor system for everybody," King said. "It's not that we're
against it. It's just really difficult thing to verify and prove." The AT
conservancy's main objective is to preserve and manage the trail so future
generations can enjoy a sacred space in which the human spirit can connect
with nature, according to its website.

Mounting obstacles

Huffman will be bolting through that sacred space at breakneck speed during
the southbound season - the time during which it's suitable to start in
Maine and hike to the trail's south terminus in Springer Mountain, Ga. Both
AT Conservancy spokesmen indicated that Huffman has the odds stacked against

For one, there's some "really, really horrific weather" in New Hampshire's
White Mountains right now, Sickley said.

"Mount Washington used to have the highest record wind speed of anywhere on
the planet," Sickley said of the highest point in the northeastern United
States. "There's the potential for some really bad weather, but the greatest
challenge now is that the network of support services that exists for hikers
tends to be skewed to the northbound [hikers]," he said.

Declining hours of daylight and Huffman's determination to be completely
self-sufficient also register as serious obstacles, King said.

Pharr Davis, who basically "power-hiked" the trail, didn't carry her own
pack and had assistance setting up and breaking down camp every night.

"Jennifer and most of the other people trying to do this are out during
June, July, August in a lot of daylight with a lot of support," King said.
"They weren't carrying 30-pound packs. He's [Huffman] set up a lot of
challenges for himself."

But the way Huffman sees it, he's got plenty of stuff on his side - his age,
a long stride and an unbreakable will.

"I've been to the wall before and I've gotten past it," he said, reflecting
on will-testing trials he weathered in Navy boot camp and beyond.

And as the Tom Petty song goes, Huffman won't back down.

"Unless I'm hallucinating, I'm not calling for help," he vowed. "When other
people start giving up, I love it because I'm the one that isn't giving up.
Your legs feel like Jell-O, but who cares? My family always tells me when I
set my mind on something, I can accomplish it. Nothing's going to stand in
my way. Not even my own head."

Read more:



Arthur D. Gaudet

RockDancer on the Appalachian Trail

Rockdancer97 at comcast.net


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