For all its rugged, punishing reputation, the Superior Hiking Trail is becoming a place people go fast.
For the third time in 2019, a hiker has set a speed record for thru-hiking the North Shore path.
Rory Anderson, 39, of Lonsdale, Minn., set the new “fastest known time,” or FKT, Sept. 28, covering the 310-mile trail in seven days, 13 hours and 25 minutes. FKTs fall into three categories. For Anderson, there was no team of helpers (supported) or picking up resupplies (self-supported). His FKT was unsupported — he relied on the 27½ pounds of gear and food he carried, and knocked out an average of 41 miles per day after leaving the northern terminus on the Canadian border Sept. 21.
The Fastest Known Time website tracks and posts attempts across the world, and verified Anderson’s mark.
He surpassed the mark set by Ajay Pickett of Woodbury in 2018, when he covered the path in seven days, 20 hours and 56 minutes.
Anderson can trace his new standard to successes — and failures. A thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2016 lit a fire for long-distance hiking, and an eventual unsupported FKT attempt on Superior in summer 2017. Going ultralight to accommodate hot, buggy weather, he was caught unprotected by sudden rain and plunging temperatures on the mercurial North Shore. He didn’t finish, and had to quit about halfway through at the Split Rock River.
“It was a big letdown,” he said, “and I learned a lot.”
This time around Anderson, a consultant for McDonald’s Corp., worried less about weight and more about preparedness.
Anderson said he also drew strength and motivation from a tribe of people online. He has nearly 40,000 subscribers to his hiking show on YouTube, “Follow Bigfoot” (his trail name).
Anderson said he felt he had something to prove to himself and some online trolls after 2017. He also wanted to send a message to his supporters “that you don’t have to be a superhuman athlete to accomplish whatever your dreams are.
“A lot of people on my channel don’t think they are in good enough shape to do a thru-hike,” Anderson said. “I was able to do what I did on pure grit, perseverance and determination.”
He also had support from the hiker he eclipsed – Pickett – who rooted him on, joined him for training hikes, and gave him advice after his own struggles on the trail.
Carrying about 20 pounds of food, Anderson stayed fueled with a mix of water, Pop-Tarts, tortillas wrapped around peanut butter and jelly, and freeze-dried dinners. Day 6 was the toughest, he said, after mile upon mile of navigating leaf-covered rocks and stumps. Nursing an aching left toe, he overnighted at a campsite in Bagley Nature Area on the Minnesota-Duluth campus before his final push to Jay Cooke State Park and the southern terminus.
“Most of my thoughts were just how to persevere through the day. I set goals for myself for the day. I envisioned crossing the finish line,” Anderson said.
Peter Bakwin, a co-founder of FastestKnownTime.com, said in an e-mail that several factors are contributing to the surge of FKTs everywhere: the website, the sport of trail and adventuring running, and the possibilities for FKT attempts.
"We are certainly seeing a growth in interest. Not only are people setting incredible times on big routes like the SHT, but people are reporting times for amazing trails and routes all over the place," Bakwin said.