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Jim Kenyon: Woodstock high graduate goes the distance, sets hiking record

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 10/15/2019 9:58:49 PM
Modified: 10/17/2019 2:26:05 PM

Starting at the Canadian border and finishing at the Massachusetts state line, Nika Meyers scrambled up and over mountains, through forested wilderness and across muddy bogs while hiking the length of Vermont’s Long Trail solo this fall.

But the 30-year-old Meyers didn’t set out to merely complete the 272-mile trail that follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains. She’d already done that in 2012.

This time, Meyers, a 2007 Woodstock Union High School graduate, had another goal in mind: Setting a women’s speed record on the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the U.S.

On Oct. 2, Meyers, who grew up in Bridgewater, accomplished her mission. It took her six days, 11 hours and 40 minutes. By my math, she averaged nearly 40 miles a day.

“I find something that’s challenging to be really appealing,” she told me. “I like putting in long days from dawn to dusk and seeing where I end up.”

Meyers took up long-distance hiking after graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 2011. She’s logged more than 9,000 trail miles.

In 2018, Meyers became one of only 396 people to complete the so-called Triple Crown of American long-distance hiking trails, Vermont Sports Magazine reported. She had hiked the 3,000-mile Continental Divide trail and the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail before finishing the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail last summer.

While those hikes resembled marathons, the Long Trail was more of a sprint.

“She’s very nonchalant about these sort of things,” said her boyfriend Greg Mauger, whom she met on the Appalachian Trail last spring. “When she first mentioned doing this, it was in passing. She just loves the Green Mountains.”

On Sept. 26, Meyers started out in North Troy, Vt., a mile from the Canadian border. She carried only 25 pounds of gear, which meant no sleeping bag or tent — just a thin down quilt and lightweight tarp.

Meyers survived on flour tortillas, pepperoni sticks and packets of mayonnaise. She rounded out her high fat and salt diet with nuts, dark chocolate, peanut butter and crushed potato chips — yes, crushed to save space in her pack. She stopped long enough at streams to refill her water bottle and add purifying drops.

Meyers carried two rechargeable head lamps. “I knew I would be hiking a lot in the dark,” she said.

She lived up to her trail name, Early Bird, by heading out at 3:30 on her first morning. In the next 16 hours, she logged 37 miles, persevering through “pouring rain all afternoon” that left her lightweight shoes — more sneaker than boot — pretty much soaked through. “My feet never really recovered from that first rainy day,” she said. “I’d rinse out my socks in streams, but my feet were always pruney and wet.”

Meyers carried a small GPS device capable of real-time tracking that allowed her family to keep tabs on her progress. The tracker also was connected to a message board called fastestknowntime.com. The site tracks hikers, trail racers and ultramarathoners who are attempting to set fastest known time records, or FKTs, for short, worldwide.

Meyers was aiming for the Long Trail mark in the women’s unsupported category. “In an unsupported effort, no external help of any kind is permitted, other than collecting water from natural sources along the way; the runner (or hiker) must go alone and carry all her supplies from the start,” according to the blog for REI Co-op, the outdoor gear and clothing company.

Meyers spent much of the second day scampering over slippery rocks and avoiding tripping over roots in some of the trail’s most rugged terrain. After covering 78 miles of wilderness in two days, “my legs were starting to feel it,” she said.

She was getting by on three to five hours of sleep a night, but mentally, in a strange way, the journey became easier. “I had a wonderful boost from being in familiar territory,” she said.

After college, Meyers had worked for the nonprofit Green Mountain Club, which built the Long Trail in the early 1900s, cutting trees and building rock stairways. She spent a fall as the club’s caretaker on Mount Mansfield.

“This trail is special in so many ways,” Meyers wrote on fastestknowntime.com. “Not only is it the length of the state I grew up in, but my love for long distance hiking and the trail community started when I was working for the Green Mountain Club.”

Physically, however, the fast pace eventually took a toll. By the final morning, her feet were raw and swollen. Her knees ached.

But with only a couple of miles left, her mind took over. “I can’t explain why,” she said, “but I just started running.”

She didn’t stop until she had reached her mother, Phyllis Arata-Meyers, and Mauger, who were waiting at trail’s end with hot tea and chocolate chip cookies.

Meyers not only entered the records book in the unsupported category, she outpaced the current female record holder in the self-supported division, which allows a hiker to stash supplies along the route, by 28 hours. (The men’s unsupported Long Trail record was set this year at five days, 23 hours and 48 minutes.)

For 6½ days, Meyers tried to stay in the moment rather than measuring how she was doing in terms of setting a record. “I was racing against myself,” she said. “I wanted to see what I was capable of.”

Back home in Bridgewater that first night, Meyers was happy to give up crushed potato chips and peanut butter. Robert Meyers had prepared a dinner of lasagna and meatballs, which probably wasn’t a random menu. (The Meyers own Three Tomatoes Trattoria in downtown Lebanon.)

On Tuesday, Meyers returned to Colorado, where she works with her twin sister, Phoebe, at the nonprofit Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

Meyers wasn’t sure about her next big hike, but as her mother pointed out: “She’s always up for a good walk.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@ vnews.com.




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