I met a northbound Thru-Hiker named "Brian" in the 100 Mile Wilderness last week near Monson, Maine, and although our interaction was relatively brief, the main topic of our conversation stayed in my head all day. You see, Brian was on pace to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail in less than 65 days; however, his original goal was to Thru-Hike the AT in 60 days, which would break the unofficial speed record for an unsupported Thru-Hike of the AT. Naturally, Brian was in a hurry that day, so he headed North, and I went back to building trail, but it was this brief conversation with Brian that got me to thinking about the individual who has held the unofficial record for the past 23 years.
Currently, the unofficial record holder for an unsupported Thru-Hike is an elusive hiker by the name of Ward Leonard. Ward was a fixture on the AT in the 1980's, in fact, he Thru-Hiked the AT 10 times; but it was in 1990 that Ward Leonard thru-hiked the AT in 60.5 days completely unsupported. The exact number of days it took for Ward Leonard to finish his Thru-Hike in 1990 is always up for debate, but there are two things that have never been in doubt. No one has ever doubted that Ward's 1990 Thru-Hike was unsupported, and no one has ever doubted that Ward Leonard was profoundly mentally ill...which begs the question, where have all of the great mentally ill hikers gone?
I ask this question because I, for one, miss them! I miss guys like "Chip", "Atomic Bob", "Magic" and "Shrek"! Yes, they are weird, socially awkward, and sometimes, down right scary, but they also add a certain style and panache to the Appalachian Trail! Lets face it, it takes a certain type of anti-social misfit to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail to begin with; therefore, having certifiably crazy people on the AT is just icing on the cake! So, if you forgot to take your psych meds today, throw some stuff in a backpack and join us on the Appalachian Trail!