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An enduring speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail has fallen. On Sunday, August 7, at 8:56 P.M., Josh Perry—a 27-year-old British hiker with no fixed address—reached the Canadian border, finishing the 2,600-mile trail just 55 days, 16 hours, and 54 minutes after he departed the trail’s starting point near the U.S. border with Mexico.
His staggering time cut the 2009 male self-supported record of Scott Williamson by nearly ten days; Perry shaved five days off the overall self-supported record famously set by Heather “Anish” Anderson in 2013, a feat so impressive it survived a decade of near-constant attempts to beat it. (His record has not been officially verified, but an official at Fastest Known Times said Tuesday she expected it to be.) Anderson’s achievement, which established her as one of the world’s most wowing endurance athletes, is the very thing that lured Perry into long-distance hiking.
Perhaps most impressive of all, Perry finished within just four days of the supported record set last year by Timothy Olson, the Adidas-sponsored ultra-running superstar who slept most nights in a roadside RV with hot meals and sports massages. Being self-supported, Perry mailed himself shoes and supplies in advance and hiked into towns to pick them up. He did not get in a car to reach supplies or accept substantial assistance until Tuesday afternoon, when he emerged from the woods of northern Washington with a new record to his name. Besting Olson’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) was Perry’s true motivation.
“It is incredibly bittersweet, heartbreaking, to put so much effort into something for six weeks and come up short,” Perry said Tuesday afternoon from a hiker hostel in Mazama, the idyllic Cascade outpost closest to the finish. “This time doesn’t represent the best of what I can do. It represents the best of what I could do under the circumstances.”
Perry is talking about the reality of record-setting and thru-hiking at large in this era of escalated wildfires. He cruised for the PCT’s first 1,700 miles in California, finishing the state faster than any other recorded hiker—34 days, 3 hours, and 59 minutes. He shuffled or jogged many of those miles, setting a pace so aggressive he often slept six hours a night. (Those attempting FKTs sometimes deal with only two hours of sleep for days at a time.)
But in Oregon, a trail closure that remains in effect since the 2020 Lionshead Fire near Mount Jefferson forced Perry to find an alternate route that approximated the PCT. He followed badly overgrown trails on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and the brush was so thick that he spent seven hours bushwhacking for seven miles. He fell on wet rock scrambles, bruised ribs when he collided into a tree, and suffered a heatstroke after finally walking along a road in temperatures well above 100 degrees. Delirious and dehydrated, he began vomiting and defecating on himself. His condition was so bad that he momentarily decided to quit.
“I texted Ella Raff and said, ‘I quit,’” Perry admitted with a wry laugh, referring to another hiker who attempted the FKT this year and has since become an encouraging friend. “But I only had the maps to get me to a certain point, so I decided I might as well keep going.”
“I am a dirtbag through and through.”
Perry’s decision to get on the PCT at all this year represents a remarkable personal commitment to keep going. In 2019, after setting a self-supported FKT on Vermont’s Long Trail, and before doing the same on the Arizona Trail, Perry made a southbound run on the PCT record. After clocking 49 miles per day for about 1,000 miles, he was stung by a wasp, unaware that he was allergic. Three days later, he collapsed on trail and had to be carried into town by three other hikers.
And then, just last year, Perry had a mental breakdown related to money that resulted in a suicide attempt. He survived, and as he considered the options for his future, he soon resolved to try for the record again this year. “Long-distance hiking is what I have done my entire adult life,” said Perry, who was born in Birmingham, moved around a lot as a child, and has spent about half of each year on trail since turning 18. “So when it came down to decide what I was going to do this year, the healthiest option was to go for a hike.”
Just before leaving for the United States in early June, however, Perry received a job offer to manage the hostel where he’d been working, the first time he would have ever made more than minimum wage. (“I am a dirtbag through and through,” he said. “I have no money.”) The salary would have allowed Perry to fix his finances, but his commitment to the trail mattered more.
“There is a relief in just making the decision to be out here, no matter the record,” Perry said. “Doing this has given me a break from all that stress.”
Perry had big adventures planned for the end of his PCT hike—running the Colorado Trail, for instance, and hiking in the Olympic and Cascade mountains. But on Tuesday afternoon, he said those likely wouldn’t happen. He was simply delighted to have cleaned his cut, cracked feet completely for the first time in two weeks. He recounted a litany of overuse injuries, including muscles afflicted with tendinitis, and webs of bruises from exhausted falls in Washington state. For several hundred miles, he even carried a sealed role of duct tape to bind his right quadricep together should it tear, as he feared it might. “I cannot imagine putting a pair of climbing shoes on my feet right now,” he said.
The new record highlights the increasing unpredictability of the PCT and the difficulty of record-keeping for a trail whose length and course now changes every year due to wildfire. On Instagram, Perry criticized Fastest Known Time, the organization that tracks such records, for not working with him as closely as they had with Olson to make sure he made up the trail miles he lost due to fire closures. Perry felt that his self-supported, unsponsored hike did not get the same attention or assistance from the organization. (FKT was purchased by Outside Integrated, Inc., Outside’s parent company, last year.)
Perry also took some responsibility on Tuesday for not communicating with FKT in advance. He assumed the Lionshead closure would either be open by the time he reached that section or that he would be allowed to pass through that section despite the closure, as many other PCT hikers did. That would have been a violation of FKT rules, however.
“A closure is a closure, and you have to respect that we are visitors on the land,” said Allison Mercer, a director at Fastest Known Times and Perry’s primary point of contact during his bid. “You have to abide by trail rules, and we made that clear.”
Until this year, the PCT was considered one of the organization’s “Premier Routes,” along with the Appalachian, Wonderland, and Colorado trails. It was removed from those ranks because closures have made “year-year comparisons overly problematic.” Mercer said the organization is working on plans for guidelines for route closures and detours that should prevent future confusion. But, she said, the PCT will never again be a reliable route.
“With climate change, there are always going to be closures,” said Mercer. “You’re never going to have what Scott or Heather or everyone once had on that route.”