Heather Anderson Is the Best, Most Badass Athlete You’ve Likely Never Heard of

Deep in the southwestern desert, Heather Anderson’s signal is skittish and broken. She’s been in the backcountry for nearly three weeks, checking off summits on the Sierra Club’s list of premier desert peaks—the final miles of the 4,000 she’s hiked in the past year. By the time her backcountry call made it to the cell in my mother’s kitchen, we’d been forced to break phone dates due to poor reception and unabashed confusion regarding what time zones she was straddling—a mixup that says more about Anderson’s unconventional and nomadic lifestyle than her organizational skills.

On the trail, she goes by Anish, but within hiking communities, 34­-year­-old Heather Anderson is also known as “the ghost,” for how she seems to appear out of thin air. It was late summer of 2013 when she set the record for the fastest self­-supported hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. She covered the 2,654 miles from Mexico to Canada in 60 days, 17 hours, and 12 minutes, a distance the trail’s association recommends allowing five to seven months to complete and only about a third of hopefuls complete. Alone, she put in consecutive 18-hour days, hiking between 40 and 50 miles in daylight and darkness. This quiet and consistent rigor secured Anderson’s status as an elite athlete. Yet still, she kept walking.

This past August, Anderson set the record for the fastest known time on the Appalachian Trail, shaving four days off the men’s record and a whopping 36 off the women’s when she trekked the 2,180 miles from Maine to Georgia in 54 days, 7 hours, and 48 minutes. Take gender out of the question, she is the first person in history to simultaneously hold the self­-supported record for both trails.

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