Talk about a brisk walk.
A Woodbury man has set the “fastest known time” — a speed record known as “FKT” in outdoors crowds — on the Superior Hiking Trail. He covered all 310 miles of the challenging Minnesota path in less than eight days.
Ajay Pickett, 32, finished early Thursday morning at the southern terminus of the trail on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, southeast of Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton. Averaging almost 40 miles per day, Pickett hiked the entire trail in 7 days, 20 hours and 56 minutes. That eclipsed the previous mark by Mike Ward of Duluth, who trekked it in 8 days, 7 hours and 59 minutes in September 2016.
Pickett’s feat is impressive because he did the hike unsupported — meaning he relied only on the gear and food he could carry. The Fastest Known Time website (FastestKnownTime.com) tracks and posts FKTs from around the world, and has verified Pickett’s record based on his GPS data and other information. Besides unsupported FKTs like Pickett’s, there are other types. “Supported” attempts involve a team of helpers. “Self-supported” attempts are much like long-distance backpacking, and involve picking up resupplies along the way.
Two weeks after Ward’s record in 2016, Jeremy Platson of Hudson, Wis., claimed the self-supported FKT on the Superior Trail. He finished in 8 days, 2 hours and 35 minutes, replenishing his supplies from stashes along the trail.
Record attempts have gone from niche to mainstream in recent years, a new standard for adventurous, endurance athletes to pursue. According to the FKT website, speed record attempts on the Superior Trail began almost 13 years ago, when the path was 205 miles. The fastest claim then: Erik Kaitala, in 4 days, 3 hours and 43 minutes.
“In my heart”
Pickett, a software salesman, said his record attempt was the next logical step after he had done a lot of backpacking and running on the rugged North Shore trail in recent years. He section-hiked the entire trail with a friend between 2016 and 2017, too. “It has a close place in my heart,” he said.
Packing ultralight and traveling with well-tested gear were primary to his success, Pickett said. His base pack was 8 pounds, stuffed with 19 pounds of food (dense combinations such as trail mix or tuna and tortillas, measured to the calorie). He also received a boost from the previous record-holder, Ward, whom he contacted (an FKT “courtesy,” Pickett said) in the days before his scramble Up North. Ward was gracious and supportive, and checked back on Pickett while he was on the trail.
“It is such an undertaking; there is a lot of camaraderie,” Pickett said.
While an FKT is about speed, the attempt comes down to long hours covering long distances. Pickett said he hit the trail most mornings by 6:30 and would finish well into the night. And while he averaged just less than 40 miles per day, his first three days over the rocky climbs of the trail’s north clocked in the low 30s. But his pack became lighter with every meal, he found a rhythm and he was mindful of Ward’s daily pace in 2016.
Pickett’s strategy worked, but for one surprise: With a bit more than 100 miles remaining, Pickett landed awkwardly just south of Gooseberry Falls and hurt his lower leg. Sore and swollen in the waning days of his attempt, Pickett hobbled 20 hours and 56 miles on his final day to compensate.
It appears Pickett’s challenges are outward, too, in the days since he set the bar higher.
A commenter on the FKT website named Bradley Friend said he is attempting an identical FKT (unsupported and north-to-south) on the Superior Hiking Trail this week. A Garmin tracker backs that up.
Still, Pickett is philosophical — and respectful of the ethos of ultra sports. “You never want to count anyone out,” he said.