A former Minnesotan who has thru-hiked some of the gems of the U.S. trail system moved back to the Midwest and promptly established a speed record covering the Superior Hiking Trail from north to south.
Cameron Schaefer (shown above) of Mound claimed the “fastest known time,” aka FKT, on July 10 for a hike, with support, of the 310-mile path along Minnesota’s North Shore. He covered the challenging terrain in six days, 18 hours and 45 minutes.
The Fastest Known Time website, which tracks records from around the world, has verified and posted Schaefer’s FKT. There are two other FKTs on the trail: Ajay Pickett of Woodbury did the full trail unsupported in fall 2018 in 7 days, 20 hours and 56 minutes. Pickett relied only on what he could carry. Jeremy Platson of Hudson, Wis., has the self-supported FKT, in which trail adventurers pick up their own resupplies along the route.
Schaefer, who grew up in Apple Valley, said he’d never set foot on the Superior Hiking Trail until June, when he began prepping for his FKT. He and his girlfriend, Amanda Arnold, did a backpacking trip from the Normanna Road trailhead in Duluth to Finland, Minn., before heading north to further prepare for the FKT attempt. He and Arnold set up base camp at Hungry Hippie Hostel near Grand Marais (and the Superior Hiking Trail) for several 30-mile training runs in the run-up to launch day: July 4.
Schaefer moved back in mid-June from Colorado, where he’d spent a decade that included studying outdoor education at Colorado Mountain College and knocking off thru-hikes of the Colorado Trail (567 miles/2013) and farther west, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2014. Schaefer said a chance encounter on the PCT with Joe McConaughy, with whom he ran for a portion, was a catalyst for his own FKT adventure. McConaughy went on to establish the supported FKT on the trail in 53 days, 6 hours and 37 minutes. (It was broken by Karel Sabbe in 2016.)
“That set things in motion,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer went on to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2015.
Long-distance hikes are all about routine, and Schaefer’s FKT attempt on the North Shore was no different. He’d start running early morning and quit at sundown. He averaged more than 40 miles a day, and knocked off 48 miles on a final day that began at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth and ended at the southern terminus at the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, near Jay Cooke State Park.
Schaefer had the aid of Arnold, his mother, Paddy Ebling, and his occasional running companion Charlie, a labradoodle, during inevitable bouts of fatigue, blisters and, as the run progressed, random knee and Achille’s tendon pain.
He also gained support from strangers. On the final push to the end and hurting, Schaefer decided to have Arnold help pace him the final 10 miles. But first she’d need to get their car to the finish. Arnold posted on Facebook in early evening July 9, requesting help shuttling their car to the end point. Schaefer said social media “lit up,” and Cassie Mueller of Duluth heeded their call. Schaefer finished at 1:12 a.m.
“It’s inevitable when you get out on these trails, you will often need help. You are kind of vulnerable. … We were totally blown away,” Schaefer said.
Through Facebook donations, Schaefer raised $250 for the Superior Hiking Trail Association and $250 for Save the Boundary Waters.