By James Patsun
When the average person thinks of going on a hike, it usually entails a day in the woods or a weekend summiting a mountain. Joe McConaughy’s definition is a bit more extreme. On September 1st, 2017 he set the speed record for both supported and unsupported thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. He traversed the 2,200-mile-long trail that spans from northern Georgia to central Maine in 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes.
In order to move at such a rate for so long Joe, known as Stringbean on the trail, had to consume high amounts of calories. He was consuming nearly 8,000 calories a day, which is four times greater than the average person’s diet. He stated that he ate 600 calories worth of snacks every hour to maintain sufficient energy levels. Most people would assume he had to eat a healthy regiment of superfoods to maintain his health and prevent his body from deteriorating, but they would be wrong. Stringbean had to carry all of the food he was planning to eat on his back, severely limiting his dining options. To keep up with his body’s caloric needs he would consume an entire sleeve of Oreos every day for lunch.
Several hundred people from across the world attempt this hike every year but few can meet the physical and mental demands. Nearly a quarter of the hikers starting quite within the first week before ever even leaving Georgia. Unsurprisingly, less than 10% of people starting out will actually finish in Maine. On top of all this, it takes the average person five to seven months to complete, putting Stringbeans months ahead of them.
Stringbean has proven to be in a league of his own averaging 50 miles a day. He even walked and hitchhiked into towns alone for resupply to remain unsupported. He beat the previous supported record held by Karl Meltzer by 10 hours. However, being supported, Karl had a team of people working with him to bring supplies and carry some of his weight at prearranged locations. Stringbean crushed the previous unsupported record by 10 days.
To achieve his astonishing record, he pushed for 37 hours on his last day, covering 110.8 miles and reaching the northern terminus of the trail on Mt Katahdin. To top it off, the day he reached the end of his journey it was raining, hailing and winds up to 70mph were whipping around the mountain summit. Your average Joe would hold off on climbing the mountain to its bare and unforgiving summit. Being nearly a mile above the surrounding landscape, it is subject to harsh conditions. His feat is unimaginable by most; compared to those that have completed the hike, he is looked at as superhuman.
His passion and drive for the outside and endurance challenges are unmatched. Three years ago, he set the supported record for the Pacific Crest Trail, a similar endeavor that spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada along the western edge of the United States. Even now, mere weeks from completing this amazing accomplishment, he is looking forward to the next challenge.
Upon finishing he said “Your thoughts are totally full, but empty, full of everything I’d just been through: the joy and perseverance, the strangers who had helped, the texts from parents and my
girlfriend encouraging me on, and the feeling of finally being among people I knew and loved for the first time in six weeks. I was kind of sitting there in a stupor.”