*All names and trail names have been modified to protect the identity of those involved.
When Jason Goldman* completed a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in less than 100 days, not too many people paid attention: it had been hiked faster by others. But this was Jason's third thru-hike of the PCT. His previous two were completed in 183 and 174 days, respectively. So when he published his report of a three-month thru-hike, we sent Jason congratulations on a job well done. We simply assumed that he'd lightened his gear, refined his technique, and improved his fitness. And then we forgot about it.
Until three years later, when we received an email from a thru-hiker who goes by "Walker-G,"*
"There are a few things that I have to get off my conscience. I'm a long distance hiker who puts in 30- to 50-mile trail days regularly, even with a 30- or 40-pound pack. But I'm to the point that I'm struggling with my authenticity and this really hit home on my last hike, which combined the Trans-Canada rail route with the C2C across the U.S. I reached the Great Lakes and quit, because I become ill from the side effects of taking performance supplements."
By now, my mouth was agape, and while I'd suspected that a few hikers I'd met along the AT and PCT were experimenting with supplements, I never thought their use would have trickled up into the long distance hiking elite.
"I know it isn't illegal for hikers to do this, but the guilt I feel is real. I've been active in the long distance community for years, and sadly, I'm seeing the use of performance supplements spreading. I was a witness to Jason Goldman's use of them on the PCT in 2006, and we talked about it a lot. Jason introduced me to the mix of supplements he was using, which included a number of herbal supplements, creatine, and an injectable anabolic steroid. I started using all three in 2007 and within four months of regular use, I was able to hike 40-mile days back to back to back, over long periods of time. Previously, I was pretty taxed by 20-mile days. I was in awe of how my performance had changed on the trail and had grand illusions of media success and the opportunities that could be afforded to me if I became a professional hiker - juiced up of course. So, my 2008 Canada-U.S. transects would be my proving ground, and 2009 would be my coming out year, with my attempt at a 17,000 mile transect of Europe, Siberia, Mongolia, China, and the Himalaya."
Attached to the email was a PDF document listing the names of eighteen well-known long distance hikers that Walker-G knew to have experimented with performance supplements of some type, including the names of two media-hungry thru-hikers with record-breaking accomplishments who personally told Walker-G they were using illegally-obtained anabolic steroids to fuel their endurance and strength to seemingly inhuman levels.
We are investigating Walker-G's allegations of the two hikers using illegal steroids and have contacted both individuals. One declined to comment, saying that this was none of our business. The other is currently on a long distance hike and could not be reached. We are confident their sides of the story will be told before we will be put in a position to release their names.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Should legal, non-prescription performance supplements be explored to boost long distance hiking performance?
2. Should the decidedly anarchist community of long distance hiking be immune from the prying eyes of the media?
3. Should asterisks be noted next to the records of hikers who have been known to use performance supplements, especially steroids?
Sound off in the forums below.