Lessons Learned During My Colorado Trail Unsupported FKT

Jeff Garmire

Jeff Legend Garmire CT Colorado Trail FKT Thru-Hiking UL Backpacking

When I started the Colorado Trail Unsupported FKT I didn’t know how small the margin for error was. I had no idea that each error would snowball and compound with each passing day. I didn’t know just how long nine days would last. There was no waiting motivation to be had except what I could muster from between my own mind. Even packing for the record was a bigger challenge than I expected. What would I want in my pack to make it through 9 plus days of covering 50 miles per day. The questions never seemed to end, but dwelling on them provided no answers. I made my choices and was determined to make them work. 

At 6:25 am I set out from the Junction Creek Trailhead outside of Durango with a resolve to make what was in my pack get me to Denver. 

Lesson Learned Jeff 'Legend' Garmire Colorado Trail CT Thru-Hike Unsupported FKT

What I should have brought…

Despite it being my first unsupported trip over six days, I nearly got my gear perfect. It is also the aspect on which I spent the most effort: packing, repacking, and unpacking in order to walk the fine line between not enough and too much. 

The added difficulty of the unsupported style is that everything must be carried from the start to the finish, with no additions or subtractions. Even trash must be carried to the conclusion of the trail. The only exception to this hard rule is naturally flowing water sources. But despite the challenge and consequences, there is only one thing that I forgot, one thing I would have added, and one thing I would have changed. 

The thing I forgot ... 

Lesson Learned Jeff 'Legend' Garmire Colorado Trail CT Thru-Hike Unsupported FKT

Photo by Elisabeth Tizekker

I didn't pack enough sunscreen. It is the one thing I truly messed up on regarding my packing list. I packed a tube that if full, would have had enough for 9 days, but the tube was only half full. This meant that by day 5 I was on the last of the sunscreen and my arms were starting to bake under the high-altitude sun. It was a terrible predicament to be in. I would either have to use mediocre methods to block the sun or ruin my unsupported effort. I had a small tube of CBD balm to help with chafing and miscellaneous first aid situations, and I tried to cover my exposed arms with a thin layer of it. At the very least the balm seemed to soothe the skin. The other method I used to limit exposure was to wear my thin insulated jacket and rain jacket as much as possible to keep my arms covered. 

The thing I would have added ... 

Lesson Learned Jeff 'Legend' Garmire Colorado Trail CT Thru-Hike Unsupported FKT

I wish I would have brought a third pair of socks. At the last minute I pulled out the second extra pair and threw it in the pile of things I was leaving behind. In the first five days of the record it rained, snowed, hailed, and sleeted on me. This meant that everything outside of my pack was quickly wet. This included my socks. Wet socks often lead to blisters, and in this case I quickly developed one that rivaled any from my past. It was comparable to a hockey puck and lived near my heel. 

The thing I would have changed … 

Lesson Learned Jeff 'Legend' Garmire Colorado Trail CT Thru-Hike Unsupported FKT

I would have changed my food strategy. I spent the week before the record attempt perfectly portioning food into 9 different gallon zip lock bags. I only put half a day of food in the last bag, but all the rest contained nearly identical items. I would have changed this strategy to reflect the terrain and intensity of the different sections of the trail. I would have had a smaller amount of food on day one (I ate a big breakfast before starting) and I would have had saltier and easier snacks to digest for days two and three, which took me through the heights of the San Juan Mountains. As it went, I had a lot of trouble digesting Clif Bars and other dense snacks above 12,000’ elevation. If I picked something simple, like a cracker, I think I could have maintained a more constant flow of energy. 

What else I learned …

Lesson Learned Jeff 'Legend' Garmire Colorado Trail CT Thru-Hike Unsupported FKT

I expected some percentage of the hike to be physical and another portion to be mental. But it was nearly 100% mental. All the physical preparation was done in the days, weeks and months leading up to the event. Having only the resources on my back to get through all the adversity, my mindset really set the tone for the physical effort along the entire trail. Each break was taken when the physical toll eclipsed the mental patience for my speed. The sleep monster took a fight to overcome deep into every night. While the physical toll was immense (and I am still recovering) it really all came down to the mental side to complete an
unsupported FKT. 

When there are no benchmarks or resupply points along the way, once one terminus is left on an unsupported record attempt, the only other goal is the other terminus. This means that each day is a push, adding up mileage toward an incomprehensible number. After 3 very difficult days, I had covered 150 miles. With how tired I was, hiking 335 more miles seemed impossible. But focusing on just one more day made it seem like there was a shred of hope. This mindset made it so much more mental than physical. 


Lesson Learned Jeff 'Legend' Garmire Colorado Trail CT Thru-Hike Unsupported FKT

In a record attempt there is only the current day. Even if yesterday was awful and disappointing, it cannot be changed, the only time to make a difference on the success of the project is in the present. Fretting about tomorrow is equally as pointless. Before I set the Arizona Trail Record, ultramarathon runner Mike Wardian gave this advice, “Focus on the present day. Yesterday is over and tomorrow isn’t here yet.”


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