This article first appeared on TheTrek.On June 10, 2020, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy set the self-supported Fastest Known Time on Vermont’s 273-mile Long Trail (4 days, 23 hours, 56 minutes). During his attempt, he captured many hours of self-shot footage on a GoPro 360 camera which was then compiled and edited by his friend and proprietor of Pilot Field, Michael Dillon. The final product is a thirteen-minute miniature documentary that captures many of the highlights and lowlights of Joe’s incredible record-setting effort.
Joe is well-known in the thru-hiker community, having previously set speed records on the Pacific Crest, Appalachian, and Arizona Trails. His incredible time of 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes on the AT in 2017 still stands as the self-supported record.
On the difficulty of this effort, Joe says that “having covered over 5,000 miles on America’s long-distance trail systems, I’ve seen a lot of rugged terrain. However, the Long Trail features the toughest trail conditions I have encountered to date.” The constant barrage of rocks, roots, and granite coupled with a lack of sleep, fatigue, and critical gear failures made for extremely arduous progress – you can quite literally see the energy being zapped from Joe as the film unfolds, to the point where he’s nearly delirious on the final day of the attempt.
Behind the Scenes
McConaughy and Dillon (AKA “Dills”) met at Boston College, where Joe ran cross country, and the two became acquainted through a childhood friend of Dills who had signed up to help crew him for his PCT FKT. As a talented filmmaker and athlete, it was a natural fit and the two continued their friendship long after that first event.
The title of this production, “Losing Light,” comes from a situation that arose late in the attempt wherein Joe’s headlamp failed and he navigated through the darkness using his the flashlight on his phone and the backlight on his GoPro camera until the batteries on all devices were exhausted and he was stuck having to wait until daybreak to continue which set him back several hours.
Speaking on the goals of this project, Dills said “My number one goal with any of the documentaries that we have worked on together is to convey the scope of the accomplishment (or failure) while also giving the audience a genuine glimpse into who you are as a person. The story is generally pretty straightforward since you are traveling from A to B, but each trail presents unique challenges and how you respond to those is what sets each story apart”
Awareness & Fundraising
According to Joe and Dills, this will not be the last project they collaborate on. Pilot Field is currently compiling the daily vlogs from the Arizona Trail into a feature-length documentary which will be released later this year.
When he’s not setting FKTs and hiking long trails, you can find Joe coaching athletes, including many who have set FKTs themselves, and guiding trips for Andrew Skurka Adventures all over the US. You can follow him on Instagram for more running, hiking, and fastpacking content.
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Brandon Chase is a writer, endurance athlete, and guide based in Maine. He is a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State and spent nearly a decade overseas serving at embassies in Egypt, Cyprus, and Pakistan.
Along with a 98-day thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, he has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the West Highland Way, fastpacked in the Himalayas, and trekked around New Zealand and South Africa. He also regularly competes in ultramarathons at the 50k, 50-mile, and 100-mile distances. He is a Lead Guide for Andrew Skurka Adventures and the New England Outdoor Center.