Perry during his Pacific Crest Trail traverse
Perry during his Pacific Crest Trail traverse (Photo: Courtesy Josh Perry)
2022 Outsiders of the Year

Josh Perry Smashed a Record on the Pacific Crest Trail

Perry’s time for a self-supported trek on the trail nearly broke the best mark for a supported effort

Perry during his Pacific Crest Trail traverse

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Josh Perry could not fathom the news he was reading about Heather “Anish” Anderson. It was the summer of 2013, and Anderson had bested the Pacific Crest Trail’s fastest known time by nearly five days. Through the wind-worn California desert, the volatile Sierra Nevada, and the seemingly endless Cascade Range, Anderson had averaged 44 miles per day during a two-month march from Mexico to Canada.

Perry, who was a teenager living in Leeds, England, at the time, was a budding hiker. A year earlier, he had accepted a friend’s dare to walk to his former high school in St. Albans, 190 miles south. He wore leather military boots and an overstuffed 70-pound backpack, trudging roads outlined by Google Maps printouts. Perry detested the trek. “It hurt, the blisters,” Perry, now 27, says. “I’d never walked like that before.”

If trekking 27 miles per day along highways had nearly broken him, how, he wondered, had anyone done 44 through the American wilderness? “I read about Anish,” he says, “and thought she was a superhuman athlete, elite at an unfathomable level.”

On August 7, 2022, just after the sun set in the northernmost reaches of Washington, Perry set his own record on that same trail: 55 days, 16 hours, and 54 minutes. He erased nearly ten days from the men’s self-supported benchmark and five from Anderson’s, a time that eluded many attempts during the previous decade. Perhaps most astonishing, for nearly 2,000 miles Perry was on pace to break the supported time of celebrated ultrarunner Timothy Olson, who ate hot meals and slept most nights with his family in a roadside RV during his Adidas-sponsored 2021 quest. The logistics of navigating Oregon fire closures—and bushwhacking through overgrown alternate routes—tempted Perry to quit, at least for a few hours. But when he got going again, Perry placed Olson’s mark in his sights.

“It is incredibly bittersweet—it’s heartbreaking—to put so much effort into something for six weeks and come up short,” Perry said less than 48 hours after his finish. “This time doesn’t represent the best of what I can do. It represents the best of what I could do under the circumstances.”

Perry embraced through-hiking soon after marveling at Anderson’s accomplishment. In 2014, he hiked Spain’s Camino de Santiago to “see if I could have a fun walk,” as he puts it. He loved it so much, he headed for Japan’s Shikoku Pilgrimage, followed by the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. In 2019, what he calls his “extremely addictive personality” led him to tackle three American hiking records: Vermont’s Long Trail (273 miles), the Arizona Trail (800), and the PCT southbound (2,653). He nabbed the first two but bailed on the last after being stung by a wasp and eventually collapsing from an allergic reaction three days later.

Perry had hoped that his successes would be a grand finale of sorts for his speedy ambitions, achievements so big that he could settle into a job after being peripatetic since turning 18. “I am a dirtbag through and through,” he says. “But I was ready to stay in one place, not be so broke. But the moment I quit, I knew I couldn’t move past this. I wanted to get the thing that had inspired this entire journey—the record.”

Getting back to the PCT proved more difficult than Perry imagined. First, the pandemic shortened the 2020 hiking season. In 2021, facing financial woes, Perry suffered a nervous breakdown that culminated in a suicide attempt. But in 2022, Perry committed himself to the trail, even passing on a job opportunity to pursue the record.

“I have given up everything for this—friendships, relationships, normalcy,” Perry says. “Sometimes I’m envious of people who are happy where they are.”

The hardest part, he admits, was surrendering to the vagabond lifestyle.

“I’m not an athlete of any sort,” Perry says. “I am just a dude who likes to walk a lot.”