3 Days, No Sleep: Wisconsinite Sets FKT on ‘North Country’ Trail

(photo/Andrea Larson)

Andrea Larson stepped off the Northern Country Scenic Trail (NCST) on April 15, setting a new fastest known time (FKT) for an unsupported thru-hike of the Wisconsin NCST section. According to the Fastest Known Time website, she completed the 215-mile trail in 3 days, 3 hours, and 5 minutes. Larson ran and hiked almost nonstop, setting a pace of nearly 69 miles per day.

“This is something I never imagined I’d do,” Larson told GearJunkie shortly after completing her FKT.

This is the 38-year-old Wausau, Wisconsin, native’s second FKT in as many years. While new to setting thru-hike records, Larson has been adventure racing for 16 years and even competed on Team GearJunkie.

In September 2023, we covered her first FKT on Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail. Just over 6 months later, on April 12, 2024, she set out on the NCST Wisconsin section. It was a trail in Larson’s backyard that she’d never seriously considered hiking. The weather was good, the trail was shorter and flatter than her previous thru-hike, and now she had experience and a taste of success.

Annie Weiss set the previous women’s FKT (which was supported) in 2020. She completed the trail in 3 days and 9 hours. Larson said she was supremely confident she could beat that unsupported. She set her sights even higher.

“My goal was to complete it in 3 and a half days so I would have the fastest woman’s time. But then I saw the fastest men’s supported time was 3 days, 7 hours. And I was like, ‘Well, it’d be kind of nice to make that my stretch goal.’” Larson said, “And, obviously, I exceeded that as well, which was really cool to do.”

Unsupported FKT: Northern Country Scenic Trail, Wisconsin Section

Andrea Larson at North Country Scenic Trail sign
(Photo/Andrea Larson)

The NCST is the longest scenic trail in the United States. It is 4,800 miles long, traversing part of North Dakota, through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and ending in Vermont. It passes through over 150 different parks, forests, wildlife refuges, historic sites, and other public lands.

Part of the Superior Hiking Trail links up with the Minnesota section of the NCST. So, Larson saw the Wisconsin section as a natural extension of her FKT pursuits. She started planning, assembling her gear, and looking for the right weather window.

“I had been looking at possibly doing [the FKT attempt] this spring, and I wanted not to be miserable the whole time,” she said. She knew she wanted to beat the mosquito hatch in mid-May, but she also didn’t want to be hiking on a soaking-wet or snow-covered trail.

North Country Scenic Trail map
(Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

She set her departure date for April 12 and closely monitored the weather leading up to it. Somewhat last minute, Larson texted a friend and asked if she’d be willing to drop her off at the trailhead. Larson had planned to hike point-to-point east to west. Her friend agreed but could only drop her off at the West trailhead. That meant Larson had to reverse her plan without much lead time.

In the end, though, that was fortuitous. Had she started the way she intended, Larson said she would have been rained on from the outset and been on soggy trails for most of the hike.

“God’s plan is a little bit more insightful than mine,” she said. “It worked out very well in every regard.”

215 Miles in 3 Days, 3 Hours, and 5 Minutes

Andrea Larson Northern Country Scenic Trail FKT
(Photo/Andrea Larson)

The trial was not without challenges. But Larson said there weren’t any real “low points” during her FKT attempt. She had some issues with her Katadyn water filter, which she hadn’t backwashed since her last FKT. She realized too late that the flow rate was severely diminished, and it took a long time to filter any water.

“There were times I tried drinking out of it, and I couldn’t even get water,” she said. “That was a little, uh-oh right off the bat.”

But she quickly developed a system. She filled up where she could and then strapped the bottle and Katadyn to her pack so it would filter while she moved.

She admits that her sleep system was also a little undergunned. The temperature dropped to freezing on her first night, and she couldn’t get any sleep. So, instead, she kept moving — and she didn’t stop. Larson didn’t even try to sleep the second night.

“I think I only slept about 25 minutes the entire duration,” she said.

Larson navigated miles of poorly marked logging areas, trying to stay on the trail over sections totally obscured beneath leaves, winding through standing water and open meadows. She passed through Pattison State Park and Brule State Forest. In some areas, she said she was certain she was the first person to have hiked along the trail that year.

When she arrived at the terminus of her adventure, 215 miles later, after 3 days, 3 hours, and 5 minutes, she had claimed her FKT. Larson had completed an unsupported thru-hike of the Wisconsin section of the NCST faster than anyone else.

Northern Country Scenic Trail FKT: What Was in Larson’s Pack?

Andrea Larson Northern Country Scenic Trail FKT
(Photo/Andrea Larson)

Larson’s pack weighed just 18 pounds when she started. She packed extremely light because, as she repeatedly said, you have to trade off comforts for speed. She didn’t bring a tent, a sleeping mat, or a pad. To call her ultralight kit “minimalist” would be an understatement.

Apparel

Hard Goods

Nutrition

In total, Larson said she brought 18,000 calories’ worth of food and nutrition with her. She took close notes from her Superior Hiking Trail FKT and knew she’d need around 4,400 calories daily. She multiplied that by 4 (for a little wiggle room).

  • Peak Refuel dehydrated meals (x2)
  • A vial of olive oil
  • Potato chips
  • Almonds
  • Ramen noodles
  • Lemon cream Oreo cookies
  • Nutter Butter Bars

Northern Country Scenic Trail FKT: Adventure Out Your Back Door

Andrea Larson Northern Country Scenic Trail FKT
(Photo/Andrea Larson)

Larson said that even a year ago, she wouldn’t have seen herself being able to do something like this. But after setting the FKT for the Superior Hiking Trail last year, she said her confidence this time was unwavering. And the next FKT she sets out after will be with even more self-assurance.

But Larson’s biggest takeaway from her Northern Country Scenic Trail FKT in Wisconsin has nothing to do with records or ultralight thru-hiking. It’s simply about looking for adventure in your own backyard.

“This trail has existed since I was born, before I was born,” she said. “I’ve driven by those areas many times and yet it was completely undiscovered. There is so much for us to discover, adventure, and explore within a day trip.”

She still isn’t sure where her next FKT will be. But she seems to be on a roll. And knowing how addictive thru-hiking can be, chances are this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Andrea Larson.

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The post 3 Days, No Sleep: Wisconsinite Sets FKT on ‘North Country’ Trail appeared first on GearJunkie.

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