Kaiha Bertollini: Did She Set a New Appalachian Trail FKT?

In the past 24 hours there has been a lot of dramatic news: Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, Donald Trump used a whole lotta cash from his foundation to settle legal disputes for his personal businesses, and a completely unknown female named Kaiha Bertollini may or may not have set a new FKT for the Appalachian Trail.

I’ll give you one guess as to which one we’ll be discussing.

Kaiha Bertollini

All Photos Pulled from Kaiha Bertollini’s Facebook Page, Hike For Our Lives

On Sunday, September 18, 2016 at 4:50:16 pm, hiker Kaiha “Wildcard Ninja” Bertollini claims to have completed the Appalachian Trail in a record-setting pace of 45 days, 6 hours, 28 minutes, and 16 seconds. And she says she did it unsupported. If her claims turn out to be true, she will have beaten the self-supported record set by Heather Anderson by a massive nine days. And she will also have beat the supported record *just* set by Karl Meltzer that very same Sunday morning.

But here’s the catch: not everyone believes Bertollini. Let’s back up.

Kaiha Bertollini

FKT {or Fastest Known Time} has become a lucrative and popular ultra challenge of sorts. Rather than tackle formalized races, ultra runners and mere mortals alike are flocking to various trails to compete against each other for the informal-yet-coveted FKT. Now that these FKTs receive so much media attention {who remembers all the controversy with Scott Jurek and the champagne upon finishing his FKT of the AT?}, they are a hotbed for fame, fortune, and drama.

So why is the world questioning the validity of Bertollini’s claims? A couple reasons. First of all, Bertollini says she did the entire trail unsupported aside from tidbits of stuff from “trail angels.” This means she had no aide and shipped herself food to various drop points. For most people like you or me, this is how the AT is hiked. But here’s the catch: most pro athletes and/or ultra runners who are going for the FKT do the AT supported. This means a crew brings the athlete food and gear in order to save time. There are no rules that say you can’t do an FKT unsupported, but it should obviously take more time since you’re handling your affairs by yourself. And Bertollini’s claimed finishing time is noticeably faster than those who have run it supported. Her time was hours faster that Meltzer’s time and he had an entire crew supporting him, including former record holder Jurek.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-5-43-18-pm

Even more questionable, perhaps, is the fact that Bertollini did not bring any type of GPS to track her mileage and data. According to the FKT rule board, there are only three rules for FKT attempts:

  • Announce your intentions in advance. Like a true gentleman, pay your respects to those who came before you, and tell them what you intend to attempt and when.
  • Be an open book. Invite anyone to come and watch or, better yet, participate. This makes your effort more fun and any result more believable.
  • Record your event. Write down everything immediately upon completion. Memory doesn’t count.

Nowhere in the rules does it say an athlete is required to use a GPS to monitor their progress. To her credit, Bertollini did “announce her intentions in advance” when she posted it on her website. She also recorded the event regularly on her Facebook page, sharing tons of photos along the way {many of which have geotags}. She regularly invited followers to come out and join her on the trail. So technically, she followed all the rules as per the rule board…

….but it still seems weird. Why would she not use a GPS to verify her claims?

According to Gear Junkie, Bertollini says she simply didn’t know she needed one. And I guess that is possible, albeit very odd. But many people aren’t believing it, as per the comments left on her Facebook page:

Kaiha Bertollini

Kaiha Bertollini

As for me? I’m not sure what I believe. I’d love for it to be true. Kaiha Bertollini has an interesting backstory and it would be absolutely amazing to see both a non-professional athlete AND a female crush these records. But there are very clear holes in the story. She has called for anyone who saw her on the trail to come forward and document the when and where of it so she can use that to help corroborate her story.

Kaiha Bertollini

 

And that makes me wonder something else: are we simply jaded in this day and age? Are we so used to social media that we can’t believe someone who doesn’t use those platforms to brag about themselves and their accomplishments? If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it really fall?

Update: a WhiteBlaze user named Billie BearTrap is claiming to have given Bertollini a ride at one point. For more info, head over the WhiteBlaze website.

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16 Comments

  • Reply Art September 21, 2016 at 6:34 am

    I can see why she would be scrutinized. Just seeing that she did this unsupported faster than the supported record gives one pause, as well as the thought of pulling off 50 miles a day for 45 straight days being an act of high athletic accomplishment. I have walked some parts of the AT trail, and know that on some of those parts, 50 miles in a day would be surprising (you’d have to make up time on other sections, to be sure). I still would like to see her story corroborated, and for it to be real, though I admit I’m skeptical.

  • Reply Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog September 21, 2016 at 8:24 am

    I really, really want to believe her, both because it would be an incredible accomplishment for humankind, and also because of what she was walking for. But my mind balks. How does someone carrying a pack walk faster than someone running? Is it just because she slept less? Maybe. But that also underscores the main question of what the human body is truly capable of. I just don’t know, but I hope it’s legit.

  • Reply Whitney Vestal September 21, 2016 at 10:58 am

    I want to believe she’s being honest. However, if her intended goal was indeed to break the record, why not record it? Track it with GPS, track it on a map? anything? The thing is, if she just wanted to go for a “walk in the woods” (pun intended because I just read that book), then go for a walk, hike as far as you’d like, and instagram the pretty pictures. That would accomplish her goal of “healing.” But if her intention, as stated, was to break the record, I’d say she should provide proof. That’s just what I think.

  • Reply Sarah September 21, 2016 at 11:46 am

    I would like to think we can trust people but I also think that if you’re setting out to do something big you would have some way to track and document it.

  • Reply RFC September 21, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Best comment I’ve seen all day: “She took her bra off, she was unsupported” ba-dum-bum 😛

    On a serious note: as I find myself entering deeper and deeper into the black hole that is the ultra running world, I’m finding I care less and less about times, and more about the experience. My accomplishments are mine and mine alone, for very personal reasons, not bragging rights. How I measure up against others in my field no longer really matters. I imagine that many in the thru hiking community feel exactly the same. And maybe she did too, hence the no GPS.

    But…if you’re going to claim to beat some of the FASTEST elite ultra endurance runners in the world, you’ve gotta have solid proof. It just doesn’t add up to me. The optimist in me would love to see it be true, to see an “unknown” come out and destroy records. But, count me in the “I don’t believe it” category. Especially with all of the reference to ciagrettes, booze, and zero days.

    • Reply RFC September 21, 2016 at 12:09 pm

      *cigarettes. Clearly I don’t proofread my comments. 😉

  • Reply Sarah September 21, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    “Are we so used to social media that we can’t believe someone who doesn’t use those platforms to brag about themselves and their accomplishments?”

    I love this line. It’s something really good to think about not just in this situation but in so many others.

  • Reply Albert September 21, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve seen a lot of posts on many different sites regarding Kaiha’s claim. Most people don’t believe her, and a few here and there do. Unfortunately some people brought her personal life into it and made some very inappropriate comments, and since the vast majority of us aren’t psychologists we should leave all of that out. The facts are that she has staunchly defended her claim that she, without support, out-paced two amazing ultrarunners and a slew of amazing through-hikers and set numerous speed records on the AT along the way. With zero background in endurance and zero proof, it’ll be hard for her claim to be legitimized.

    • Reply Art September 22, 2016 at 10:28 am

      I agree wholeheartedly that we should leave personal attacks out of this.

  • Reply Oh Look I Just Smashed The AT FKT, On Heroin, Sorry Anish! September 23, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    anybody that has thru hiked knows that you’re not breaking any records hanging around drinking and smoking. there’s not a moment to waste in an FKT, and she’s documented to have wasted several. this is a really dark person and she should apologize to the real FKT holders for attempting to overshadow them.

  • Reply Clay "Pony" Evans September 26, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    I’m sorry so many people are defaulting to a non-judgmental stance on this. Ms. Bertollini’s claim is as follows: An inexperienced thru-hiker does about 70% of the AT NOBO (guessing on the percentage), then turns around and SOBOs self-supported. Despite the fact that two of the world’s top ultra athletes have within the past year just about killed themselves to break the record, each spending about $100,000 on full-time crew, planning, logistics, supplies, etc., *without wearing full packs*, this neophyte pops up with a thoroughly undocumented claim of beating them both while wearing a loaded pack and handling her own resupply, i.e. getting in and out of town, which, as any AT hiker can tell you, takes time. In essence, Ms. Bertollini is implying that had she not been self-supported, she would have destroyed the record by an even larger margin. And never mind that she was seen by credible witnesses taking leisurely zeroes and allegedly yellow-blazing at least one section of the trail.

    Anyone who has thru-hiked the AT, as I did this summer, will tell you that *averaging* 20 miles a day throughout the hike is a prodigious feat. To think that an untrained, unsupported person — regardless of how inspiring her story or purported cause (all the PayPal money goes straight to her, not to a 501(c)3 or anything legit like that) — could pull this off out of the blue is merely foolish and incredibly gullible.

    The more information that emerges about Ms. Bertollini’s hike, the more evident this becomes. I’m truly blown away that anyone gave even a moment’s thought to the validity of her alleged feat.

    So please, don’t withhold judgment. If it walks like a hoax and talks like a hoax, well, you know….

    • Reply Art September 27, 2016 at 9:17 am

      I don’t think anyone here truly believes that this woman did the feat in less time than Karl Metzer absent evidence. And, I have read article and forums discussing the topic because it’s fascinating in a human interest sort of way, but not because I have anything invested in her having accomplished or not accomplished the feat. I have no emotion tied up in an FKT in any way, and I’m certainly not the adjudicator of her claim. If her claims turns out to be unverifiable, which I suspect it will be, I will only wonder why she should want to make the claim in the first place (it would have been much easier, were she to lie, to lie about beating the unsupported record and thus shield herself from a small bit of the incredulity). The question becomes, does it seem possible? It might be possible, were she able to sleep less and cover more ground than the average unsupported hiker. But nine days better? That’s where it starts to sound a bit like fraud. But people don’t want to rush to judgment. You might, but what does that gain? If she doesn’t come forward with any proof, we can put the thought to bed like it never existed and not have to join in on the judgmental dog-piling that is occurring.

    • Reply J.Viper January 13, 2018 at 11:21 am

      Couldn’t have said it any better. And btw, enjoyed your piece on “IronWill”. Lots of these folks out here doing these hikes for “awareness” of some noble cause are nothing more than self-serving attention seekers.

  • Reply Steven Lynch September 27, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Ms. Bertollini stayed at my hostel in Maine and was drinking beers, smoking cigarettes and spent the day in town. she finally left at 10 am the next morning on her record attempt. i was a member of the USA world Duathlon team in Cancun, Mexico in 1995 and this woman is no record-breaker. I do have compassion for her and hope she gets some help for her mental health issues.

  • Reply Skeptic October 4, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Steven, too funny! Visited you hostel’s fb page and saw your touching post about seeing Meltzer and his dad sharing his AT adventure four days before his thunder-stealer left your place. You seem to “get” what’s going on. Let’s hope she gives up the delusional attempt to claim an FKT and does get that mental health help. Kaiha, HYOH, but don’t try fooling people who can see through you…and don’t let your Meatballs friend encourage you to fool yourself.

  • Reply BretB March 12, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Are you sure her name is not Rosie Ruiz?

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