Editor's note: Mikaela Osler and the Daily Lobo recognize and acknowledge the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Colorado and the diverse communities who have cared for and continue to preserve the land.
Within ancestral Ute land, traversing eight sweeping mountain ranges, across five charging river systems and through the thickets and fields of six national forests, the 485-mile Colorado Trail asks hikers to set aside four to six weeks of backpacking to complete it.
Mikaela Osler finished the trail in ten days, 12 hours and 36 minutes.
Osler, a University of New Mexico graduate student studying creative nonfiction, broke the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the overall women’s self-supported thru-hike — a long distance hike with an end destination — on the Colorado Trail on Aug. 9, beating the previous record by a margin of four days.
The choice for the Colorado Trail, according to Osler, was influenced by its beauty, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and the various risks of travel. The idea to embark on an FKT, however, came to Osler during a previous thru-hiking endeavor.
“When I was on the Appalachian Trail, I was going pretty fast and I started to think, ‘What if I tried to set a Fastest Known Time?’ because several of my role models — my hiking role models — are women who have set Fastest Known Times, and I was like, ‘Maybe I could do that,’” Osler said.
And she did, averaging 45 miles a day from Durango to Denver via the Collegiate East route.
On “Fastest Known Time’s” website, where athletes and their FKTs are tracked, verified and recorded, a transcription of Osler’s 11-day trip report is available where the hiker detailed her different encounters on the trail — tribulations and pleasantries alike — from bleeding blisters and night hikes to the “beautiful sunset” on Spring Creek Pass. One notable experience came on day seven when Osler crossed paths with Olga King, the previous record holder for the Colorado Trail, as she ran past the camp in the early morning.
Osler has now been nominated for “Fastest Known Time of the Year,” where a panel of peers votes on a set of FKT holders for the award.
Burrell, co-founder of “Fastest Known Time” and live tracker of Osler’s journey, said she “went all out — she made a very strong effort.”
Leading up to the effort, Osler — whose trail name “FlyBy” was inspired by an encounter with jet aircrafts as she hiked by Californian plains — trained for two months in addition to trekking different trails in the years prior. In 2016, Osler ventured through the Pacific Crest Trail, then the Continental Divide Trail two years later and the Appalachian Trail a year after in 2019. These three trails culminate into the esteemed “Triple Crown” of hiking.
“If I go for another Fastest Known Time, I am probably going to go for an overall time rather than a woman’s time. I just think it’s possible. I don’t think the reason I was slower than the men’s Fastest Known Time actually had to do with either sex or gender, I just think I was not trained at all,” Osler said, referring to her short training period of two months.
On “Fastest Known Time,” Osler now joins her contemporaries, including some of her hiking inspirations: Heather “Anish” Anderson and Jennifer Pharr-Davis, both writers, speakers and respective recipients of National Geographic’s “Adventurer of the Year.” Anderson currently holds five FKTs. Pharr-Davis, with three FKTs, was the first woman to hold the overall Fastest Known Time on the Appalachian Trail in 2011.
Osler, who is now virtually teaching classes and workshops at UNM, was raised into and by the thru-hiking world.
“My dad did the Appalachian Trail in 1981, and I grew up with his stories,” Osler said. “And in third grade, my mom and I — just the two of us — did a road trip, and her best friend’s daughter was on the Appalachian Trail and (we) went to visit her. She was a young woman, and I was like, ‘I’m going to do this, like a woman. I’m going to do this someday.’”
Osler contemplated her journey over a pizza and S.Pellegrino water after she exited the woods near Durango.
“This whole trail, I was just mean to myself a lot ... There are many men who have done it faster than (10.5 days), so I was like, ‘No one’s going to care, this doesn't matter,’ and as soon as I finished I was like, ‘No, that was really hard, and a really remarkable thing that you just did,’” Osler said.
Gabriel Biadora is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora