Billy Meredith

Vector

Thru Hiker // FKT Record Holder

In 2023, Billy ‘Wahoo’ Meredith set a new Fastest Known Time (FTK) on the Calendar Year Triple Crown (CYTC). Over 234 days he averaged 32 miles and 5,556 ft of climbing a day to traverse the United States three times by foot via the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Turns out he’s only just getting started.

All photos seen below are taken by Billy himself. 

Billy, where did you grow up and what is your first memory of connecting with Nature?

I was born and raised 18 years in Marietta, GA, a suburb about 20 min north of Atlanta. Growing up I spent plenty of time outside trying out just about every sport under the sun, but the first time I recall really connecting with nature was on my first fly fishing trip when I was eleven years old. My uncle Randy lives and breathes fishing and he took my dad and I out on the Hiwassee River in north Georgia. I still remember trying on my first pair of waders and that wild feeling of walking out into a cold river without getting wet. And the proud moment of catching my first trout after practicing casting from 10 to 2 ‘o clock tirelessly the day before. And of course my first fall in the river with my waders on, joining the Hiwassee Swim Club as my uncle likes to put it. I hadn’t thought of that trip in a long time but it’s the first memory that comes to mind. I haven’t been fly fishing in several years but I hope to make some more fond memories out on the river with kids of my own one day.

Vector

Where was your first backpacking trip? Were you hooked immediately? Why?

My first real backpacking trip was during spring break of my senior year of college in 2017. I went to Arizona State so most of the campus was down partying in Mexico, but five of my buddies and I opted to go to Zion National Park for a few nights. The next year we went to Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon. Two pretty mind blowing locations for my first ever backpacking trips which definitely made me curious about what else was out there to be seen. And I’d say that curiosity has only grown since then as I spend more and more of my time living outside. Growing up I did some car camping around GA/TN but nothing like a multi night trip in the wilderness in those types of landscapes. My best friend, Andrew, and I had been talking about hiking the Appalachian Trail since we were in high school, long before those trips. Though I reckon finally getting out on some real overnighters of my own fanned the flame to eventually do it in 2019. 

Recommended products by

Billy Meredith

Where did you get the trail name ‘Wahoo’?

I received my trail name on my first thru hike of the Appalachian Trail back in 2019. My buddy and I were thru hiking together and refused to give each other trail names so it took us several hundred miles before we finally got them. We were hiking northbound and crossed paths with a couple of southbounders who were asking for recommendations of “must see” spots that we’d experienced on the trail so far. I responded with the Waffle House that we had just hit a day or two before. They thought that was funny and nicknamed me “WaHo” which is a common abbreviation amongst Georgians for the restaurant. Though most folks don’t know that and kept confusing my trail name as Wahoo. I eventually got tired of correcting people and just let Wahoo stick. It’s a mouthful to explain so whenever people ask “Oh, Wahoo, as in the fish?” I just agree..Hahaha! Most of the time I’m only meeting these hikers for a brief moment in passing anyway so it’s not worth an explanation. I never really ask people how they got their trail name anyways. I think it’s more fun to leave up to the imagination. 

Vector

You set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Calendar Year Triple Crown (CYTC) last year in 234 days. Why go so fast through such incredibly beautiful terrain? What do you gain?

Everyone has their own reasons for hiking. Heading into the CYTC, I had roughly 5,000 miles of thru hiking under my belt. I knew I was capable of completing a thru hike and I’d had the typical thru hiking experience before. That’s not what I was looking for this go round. I felt like I wanted to do something that seemed near impossible to me. Something that scared me a bit, in the best way. I was looking for that same mind boggling feeling that the Appalachian Trail gave me when I first set out..realizing I was about to walk across fourteen states over five months. The CYTC felt like one of the few athletic achievements left where you could become one of the “firsts” since only a handful of people had ever completed it, and that was really appealing to me. Especially since I knew I wanted to complete the PCT and CDT at some point as well. Then once I committed to going for it I figured if I’m going to do it why not just go for the record and see what happens. That’s just kind of how I’m wired these days. I like jumping into things head first. Ready, Fire, Aim. 

Anyways, to answer your question after completing the Appalachian Trail, I discovered ultra running. And this hike was a way for me to combine the ultra distance (averaging over 50k a day) and thru hiking. I would even argue I wasn’t going much “faster” than I would on a normal thru hike, though I was going each day for far longer. I still was able to enjoy those wild places and I got to see them through a different lens. Catching sunrise and sunset nearly every day last year. 

This hike broke me time and time again. And in picking up those pieces along the way & continuing on when it didn’t feel possible, I gained a renewed sense of self.

It’s hard to explain just how much you can learn about yourself while spending eight months alone, in the wilderness, pushing your body to its absolute limit day in and day out. But it’s profound. 

I know people that have a hard time spending a few hours alone in their own thoughts. That couldn’t be me. 

This hike broke me time and time again. And in picking up those pieces along the way & continuing on when it didn’t feel possible, I gained a renewed sense of self.

– Billy “Wahoo” Meredith

What do you lose / miss by going that fast?

Going that pace you definitely miss out on a lot of the social aspects of thru hiking. I hiked probably 99% of my miles completely alone because no one else is really doing 32 miles a day so I was either at the very front of the pack or the very back, catching up to the other hikers that started months before me on the AT and PCT. Hiking in the offseason also meant a lot of the hostels and other hiker amenities weren’t always available. And you do have to pass up on some pretty awesome campsites. It was always tough walking by an epic site and wanting to call it a day and set up camp, but knowing I still had 12 miles to go. 

 

Also, sleep. Five months later, I still feel like I’m catching up on sleep. On the AT there was a point where I was waking up at 4 – 4:30 am and going late into the night. Willing myself out of my sleeping bag into the 20 degree darkness was always the hardest part of my day. 

Vector

We hear that you won Next American Idol by singing ‘A Thousand Miles’ by Vannesa Carlton. Rather fitting, if we don’t say so ourselves. How did that experience influence you while out on the CYTC?

Well that was a class superlative I won back in eighth grade. And while I still sing that as one of my go-to karaoke songs to this day I can’t say that it had much influence other than that I definitely played it when I hit my first 1k and my last 1k. I did however sing out loud quite a bit during many of the lonely hours I spent night hiking. Part for fun, part to keep myself awake, and part…bears. Sorry to anyone that had to hear that. 

So you seem to be into music. I mean you just bought a DJ controller. What’s music’s place in Nature? Do you listen to tunes while on the trail?

Ha, yeah I’m incredibly into music. I’ve had some random jobs in the music business and for a long time I wanted to become a music supervisor and soundtrack movies and television shows. I certainly think music has its place in nature. Plenty of my favorite artists’ albums are inspired by nature and I’m sure we’ve all heard of folks going off into the wilderness to write and record without the distractions of society. And so I do think music can certainly enhance our time outside, depending on the circumstance. Who doesn’t love music around a campfire? Listening to punk or edm has helped me summit countless mountains in my time thru hiking. I think so long as you aren’t detracting from others’ experience in nature and are keeping it to yourself or within your campsite it’s alright. Obviously plenty of people go into nature to unplug and hear nature’s music and I feel that should be respected. If it were a rarity for me to get outside I think I would listen to it less while hiking. But when I spend a year alone living in the wilderness, heck yeah I’m going to play some music to keep me company. Walking a ridgeline at sunset to the perfect playlist is a magical feeling. And often later in life those songs take me back to those specific memories which I love. I did always try to start my day without any headphones in and be in a place of gratitude and presence. Then as the day would go by I’d listen to music or podcasts. I probably listened to just as many hours of podcasts as I did music. Considering I would go days at a time without human interaction the sound of hearing other humans conversing was comforting to me.

 

A few favorite artists of mine for the trails are Novo Amor, The Paper Kites, Gregory Alan Isakov, Ray Lamontagne, Explosions in the Sky & EMBRZ 

DSCF3999
Vector
You’ve said to ‘take things in bite sized chunks when approaching large goals to avoid being overwhelmed by the moment’. Easier said than done, right? What’s the crux to breaking things down into bite size chunks?

Definitely easier said than done. I think the hardest part is getting yourself into a clear enough headspace / mindset to think logically like that. I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter what you’re capable of when you’re fresh and feeling good. What matters is how you respond to adversity and where your mind goes during incredibly difficult circumstances. Whether it’s pushing through a gnarly storm, some new foot pain flaring up, or just being exhausted from a lack of sleep. Those are the moments when the mind starts to play tricks on you, and make you question how bad you want something that you swore you wanted at the start line. When in the midst of adversity, the untrained mind thinks that it will never end, and thus there is no way to finish. i.e. “ I already feel horrible at mile 2,500..no way I’m going to make it 5,000 more like this.” Normally though, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. And even if we can’t see it we have to believe it’s there and thus break things down into smaller chunks to get there. Whether it’s an aid station at a race, a town while on trail, or your next snack break. Give yourself a checkpoint to look forward to and celebrate. If things got really bad I would lie and tell myself that I could quit at the next town. But then after I got a warm meal, shower and some sleep I would pretty much always be feeling better the next morning and thinking straight again. I feel that you can really only learn this technique through the experience of actually doing difficult tasks. Once you’ve successfully applied this a few times it becomes more and more natural..though still never easy. It’s an art. And one that requires practice. 

What’s your go-to breakfast while out on the trail?

Breakfast is usually my favorite meal (hence Waffle House), but when hiking I would hardly consider what I eat as breakfast. Last year waking up was the hardest part of my day so I really needed to focus on getting up & moving to get some momentum going at the beginning of my day. So I mostly just snacked while on the go in the mornings. I pretty much always aimed to get in 10 miles before 10am. I didn’t carry a stove on me so I was pretty limited to Pop Tarts, Nature Valley Bars, blueberry donuts, etc. My least favorite part about the CYTC was the diet and I basically survived on processed foods. But getting to a diner for breakfast was always my favorite meal. I’d always order two full entrees for myself and felt so judged by the wait staff as I put them down in the blink of an eye. A typical order would be something like a veggie omelet and potatoes with blueberry pancakes and bacon. And a whole of a lot of coffee. All to be burned off by noon.

Vector

You’re in Aotearoa (New Zealand) now. What’s your goals in the Land of the Long White Cloud?

Yep, planning on being here until my one year working holiday visa wears off. I suppose after walking across America three times last year, I felt a desire to see another country. And what better place for outdoor access than New Zealand. I intend to get outside as much as I can and utilize the incredible hut system that is unique to NZ. When I travel I prefer to move somewhere for at least six months. Get a job, car, & all that and really try to get to know the local culture. As opposed to vacationing somewhere for a week or two, doing the highlights and heading home. This obviously means I get to see a lesser amount of destinations, but I get to see and understand more while I’m there. And make authentic connections and friendships in these places. Also I think there’s a beauty of going somewhere new where you don’t know anyone and making your way. I’ve done it several times now and it really builds self confidence and independence. After a year of being on the move in 2023, I intend to stay somewhat stationary here in Nelson, NZ and get back into a bit of a routine again, start running again, and pursue some creative goals I’ve set for myself. That and do a whole lotta tramping on my days off. 

What keeps you motivated / inspired?

In recent years I’ve really leaned in to being curious and learning as much as I possibly can about all kinds of pursuits. There’s so much inspiration to be found in the world if we’re willing to look. There’s countless sports I’d love to learn, jobs I’d like to try, places I want to see, and artistic mediums to pursue. Even in a hundred lifetimes I know I’d never be able to try it all, so I’m trying to squeeze as much out of this one as I can.

 

A quote that’s really resonated with me recently is “Embarrassment is the cost of entry. If you aren’t willing to look like a foolish beginner, you’ll never become a graceful master.” – Ed Latimore

 

I’ve really spent my twenties trying out as many things as I can, finding what I’m truly passionate about and how I’d like to spend the rest of my life. I’ve worked all kinds of jobs in the past five years going from a marketing desk job, to bartending in Atlanta, to wildland firefighting in Arizona, to wilderness therapy guide in Utah,  to a deckhand on Kauai, to snowboard instructing in Colorado and now getting into concert photography. Point being, I obviously had zero experience in any of these fields when I began and had put my ego aside and be ok with looking like an idiot at first in order to learn something new. So often we find our comfort zone and never dare to stray outside of it due to fear of being judged by others. Not caring so much about what others think is liberating and it opens up a whole new world of exploration and possibilities. Most people I told about the Calendar Year Triple Crown thought I was crazy. And that’s alright by me.