This is a collection of stories with images, and video clips telling the story of my Calendar Year Triple Crown attempt which ended up as a Single Year Triple Crown. I promised something different, a video telling this story, but the footage I have doesn't match the story I want to tell (my computer probably couldn't make the video anyway as it crashed a lot just for these much shorter video clips). This format where I can combine prose with images and video clips I think tells the story better than a video could (at least a video made by me). Thanks to Sage and Sam for giving me the nudges to actually complete this.
Jack Gladstone, Patti Bartlett, and Keith Haas
Before I started my hike, I started working at Applied Engineering Services and it came time to set up my retirement account. As we had another new employee at the time, the owners of the company had our company's financial advisor, Keith Haas, come to talk to us about our retirement accounts.
I learned that Keith lives ear the start of the CDT in Whitefish, MT. As I told him my plans for a Calendar Year Triple Crown, he immediately wanted to help. I agreed that I would stop to see him in Whitefish on my way to starting the CDT.
Skipping ahead to Stehekin, WA, my last town stop before finishing the PCT. Some other hikers had a moral conundrum and stole my package including the new shoes I desperately needed. I got my maps back and nothing else. My Dad hand delivered this package, but had to leave before I could show up. So he left it at an agreed upon spot. When I arrived 2.5 hours later, all I could find was the box. My view of the long distance hiking community took a hit for the first time.
I anger hiked the remainder of the PCT finishing very exhausted and still angry, showed up to Whitefish by train. Keith took one look at my beat up cheap sunglasses and gave be a nice pair of his that he claimed he could no longer use. As he had to work a little in the morning, he dropped me off at his house for a much needed nap. Once finished, he took me into Glacier for my permit and on the drive to the start of the CDT I told him I needed to find a place to stay that night as I couldn't start that day. As I looked through my information, Keith called his friend to see if he could find something better.
I heard Keith talk to Jack Gladstone, who in a loud booming voice told Keith that he would allow me to stay at his house and get me to the start of the CDT. In the meantime, they would feed me. Keith started telling me about Jack, I think to prepare me. I had a little apprehension based on the description, but Keith assured me that Jack and his wife Patti were great.
Food, shelter, and a ride. That gave me all I needed, but possibly with a little discomfort. Jack and Patti had friends over for dinner that night, so adding Keith and I to the mix didn't change things much or so they thought.
Jack got out his guitar, played and sang a song for us. As I listened, I thought about how much my Dad would enjoy being there at that moment. Dinner came shortly after, surf 'n turf with homemade french fries, a vegetable dish that I don't remember, huckleberry ice cream sandwiches, and huckleberry cheesecake in quantities that made it effectively all I could eat. It was by far the best meal in 2018.
They wanted to feed me a big breakfast prior to starting out in the morning, so I got another of my top 5 meals of the year with omelettes, sausage, and breakfast potatoes. Most of all, I connected with Jack and Patti in a way I don't normally connect with people. Jack talked about winning the Rose Bowl with the Washington Huskies in 1978 (he was a guard on the offensive line), showed me his Rose Bowl ring, and our topics of conversation ranged greatly never running out. Jack has a unique mind so I love listening to him. His big thing at this time was performing SENSELESS acts of kindness and rewarding those who provide service for others. He performed one of those for me. We exchanged phone numbers because they thought they might be able to help me if I needed it in the near future.
Jack took me to the trail and I went on my way expecting to never see or hear from him or Patti again. I simply thought that I had an amazing trail magic story that would top any I've heard.
They got me in the right frame of mind to enjoy the stunning scenery of Glacier National Park (no anger and I finally got a full night of sleep).
I don't remember how much later, but I received a text message from Patti asking me how I was doing. We started texting back and forth for the remainder of the CDT and I felt flattered that they wanted to stay in touch with me.
After I finished the CDT, I called Keith and he told me that Jack wanted to talk to me. I tried calling him, but we just played phone tag for a while. I kept moving down the AT leaving Jack a message when in town and he would leave me a message while I hiked the trail.
On a day which had a 10% chance of precipitation, I hiked through three snowstorms. I finished the day crawling into a shelter as I noticed a fourth snowstorm starting. In the morning, I saw 4 inches of new snow on the ground that came overnight.
I just shook my head as I started the day thinking that the last forecast I saw had no precipitation again for the coming day. I climbed up Saddleback Mountain getting my gloves wet in the process. On the summit, I faced a blizzard (so much for the forecast). My hands froze to the point that I could no longer bend my left hand, even with hand warmers. I dropped down Saddleback, knowing I needed to go into Rangely, a town I planned to skip. In town, I regrouped, changed my thought process from long distance hiking to winter mountaineering, and purchased some clothing to better battle the conditions. Most people say to not fight nature, but for me to survive and keep moving forward, I found myself in a fight.
After getting settled into my motel room with all my town chores done, I called Jack. I wish I would have recorded the conversation because I can't remember someone inspiring me so much since Coach O'Brien died. As I thanked him for lifting my spirits, he told me, "This hike that you're doing, it's not about you. It is your obligation to tell this story others, to speak about it to others."
After I finished hiking, Patti asked me if I would speak to her class (she's a middle school teacher). I jumped at the chance and had a wonderful time talking to her students, most of whom were very engaging. That evening, I got to meet a group of their friends and just generally enjoyed just spending time with these two. Keith tried to make it down, but his car broke down on the way.
Since then, I climbed Chief Mountain with Jack, a sacred mountain to the Blackfeet Indians (Jack is half Blackfeet Indian and half German), watched a high school football game with him, and had the pleasure of eating Thanksgiving dinner with him. Each time I'm around him, he tells me something on his mind. Leading a trip to climb Chief Mountain every year allows him to "manifest kinship". Most recently, he told me about trying to achieve the place where the line blurs so who serves who becomes unclear. These ideas have stuck in my head ever since.
I don't know how I managed to get so lucky to have Keith, Jack, and Patti in my life, but they played key roles in my SYTC. Keith still takes care of my money for me, Jack provides me with his immense wisdom, and Patti continues to show support and lives in a way I try to emulate. She once told me that I am stuck with them. I certainly hope so. I feel a kinship with them ever since that SENSELESS act of kindness. Someday, I hope the line blurs on who is serving who between us.
This blog post is my attempt to tell the story I want to tell about my SYTC. I'm trying to fulfill the obligation Jack told me I have. I've given four talks, but this should allow someone unable to go to one of those talks to see my story.
Roundup River Ranch and Sarah Ingersoll
I view long distance hiking as inherently selfish. So I selfishly tried to make myself feel less selfish by attempting to raise money for Roundup River Ranch as part of my CYTC attempt. Roundup River Ranch is a summer camp for kids who have serious to life threatening medical conditions. Free of charge, these kids get to go to camp and have the medical support needed so that for a brief time in their lives, they can do normal kid things.
I reached out to RRR, and Sarah got back to me. She set everything up for the donations, and she convinced me to volunteer my time at RRR for a weekend. I really enjoyed working with Sarah over the phone and through email, but meeting her in person proved even better.
When I talked with her, her eyes lit up as though she was talking with the most interesting person in the world. Later that day, I saw her doing the same thing to someone else. I know that both of us can't be the most interesting person in the world, so that means I'm not that interesting, Sarah just makes people feel that way.
Volunteering at RRR was an interesting experience where I learned that is a such thing as an adult Superman onesie and I learned that people can convince me to wear it ... in public. I also ended up dressing like a minion as I acted as a host for a show for the kids. I let two boys slaughter my face with makeup, and watched a little boy who literally only has half a heart show everyone he has more heart than the rest of us.
A little before I left, Sarah sent me an email saying the theme for the next year was "Reach for the Stars" and that she hoped that I would occasionally see the stars, remember the kids at RRR, and get the motivation I needed to keep going. It worked.
I attempted to record the above message for Roundup River Ranch, but I'm not sure it ever got to them. I guess now is as good a time as any to post this mucus infused message from the highest elevation I reached during my SYTC.
I met Lloyd about 10 years ago and went skiing with him the first chance I got. As a ski instructor, he helped me improve my skiing greatly. My friendship with him and other mutual friends also pushed my comfort zone so I got into rock climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering, and started hiking more off-trail.
Lloyd is my most reliable friend. Every winter, he skis a lot and teaches part time as a ski instructor. He will go rock climbing and have a few other outdoor adventures each year. If there is something he decides he will regret not doing, he does it. For example, he thought he would regret never flying a plane, so he now has a pilot's license and owns a plane.
I also have a place to stay anytime I'm in Idaho Falls, even if he is out of town. When my hot water heater stopped working, he allowed me to go over to his house and use his shower very early in the morning. Anytime I need him, he comes through.
I knew that attempting a CYTC would be expensive, so I asked Lloyd if I could live in his basement. I gave him a few things of mine that had a little value to him and paid him way under market value. Staying with him allowed me to make enough money to fund the hike.
On the Appalachian Trail, my final trail of the year, my body broke down to the point of having great difficulty walking. I couldn't carry my pack without a lot of pain, so I had to see a chiropractor, and then I rested in a hotel room for several days. From that point on, the hike became a lot more expensive than I anticipated with many more nights in hotel rooms. Lloyd allowing me to stay with him for so cheap allowed me to save enough money that I didn't have to think about the money as I tried to finish the hike.
Lloyd is so supportive of my outdoor adventures that he came to join me for a couple days in Hammond Canyon. Newton (his dog) kept stepping on cactus, but we had a great time exploring Hammond Canyon and finding the most intact and well preserved Anasazi Ruin I've ever seen.
More than anything, I appreciate how bad an influence Lloyd is on me. He convinced me to buy a backcountry ski set-up on a whim. I've pursued many outdoor adventures because of him and he taught me the most important lesson I ever learned about working out: the hardest part of every workout is between the couch and the door. Without his nudging, I never would have quit my comfortable job to hike the PCT in 2016 which started this whole adventure. I consider him my best friend and someone who changed my life.
j and Dave
After I finished the PCT in 2016, I talked about trying to find an engineering employer who would allow me to live the hiker trash lifestyle I desired. I didn't actually believe it existed. Then someone put me touch with Jeanette Hackney, or as she likes to go by, j. That evening I updated my resume in about 5 minutes, and sent her an email that I effectively used as a cover letter (that took an additional 10 minutes). I later looked back at the resume and "cover letter" and realize they were bad.
Still, j contacted me to set up a phone interview for two days later with her and Dave, the most active owners of Applied Engineering Services at the time. By the end of that interview, they told me to go see Matt Beard, the boss at the Idaho Falls office. I set up and had an in-person interview with him which took place two days after the phone interview. It took a few months and an in person interview with j, but eventually they hired me part-time. Soon after, they gave me a project with enough work for full time.
I didn't hide the fact that I would attempt the CYTC. In other words, I found the employer I talked about but didn't believe existed.
They support my lifestyle so much that they came out to see me on the trail and we explored the South Fork of Mule Canyon together. It came at the perfect time as I had broken a lot of gear my first week on trail and needed a lighter time on trail from the punishment of that first week.
Throughout the hike, I stayed in contact with j and Dave more than anyone outside of my parents. Today, they allow me to live at the office in Ridgway which saves me a lot of money, and send me out on travel where I end making even more. They do this knowing full well that I'm about to leave again on another hike.
I don't tend to say I couldn't have done it without someone unless I believe it. I couldn't have finished the SYTC without them.
The first part of my hike was a "warm-up" in Southern Utah where I explored Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments. Logistically, I had one problem, how to get a package at Lake Powell. I reached out to a few places to see how to achieve that, and Josh Summers responded to me. He told me he would take care of it if I sent it to the Bullfrog Post Office. I rode a shuttle across Lake Powell and Josh met me on the other side with my package. He took me to a place where I could fill up on water and start hiking.
This enabled me to pull off this hike I wanted to do. When I compare this hike to the PCT, CDT, and AT in terms of "average scenic value", this hike wins easily. The opportunity to do this hike came because of Josh's generosity.
Scout and Frodo ... and Proton
After finishing my "warm-up" hike in Southern Utah, I hitched a car ride and rode a bus to get to San Diego. Along the way, I lost my wallet. Fortunately, Scout and Frodo hosted me as they do for hundreds (maybe thousands) of prospective Pacific Crest Trail hikers each year. They won't accept any money for it, instead they request donations to the PCTA for any money that hikers want to give them.
Their hosting duties include feeding us, giving us a place to stay, giving a talk about a variety of topics all important to the PCT (I believe it should be mandatory to hear it before one attempts to hike the trail), and driving us to the start of the trail. In order to do all of that, they need help.
I got lucky and Proton, fellow 2016 PCT hiker, picked me up from the bus station. We crossed paths at Kennedy Meadows, but didn't actually meet. We knew a lot of the same hikers. He drove me to a bank so I could get enough money until I could get my cards replaced.
Scout had to tell me that I couldn't tell someone to carry less water than they thought and Frodo had to scold me for talking too loud in the morning. Somehow, they maintain a positive atmosphere and set the tone for us as we embark on our respective hikes despite some people, like me, causing them problems daily.
For me, I felt like I was returning home when I saw the Southern Terminus and I soaked in the buzz as everyone got ready to start their 2,650+ mile hikes.
Brenda and Laurie Braaten
With the energy gleaned from Scout and Frodo, I started the PCT fast. In the morning of my 19th day, I made it to Kennedy Meadows and heard horror stories about the current snow storms Sierra. I ended up hiking through two blizzards, post-holed so much that I walked in a lake for a bit for easier travel, had a lot of difficult navigation, had wet feet for an average of 10 hours per day, and ran out of food once. The Sierra sapped a lot of my energy.
I left the Sierra exhausted and my mind went to a the darkest place of my life. Also, my feet split open making each step painful. In this condition, I arrived at Belden and called Brenda so I could pick up my package and start hiking.
Sensing I needed more than my package, she found an excuse to take me back to her place where they hosted hikers as they come through. I took a shower, ate, and Brenda started helping me with my feet. Laurie gave her some advice which she passed on to me. The next thing I knew, I spent the night in Belden for a much needed break.
I left with my mind still in a bad place, but my feet healed completely within a couple days by following the advice of the Braatens. They were a bright light during a dark time which I believe helped keep me going.
With my mind still in a bad place, I continued through Northern California, an underrated region of the PCT in my opinion.
Reaching the halfway point did not feel good at all, but somehow I had enough spunk in me to make the following video. That may have in part been due to the Braatens and looking back, this moment I'm more proud of than any other.
I showed up to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch where I met Linda. She showed me how everything worked and explained that they use the honor system. After I stepped on her weight scale and saw that with shoes and clothes on, I weighed under 150 lb. Linda fixed me lunch and told me about brisket for dinner. I stayed and believe I ate $70 worth of food (about 10 plates full), so I got my $12 worth. Linda kept begging me to eat more, but I just couldn't.
During that time, I also got to talk to Linda, who runs Burney Mountain Guest Ranch. Burney Mountain Guest Ranch is a Christian Retreat that also happens to be close to the PCT. They decided as part of their ministry to provide a place that would help any of us long distance hikers going through.
As a fellow Christian, I see the occasional negative portrayal we receive. Unfortunately, I largely understand why those portrayals exist. So, I appreciate it greatly when I see fellow Christians living in a way that buck those negative portrayals. Linda is the epitome of that.
I found some other hikers attempting the CYTC: Graduate, T-Rex, and Prodigy. I decided to join them trying to keep up as long as I could on the CDT. Graduate had a filling fall out and ended up having to take a zero (no miles hiked) so I ended up stealing away Prodigy for a little bit.
In the morning of our next town stop, Prodigy hiked a little ahead of me, so I knew that I wouldn't catch up unless he had to dig a hole. All of a sudden he stopped and started looking at something on the ground. When I caught up, he held a cucumber in his hand with a big smile on his face saying that Toe Touch left that for him.
I tried to remember if I met Toe Touch on the PCT, as all of us hiked it in 2016. Prodigy saw that she was only half an hour ahead of us based on her note, so he took off at a speed I couldn't hope to replicate. I did manage to stay in sight of him as he caught up to Toe Touch. They hugged and as they talked, I managed to catch up to them. That moment, I realized I had confused Toe Touch with Tip Toe.
Toe Touch gave us a ride to town and had lunch with us. I think she offered to buy us lunch, but instead we bought her lunch (I could be remembering that wrong). Buying us lunch was a foolish proposition at the time.
I have to explain this picture a little bit. First, notice how skinny I am. The shirt normally fits me at least better than it does in this picture, but I'm swimming in it. My shoulders look very pronounced and not in a good way. I'm on my second plate and Prodigy is eating a burger still planning on eating the pizza. Meanwhile, there Toe Touch's plate still has a lot of food on it.
Toe Touch then patiently walked around a grocery store with us and held back her opinion on our choices of food (she's a certified holistic nutritionist). After finishing our resupply, she started driving us up to the CDT as I contacted my friend Mrs. R. for a little help at the next town stop. On the way up, we lost cell service, so Toe Touch turned around to allow me to could finish my conversation with Mrs. R.
Toe Touch has a lot of enthusiasm and manages to stay positive in situations that would derail almost anyone else I know. From my point of view, the day we spent with Toe Touch is the happiest I ever saw Prodigy.
After the hike, I contacted Toe Touch, started following her on Instagram, and subscribed to her newsletter for her nutrition consulting business. I even visited her briefly a couple times.
Do yourself a favor, and follow her on Instagram. She is my favorite Instagram follow and the favorite for at least one other person I know. Also, if you have a health issue that better nutrition can help or just want better performance that better nutrition can provide, consider reaching out to her. I say that as a client of her's. Check out her website and subscribe to her newsletter. I look forward to each email that comes from that subscription.
Before we left Toe Touch, Prodigy and I heard about the Goldstone fire. At first it was small and not impacting the CDT. Later, it grew causing a closure, but had a shorter re-route than the official trail. Soon the re-route became hard to follow and added 20 miles to the hike (I didn't have enough food for that). Finally, we met Cashmere, a hiker who Prodigy knew of but never met from hiking the PCT in 2016. She talked about the cold front and the wind coming in so she expected the fire to explode in size. Prodigy agreed with her assessment based on his experience fighting fires.
We decided to take matters into our own hands and started creating our own re-route. We decided to take a dirt road down to Jackson, MT whre we would figure out our next move. It did require a little trespassing, but the rancher fortunately let us through.
In Jackson, we met a bunch of hikers who tried to take the re-route and Forest Service employees had to pull them off the trail as the fire exploded in size. From our position, it made the most sense to road hike a little past Lima, MT to reconnect with CDT for a 110 mile highway hike. We needed help to get our packages, but my friend Mrs. R. agreed to take care of that for us.
Prodigy and I left Jackson on our way to Dillon, which had a taco bus that Prodigy swore by (he was right). As we hiked to Dillon, a Forest Service employee pulled over to talk to us named Amie. She offered us a ride, which we refused because I wanted to get continuous steps. Once she understood why we refused her ride, she gave me her phone number, address, and told us to call when we arrived in Dillon as she would open her place to us.
Amie sent another forest service employee to us to offer water as we continued our road hike and true to her word, she opened her home to us. That night, she even fed us. In the morning, she drove us back to where we left off our hike so we could connect our steps while saving a couple miles.
Road hiking is not fun. It is not relaxing. It is painful. Amie offering her home to us made it much more tolerable to accomplish the road hike.
While with Toe Touch and Prodigy, I looked through my phone to see who could most easily help us for our next town as we approached my neck of the woods. When I saw Mrs. R., I knew I found the most logical person and also the best person. I called her up to ask for a ride to Leadore from the CDT and she responded by not just agreeing to help, but thankful for the opportunity to help.
The fire changed the request to needing her to drive to Leadore to pick up our packages and then deliver them to us in Lima. That basically required two drives of 3 hours round trip. Once again, her excitement at the chance to help us made us feel like we did her a favor.
In Lima, Mrs. R. showed up with our packages, and a bunch of food she prepared specifically for us. Prodigy told me if I had any more Mrs. R.'s up my sleeve, to please use them.
I'm sorry but I only have one Mrs. R. I know other people who would have jumped at the opportunity to help us and would have done everything she did, maybe a little differently. I only know one Mrs. R.
I met Mrs. R. at church where she had a reputation for being very good with young kids and as a saintly woman. When a pastor at the church asked me to help her, my respect for him and Mrs. R. meant I couldn't say no. That's when I got to know her. I've read the Bible cover to cover twice and the loudest messages I get from it are to love God, love people, and help people bear their burdens. Mrs. R. loves people better than anyone else I've ever met.
After I hiked the PCT in 2016, I grew closer to Mrs. R. She told me that she started calling me Barnabus, which is a Biblical name that means son of encouragement. I've been given many good trail names and this one I don't think counts as she didn't give it to me on the trail. However, this is the only trail name that it matters if I live up to it.
After I finished the CDT, I sent her a text message and she responded by saying that she really enjoys hearing from me and wishes I would reach out more often (I only tend to reach out to the people who ask me to). On the AT, I started reaching out to her consistently. During one of my rougher moments on the AT, Mrs. R. sent me a text message so beautiful that with tears in my eyes, my only possible response was a text telling her that I love her.
The last time I saw her, as I had to leave, she gave me a big hug, kissed me on the cheek and told me that I have more than one mom. If a non-Christian asks me to show an example of someone who lives as a Christian should, I would point to Mrs. R. If I someone wanted to see what Jack's phrase "manifest kinship" means, I would send them to Mrs. R and tell them this story. The person I most try to emulate as I attempt to become a better person/Christian is Mrs. R. I have more than one mom!
There are no pictures or video I have to supplement that which I have written above. My flip phone did not keep the message Mrs. R. sent me and I forgot what she said. I only remember how loved I felt in that moment I first read it.
Prodigy, Graduate and T-Rex ... and Boretide
I had navigational difficulties in Montana and finally just outside of Helena, I hit my breaking point and bought a pay as you go smart phone. Guthook and Avenza became part of my life that day so I had GPS finally. I wanted to hike the entire Triple Crown by map and compass, but gave that up when it started causing me too many delays.
As I hiked out of town trying to figure out Guthook, I saw Graduate, T-Rex, and Prodigy. I met them the day after I finished the PCT and the day before they finished. We heard of each other previously and we promised to keep an eye out on the CDT. I started before them, but they hike faster than me, so I knew they would catch up eventually.
I latched on and hiked as fast as I could to keep up with these speedsters. T-Rex hiked in front with Graduate on her heels. I could keep up occasionally for about half a day, then I had to slow down. Prodigy liked to lag behind a little bit so I normally found myself between Graduate and Prodigy, not in sight of either. Graduate showed me how to use Guthook (I had a setting on my phone that had to change) and I copied them as much as I could trying to gain any advantage to complete the CYTC.
Graduate had Achilles trouble, started peeing blood, and had a filling fall out of his mouth before we could make it to our next town. To take care of those issues, Graduate and his wife T-Rex decide to stay in town while Prodigy and I continued on. As Graduate and T-Rex hike faster than both of us, we knew they would catch up eventually.
It didn't take long before the Goldstone fire presented us with a unique obstacle. After our encounter with Cashmere, we poured through all available maps to find an alternate route. I found one that I didn't like, but it would keep my continuous steps intact. In the morning, I told Prodigy what I found, and he also didn't like it. Still, we had to get around the fire and we didn't know how big the fire grew.
At the first road that looked like it went the right direction, Prodigy decided that we should just head to town and figure it out from there. We reached an intersection where the main road veered North, but a small road continued East, the direction we needed to go. I downloaded a couple maps and saw the road going East took us where we needed to go and the road going North would at the very least take us way out of the way. Not long after that, we arrived at a gate with a No Trespassing sign. We looked at the maps to see if there was an alternative, but didn't see any without a major detour.
With this knowledge, we hopped the fence. A couple minutes later, we heard a truck coming our way, so we stood by the side of the road and hoped the rancher would let us pass. As the rancher drove up to us, Prodigy asked me to do the talking. I nodded my head understanding for the first time the difference that being a person of color meant on the trail. We both hoped that the rancher would allow us to pass, but my concern was only about the detour. Prodigy's concerns went much farther than the detour.
All things equal, needing to curry favor with the rancher, the right person to talk was Prodigy. He has more skill in these settings than I do. We didn't know if all things were equal and we did know that I looked more like the rancher than he did. The rancher kindly let us through asking that we close all gates behind us and I like to think that without me, Prodigy would have experienced the same result. The fact that he requested that I do the talking meant his past experiences gave him some warnings that never entered my head.
Prodigy and I hiked all the way down to Atlantic City, WY together with the exception of about 1.5 days after seeing Mrs. R. I kept hiking as Prodigy decided to wait a couple hours to reunite with Graduate and T-Rex and all three caught me just before entering Rawlins. In Rawlins, I watched at racist encounter that Prodigy skillfully diffused, proving he had practice, and confirming that his fears with the rancher were learned from experience.
All of us mostly hiked together until Winter Park, CO where a storm caused a delay, so I ended up taking a shorter route. When I first starting hiking with these three, I was at least 6 days behind schedule due to my experiences in the Sierra and my food poisoning in Oregon. Part of hiking with them allowed me to catch up and even finish the CDT four days ahead of schedule. We stayed in loose contact maintaining morale support the rest of the way as Graduate, T-Rex, and Prodigy all completed Calendar Year Triple Crowns.
Graduate and T-Rex are the first couple or even group bigger than one person to ever complete the CYTC and Prodigy is the first "person of color" to complete the CYTC. T-Rex also has the fastest known time for a woman to complete a Triple Crown.
Random fact: all of us hiked the PCT in 2016. I finished just a couple days after Prodigy and the day before Graduate and T-Rex. Somehow, I never met any of them until 2018.
Graduate is a very driven man with a lot of optimism and decisiveness. Hiking with Graduate gave me chance to let someone else make the decisions for a while so I took a mental break. Also, Graduate and I share quite a few interests outside of the trail which we talked about when I managed to keep up with him for short periods of time. He also gave me some beta on the CDT up ahead (Graduate and T-Rex hiked the CDT in 2017). T-Rex brightened up the trail daily with her happy demeanor and always seemed to smile. She also found a hat for me after I lost mine in the Great Divide Basin. These two are the strongest hikers I've ever met (that includes Legend for those who know of him) and I can't wait to see what they do next. You can follow them on Instagram or on their website.
I've never hiked with anyone as much as I have with Prodigy. Hiking with him means almost completely hiking alone, but taking breaks and camping under trees with him (he refused to camp out in the open every night except one I can remember). For those who wonder if being a "person of color" made his experience different from mine, it did. Graduate and T-Rex told me about a far worse racist encounter they saw him endure than the one I saw. Trust me, he had extra obstacles to overcome and extra worries because of how he looks. Even after completing the CYTC, more negative commentary was directed at him than anyone else I know who also finished a CYTC. I consider him the best hiking partner I've ever had. You can follow Prodigy on Instagram.
A little before I split off from Graduate, T-Rex, and Prodigy, we met Boretide in Colorado. As neither Boretide nor I could keep up with others on a steep climb, I hiked it with her. With all five of us at Park View, Boretide took our picture wanting to capture the four people "crazier than her". I think she took the only picture that included all four of us.
That evening, I tried to decide if I wanted to set up camp or keep going (we got to camp early), when Boretide rolled in wanting to get a couple more miles in. I decided to hike with her and learned a few things about her. She played Division I soccer at Davidson University, ran every trail race in the state of Alaska (where she lives) except for one, and is a devoted wife and friend who missed her husband and friends up in Alaska.
I ended up getting the chance to hike with her again later in Colorado for about two days making her the fourth and final person I hiked with for more than half a day. During those two days, we enjoyed fall colors and saw some moose. I enjoyed the scenery more because her mere presence distracted me from the pain in my shoulder while she had to endure complaints about my shoulder.
She ended up finishing the trail in 84 days and climbed a few extra mountains along the way.
I enjoy hiking with people, but don't get many opportunities to do so. I enjoy sharing experiences with someone else, having someone around to discuss ideas with, and sometimes I just need to vent to someone in person. These four people gave me that. Graduate allowed me the mental break of not making ever single decision. T-Rex constantly smiling gave me a more positive outlook. Prodigy and I had some less than ideal shared experiences, like frozen shoulders, trespassing, and getting caught on a ridge during a thunderstorm. Boretide allowed me to enjoy the fall colors more than I would have otherwise.
I hiked with many other people, some for just a mile or two, others for half a day. I don't remember all the people I hiked with or shared a meal with, but know I enjoyed almost all of these experiences. I can't remember a bad time when I hiked with someone else on the SYTC.
In Wyoming, I first heard Prodigy complain about his shoulders. I was relieved as my right shoulder started aching also. By Colorado, the pain from my shoulder expanded down to my elbow and up to just behind my ear. This started causing headaches, which I hadn't suffered from in a long time. I purchased different ointments to put on my shoulder which helped with the pain, but I also noticed that I started slowly losing range of motion in my right arm.
At Twin Lakes sitting outside talking with some Colorado Trail hikers, Smiles walked up. She started talking with someone she knew and told him that she had to get off trail to close on some property in Ridgway, CO. I perked up and told her that the company I work for has an office there. Eventually I asked her what kind of work she does and she responded, massage therapy.
I perked up again and asked her to take a look at my shoulder. The next 20 minutes were extremely painful and possibly tear inducing (I don't remember, but do remember needing her to stop). She told me I had the beginnings of a frozen shoulder and showed me some things to do to prevent it from freezing all the way. If it completely froze, I would not have the use of my right arm without a lot of extensive therapy. Equally important, she told me I could make a full recovery from it even if it did totally freeze. That gave me a lot of peace of mind.
That day, my shoulder was sore, but I had full range of motion again. Over the next few days following her advice, I maintained full range of motion and the pain started decreasing, both in area affected and amount. Over time with Smiles advice, I managed to limit the pain to just my shoulder and maintained full range of motion for the rest of the hike. I now believe I have a full recovery from that injury.
Since then, I have spent more time with Smiles including a recent day of backcountry skiing which went as well as any day of backcountry skiing ever has for me. Smiles hiked the CDT last year and along with the PCT in 2014 (I could be wrong on that), she plans to hike the AT this year to finish out her Triple Crown.
Uncle JR and Aunt Carmen
After Smiles patched me up, the remainder of the CDT went off without a hitch ... kind of. I did wear some holes in my hiking shirt and didn't think about sunscreen until I had a real deep sunburn and my hand lost a fight with a barbed wire fence. Other than that, the CDT finished easily for me.
I got down to the Crazy Cook monument in the morning where I asked Uncle JR and Aunt Carmen to meet me. As I don't like to carry anymore food or water than necessary, I ran out of both after a couple hours of waiting and doubt set in. Did I tell my uncle the right day? Was there another road in other than the one I saw as that road looked really rough? Was he coming in his Jeep because he might need it? Did he break down or get stuck on the way? I started making plans for what to do if he didn't show up that day.
Fortunately, he did. To answer the questions I had, yes, no, yes, no. He took a few pictures of me, I loaded up and off we went bouncing along a surprisingly rough road.
In Hachita, we stopped and he pulled out some street tacos he made for me based on a recipe from Grandpa Benton, which I enjoyed immensely. I think I ate the rest of the way to El Paso.
As I stayed with Uncle JR and Aunt Carmen, I switched out gear for the AT and rested hoping to allow my frozen shoulder to heal. It mostly worked as my shoulder didn't cause much pain for the AT. Mostly, I ate a lot.
I met Gramps on the PCT in 2018 and we hiked together for about half a day. He helped me stay close to the trail using his GPS, but I still managed to take him on a couple boondoggles for some bonus miles. At the time, I tried to navigate solely by map and compass.
As we hiked together, I told him I about my CYTC attempt and he responded that the kind of hiking that requires did not match his reasons for hiking (that puts him in the majority). He still offered to take me from the airport at least to Millinocket where I would start the AT. I checked in with him to see if the offer still stood as I came close to finishing the CDT, and set up the arrangements.
We didn't get to Millinocket until about midnight and he had to drive back making it a late night for him. The next day I started the trail in a mist. Gramps told me the rain just started the day I arrived after a recent dry spell.
Gramps warned me about the AT, and his warnings proved true as I got hit by rain and snow for most of my time on trail. In fact, about 50% of the time, the trail was flooded.
Dixie and Alyssa
As I approached Kent, CT with a bad back that required a back brace, the forecast for the next couple days called for lows of 5 degrees or colder. Between the back and my gear, that was about 5 degrees colder than I thought reasonable. In Kent, I went about my normal town chores before trying to figure out what I would do with the cold. I really didn't want to sleep in the cold.
A lady at the grocery store warned me about the cold and I responded that I soon would put together a plan for how to handle it. As I ate some food while trying to figure out the upcoming cold snap, I saw this same lady look at me multiple times as she talked on the phone.
Before I could finish eating, she came up to me, told me her name was Dixie (at least that's what I heard) and offered to pay for a hotel room for the next two nights at her friend's place, the Fife 'n Drum Restaurant and Inn.
Not sure I would accept her offer, I went with her to talk to Alyssa and without ever actually agreeing to stay, Dixie paid Alyssa for two nights and I found myself with a room key. I went with it knowing that I now had a rest day and two of the three cold nights covered.
I did end up hiking in about 5 degree temperatures, but I never had to sleep in them. I got the feeling that Alyssa gave Dixie a break on the price, so I appreciate the kindness these two Kent women showed me.
The only price I had to pay was listening to Dixie's frequent remarks about my lack of common sense. I had to agree with her. After all, I did hike the AT in the winter with a bad back.
Lucinda and Brian
I finally gave up on the Calendar Year Triple Crown and settled for a Single Year Triple Crown by the time I approached the halfway point of the AT. With a train from Harper's Ferry to Washington DC and a cousin who lives in DC, I decided to take a couple days to visit her. I meant to only stay over the weekend, but my back stiffened up on me so I could no longer make it in time for the weekend. Instead, I asked her if I could stay for a week and she agreed. I hoped this would help my back get better for the remainder of the trail.
My cousin Lucinda was the Vice President of Campaigns for Emily's List at the time. If you don't know what that is, look it up. Today, she is Executive Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She's kind of a big deal.
She still had to work as did her husband Brian, but they opened their home to me, fed me way more expensive food than I should ever eat (I eat too much and my sense of taste is not good enough for expensive food), and allowed me to recover. I still can't believe how much time she managed to carve out for me.
The rest did my back good as it improved during my week off and never felt as bad as it did just before my time in DC.
On the AT, my ailments kept piling up. In Virginia my IT bands flared up on top of the back and shoulder problems I already had. As requested, I checked in with j from time to time, and she would give me advice that Sheri told her to tell me. I didn't know Sheri, but as my body broke down, j started patching Sheri into our conversations and eventually, I just called Sheri directly.
Sheri also works for AES and used to work as a massage therapist. She gave me some back stretches that helped, but the miracle occurred on my knees. I had IT band trouble like this before and it cost me six weeks of hiking and running. This time, Sheri had them operating normally within three days.
When I moved into the AES office in Colorado, Sheri and her daughter Sam already lived there with their dogs. When I arrived, Sheri had soup ready for me to eat, Colt (Sheri's dog) greeted me with an eagerness and affection I had never seen from a dog I just met, Taz (also Sheri's dog) mostly ignored me, and Harley (Sam's dog and Colt's dad) reacted somewhere in the middle of Colt and Taz. As I sat down to eat, Sam bounced into the room to make it complete (Sam doesn't walk like normal people, she kind of runs, kind of bounces, kind of dances to where she wants to go).
Sheri continued to help me recover by recommending supplements, multiple massages, and continuing to give me stretching advice. Sam and I got along with her encouraging me to make the video I promised (this is the best I could do Sam). Colt and I became friends quickly. Taz eventually warmed up to me, but he's 11 years old and mostly wants to be left alone. Harley and I also became friends (just as close as I am with Colt) and I've never seen a dog love someone as much as he loves Sam. As a thank you for all Sheri and Sam did for me, I took them on camping and hiking trip in Southern Utah.
Here is a list of some of the people who had a smaller, but still significant roles in my hike.
At Sawtelle Resort on the CDT, I looked to get a campsite when Sage walked up to me. She offered to share her's with me and I told her that meant sharing a campsite with Prodigy also. Still she agreed and even refused our offers to chip in on the cost of the campsite. That evening, we had a lively conversation where Prodigy and I told Sage about the CYTC.
When someone found out about the CYTC, the reactions varied from the people who felt the need to tell us that we hiked incorrectly to the people who just moved on in the conversation with little to no acknowledgement (I believe they felt the same way as the first group, just didn't want to say so), to the people whose eyes lit up. Nobody's eyes lit up like Sage's. She also made the most memorable statement about our hikes (sorry, I'm not sharing it here).
Sage hiked the CDT northbound as Prodigy and I hiked it southbound and fortunately our paths crossed in Idaho. Before the CDT, Sage hiked the Colorado Trail and since then hiked the Hayduke Trail. In other words, she has quite the hiking and ultra running resume (Hardrock 100 under her belt). Currently, she is trying to make it as an adventure photographer. Check out her website and her Instagram feed to see her skill in photography. Recently, she wrote an article about her muse and form of artistic expression.
Sage lives nearby, so I have seen her a few times since we finished our respective hikes. She encouraged me to get my story out there despite my hesitation to do so.
Aaron at Brooks Lake Lodge
Prodigy and I showed up to Brooks Lake Lodge cold and getting ready for a cold, wet night. Aaron gave us hot chocolate and cookies as we went through our resupply packages. Not wanting to set up our tents, we asked if we could stay somewhere on the premises, and Aaron allowed us to stay in the building where they store their fishing gear. I offered to give them some money, but he refused. A cold wet night turned into a warm night.
While in the grocery store in Grand Lake, Karen walked up to me and asked if I wanted a place to stay for the night. I told her that I needed to check with Prodigy first and he readily agreed. Soon we cleaned up, had an ointment for our shoulders, and ate food Karen prepared for us as we talked with another adventurous soul, just a different kind of adventure.
Colleen and Long John
Also in Grand Lake, Colleen walked up to Prodigy and I offering us a place to stay in Silverthorne and to drive us around Grand Lake. We met her husband Long John who she supported using their camper van (also their residence). I took her up on both offers and ran into her a couple more times including once when she gave me some leftover food from the dinner she just ate with Long John. I got the opportunity to talk with these two for a while after eating far better than I expected to that day.
The Notch Hostel
Shortly after my back went bad on me, I ended up at The Notch Hostel hoping I could stay unlike several of the hostels that closed for the season. They were closed but allowed me to stay anyway. I ended up staying three nights and got along really well with the employees and owner. Philip Carcia stood out to me as he attempted something just as ambitious as I did, a Single Year Grid for the White Mountains. The Grid is climbing all 48 peaks of 4,000 feet each month of the year. That's a total of 576 mountain climbs and he had to find weather windows to hike the Presidential Range Traverse each month during the winter (he unluckily chose an abnormally long and harsh winter for this). He worked at The Notch Hostel as he made the attempt. Not only did he achieve success, but he enjoyed it so much that he continued for an extra two months. If you want to learn more about this amazing feat (he was successful) check out his Facebook page or his Instagram.
I met Energy on the AT shortly after she finished her thru hike of the AT. She offered me a place to stay and allowed me to slackpack for a few miles. She had to work so I didn't get to spend much time with her.
Samurai Blue and Geisha Apple
Prodigy put me in touch with Samurai Blue, so I called to ask for a ride into town. As he was out of town at the time, he called his wife Geisha Apple and she came to get me. The following morning, earlier than most people like to get up, Samurai Blue then returned me to the trail. Samurai Blue volunteers for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and previously hiked the AT. Geisha Apple has hiked sections of the AT.
Possible owns the Mountain Home Cabin, basically a hostel for long distance hikers. He hiked the AT in 2015, so he knew what I needed as I came through. My knees went bad just before I got to him, so he drove me around as needed so I could link up my steps and save my knees from bonus miles. Also, when I decided to leave too early in the morning for breakfast, he made me a breakfast sandwich I told him I didn't need. Mostly, I remember having several great conversations with him.
I met Code Red in the post office, and she offered to give me a place to stay. She hiked the AT in 2015, and I ended up staying with her and her family for two nights as she helped me slackpack my way South. Once again they fed me not realizing what that meant. As I hiked alternate routes at the time, she told me I needed to see Dragon's Tooth and hiked with me there on one of the wettest days I experienced (for the AT, that says a lot).
Lodge of Legends
These kind people opened up their way too nice home for dirty AT hikers and showed so much hospitality that I went away thinking it was too much. Prodigy had the same opinion. Conductor Red has sectioned hiked parts of the AT and dreams of hiking the whole thing.
Many people gave me a ride. A couple people bought me meals. Because I'm a terrible person, I don't have the names behind them. I can't even remember all the encounters that helped me along the way. I'm still grateful for each of them.
Rat and Ant: The Wizz Sisters
I met them during my first full day in the Sierra in 2016 during the biggest social butterfly phase of my life and immediately noticed their enthusiasm and joy for all things outdoors. When I heard their trail names, I was horrified only to find they they gave them to each other and really liked them.
Later, I got to hike with them for a little more than a day. I ended up inadvertently pushing them farther and faster than they should have gone because of some recent time off, and they loved it. Me pushing people too far has happened other times, but nobody else thought too highly of it. Also, Ant dealt with two different debilitating pains (at least for most people) during the day, yet spent the entire day smiling.
They inspired me during out brief time together, and that kicked off an idea phase greater than any other I previously had. Since then, I've had two more idea phases, both kicked off by these two (I may be entering a third inspired by someone else but so far have only generated two ideas).
One of those ideas was a Calendar Year Triple Crown attempt. After all of us finished the PCT, I told them about this idea in the hopes that they would pursue it. I had other ideas that I liked better, but this one obviously gripped them.
The night after I dropped them off at the airport following the PCT, I received a text saying they wanted to attempt the CYTC in 2018. My initial reaction was they needed more time, but soon liked the aggressiveness of their timetable. I offered to help, but instead they went to work on convincing me to make my own attempt.
On a December day, 1 hour into a 3 hour run in temperatures below 0 degrees F on snow and ice, I realized that I needed to make the attempt. Literally, I ran in those conditions just on the chance that I might attempt the CYTC.
Eventually, they started the AT southbound in the winter, but some unexpected storms drove them off the trail. Instead of giving up, they reset and started over northbound a couple weeks later. They made it up to New Hampshire before a crazy winter just got too crazy for them to continue. Three other people attempted the AT that winter, and none of them made it as far as these two even though these two had tougher conditions. For those who know of Anish, that includes her.
I heard about them having to drop out of the AT while hiking in Southern Utah. Knowing how hard they worked to raise the money for this hike, the fact they started twice, and their inner toughness, it rattled me. Rat and Ant are tougher than I am. I saw them prove that. With their willpower not enough to finish the winter AT, I started to question if I should even make the attempt.
That day, realizing I would have to dig deep, I made a list of three reasons I would allow myself to quit the CYTC attempt. That day, I took my mental preparation to a new level knowing that I needed it. That day, I realized the stakes and what I might have to sacrifice to complete this goal. I may have needed that day to have a chance at the CYTC.
Unfortunately for Ant, she had an injury on the AT. She tried to hike through it and did for 1500 miles. Then, on the PCT, Ant took a week off to see if it would heal. It didn't, so she dropped out. Losing her sister and hiking partner, Rat ended up deciding to just finish the PCT and go back to finish the AT (still very impressive year).
I saw Rat shortly after Ant dropped out. Despite only a short time together, this encounter proved vital.
In the Sierra, I post-holed a lot. I post-holed so much that I ran out of food even after rationing. At the time, I tried to navigate by map and compass while the trail was covered by snow. That also delayed me.
Finally, descending Muir Pass, I momentarily broke and quit the CYTC, but would continue with some other hiking goal. That only lasted about an hour as I remembered that Rat would have to do the same thing. I figured that she would have the toughness to deal with it, so I borrowed from her toughness, stopped feeling sorry for myself, dove deep in my pain cave, and came to town hungry and wanting to keep going.
As mentioned earlier, I went to a dark place in my head in Northern California. I call it my mental death spiral. Dad helped prevent me spiraling too far, but one day I freaked out. I had no emotional or mental control at this point. As my Dad, he had the disadvantage of too much familiarity for his messages to fully reach me. That evening, I checked my phone and saw a text message from Rat that had exactly what I needed. I don't know if she sensed that I needed it or not, but nevertheless, she pulled me out of my mental death spiral and just in time.
About a week later, I entered Oregon ready to get retribution for my previous failure on the Oregon Challenge (hiking all of Oregon in under 14 days). Missing it the last time inspired the CYTC attempt. Unfortunately, a very nasty case of food poisoning derailed me almost immediately, and I missed the Oregon Challenge yet again.
If Rat doesn't pull me out of my dark place, I wonder if the food poisoning would have been enough to end my CYTC attempt. Being in good spirits, I only lost time.
When I started the AT, Rat and Ant lived with their parents in New Hampshire as they prepared for the next chapters of their lives. After the first snow storm, the AT at high elevations had big sheets of ice that caused me to slip and slide around on the trail. Just a little before the Mahoosuc Notch, I felt a stabbing pain in my lower back I assume came from one of my many slips. It didn't go away, but got worse. I made it through the "toughest mile of the AT" in the dark with this stabbing pain and had to spend the night without a sleeping pad as mine disappeared earlier that day.
It took me 14 hours to limp 21 miles the next day to get to the nearest town. In the dark and cold, I tried to hitch a ride into town and made some phone calls fighting back tears for the fear that my hike was over.
I spent most of the next week staying in a hotel room and even once looked up World Series ticket prices in Boston as my exit strategy (World Series game at my favorite MLB stadium tempted me). I went to the closest restaurant, McDonald's, for almost every meal because I could barely walk and I don't even like McDonald's. A chiropractor told me I should be good in a couple days, but it took much longer.
Finally, I started hiking again and for the rest of the trail, I wore a back brace. I hung on by a thread during this time. That thread included the hope of seeing Rat and Ant again. I did. They came to see me with their normal enthusiasm and joy and I had healed enough by then to keep going.
By that time, I had both a chiropractor and massage therapist work on my back and it only marginally helped. A little before Rat and Ant had to leave, Rat gave me a hug (one of many hugs that day) and I felt my back pop. The next few days I noticed a big improvement on how my back felt and it didn't stiffen up again until about the halfway point of the AT. Evidently Rat's hug had more healing in it than the chiropractor and massage therapist combined.
I wouldn't have started the CYTC without them. I wouldn't have mentally prepared as well without them. I may have quit while on the PCT if not for Rat. I probably would have quit on the AT if not for them. I couldn't have done the SYTC without them and I view my success as their success as well. I just wish I could have finished early enough for a CYTC for true success they could take credit for.
After the PCT in 2016, I thought I would go work as an engineer for about 3 years before going on another long distance hike. Instead, they convinced me to go much sooner. This change in thinking made me a long distance hiker who occasionally does some engineering work instead of an engineer who occasionally goes on a long distance hike (sorry j and Dave). I can't imagine a better life for me right now. How many people can you tangibly show how they changed your life?
Mom and Dad
At the age of 14, Dad read an article about a couple people who attempted to complete the CYTC for the first time ever. They failed. Dad researched it like crazy and created a plan bouncing around the country to pull it off. I asked him if someone could to do it without flipping and he told me he didn't see how. I had no interest in the CYTC at the time, but now see this moment as my first seed.
My SYTC, I completed without flipping. Prodigy has written and talked on a couple podcasts about how much harder he thinks my hike was compared to his for this reason. His point is that I had to tackle each obstacle at the moment and couldn't flip around to for better conditions. I disagree with him. Flipping may decrease some hurdles, but flipping also creates logistical problems. When I compare the conditions of Prodigy's hike to mine, I think he actually had more to overcome.
Also, I used the fact that I didn't flip to my advantage. Prodigy became the first person of color to complete the CYTC. Anish became the first woman to get the CYTC. Graduate and T-Rex became the first couple or even multi-person team to get the