8,000 Miles Across America’s Three Longest Trails
A Calendar Year Triple Crown Hike
Many folks enjoy taking a walk in the woods. Few devote themselves to making it a lifestyle. The motivations behind it are as winding and complex as the trails themselves. My name is Chris Pickering, aka “Tarzan” in my trail life. For several years, while on other long distance hikes I began to formulate another dream: I decided I would devote a year of my life to walking America’s longest three trails all within one calendar year, and try to do so faster than anyone had before.
That year is here and that walk is about to commence.
A Calendar Year Triple Crown is hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail all within 365 days. The Triple Crown spans nearly 8,000 miles and 22 states, and only 7 hikers have successfully claimed the adventure, challenge and absurdity of a CYTC.
These trails offer the complete range of biodiversity in America, arguably the most diverse continent in the world. The AT is considered a rainforest at times, with mountain streams cascading alongside you and rhododendrons choking in around you. The Pacific Crest Trail slowly climbs out of Southern California’s desert to the High Sierra mountains to the highest point in the lower 48 contiguous states. Past Mt. Whitney, the trails winds into the saturated green of Oregon and Washington through the Cascades.
The Continental Divide Trail is the most “wild” of the three simply because it’s the youngest. There is an official route now, but the trail offers a “choose your own adventure” experience if you want it. I consider myself a purist, so my route does not aim to ever cut any official miles for the sake of saving time. To summarize, I will be hiking Northbound on the AT, flying to southern California to hike Northbound on the PCT, and finally driving west to Montana and hiking Southbound on the CDT to finish my adventure.
The most recent person to complete a Calendar Year Triple Crown was Heather “Anish” Anderson in 2018. Cam “Swami” Honan’s CYTC in 2013 (part of a much larger series of hikes dubbed the 12 Long Walks) is what obsesses my mind, however. Swami set an Fastest Known Time of 236 days including travel time between trails. As a competitive cross country racer since middle school, I can’t help but go for the record and my goal is to finish the Triple Crown in 226 days. To do this, I will have to average 34 miles each and every day. Not an easy thing to do when the shin splints, tendinitis, frozen shoes, and hunger have a hold on you. This is where I thrive though, and having the motivation of a very specific goal to fight towards only helps my mental game day-to-day.
The why behind wanting to do one thru-hike, much less three back-to-back leaves most a bit confused, to say the least. “Wait.. so you want to be homeless for as long as you can? You want to risk life and limb to bears, rain, lightning, hail, sleet, and snow all while being hungry and walking absurd distances every single day?” Call me a masochist, but yes.
Since I was about 8 years old I knew I was going to chase a life I was proud of with tenacity and immoderation. I had no interest in following a defined path of life and have always been drawn to the struggle. Perhaps it was the mentors in my life, the books I read, and the friends I made who planted the seed that “sucking the marrow out of life” means throwing yourself into situations that are just out of your control and triumphing over them. Nowhere do you give up control more than when you surrender to nature.
The process of learning the skills, gaining confidence, and assessing the risk of adventure is intoxicating to me. It’s taken me to towering rock faces, raging rivers, and lonely trails with only the wind and trees to converse with. I know that I have so much left to learn, but I feel it’s time to test my physical and mental fortitude against the most dramatic landscapes this country has to offer, using nothing more than the power of my own two feet.
I could not be more excited and more nervous about anything though. The sheer scale of this endeavor is intimidating, to say the least, but that’s the place and the feeling that I want to live in. The moment I get comfortable with where I am is the moment I need to pick up my pack and spend some time out under the stars.
My basic fear in life is being incapable: Incapable of handling adversity and taking care of those around me when the need arises. For some reason, I feel the most myself and the most capable when I have everything I need in a pack on my back and dirt beneath my feet.
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