7,400-mile, 22-state trek will make history

Tackling the triple crown of hiking

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2001

BANNOCK PASS, Idaho -- Darkness is falling in the Bitterroots, but Brian Robinson can't stop walking.

He has been hiking virtually nonstop since sunrise -- 30 miles and 13 hours ago. And he still wants to cover two more miles before making camp on this remote gap on the Continental Divide.

It's another daunting day on the trail for Robinson, who's pushing the limits of endurance on the final legs of an unprecedented 7,400-mile, 22-state trek involving hiking's so-called ''Triple Crown.''

''I'm walking from dawn to dusk every day, seven days a week,'' he says.

Within a month, Robinson hopes to become the first person to hike, in a single calendar year, all three premier 2,000-mile-plus national scenic trails in the United States: the Appalachian in the East, Continental Divide in the Rockies and Pacific Crest in the West.

Known to friends as Flyin' Brian, he's scooting down the Continental Divide this week somewhere in Colorado.

From there he plans to fly east to complete the trek's final leg Oct. 15 at Mount Katahdin in Maine, the Appalachian's northern end.

''I'm having a blast,'' Robinson said on the August walk to Bannock Pass on the Idaho-Montana border. ''But it's hard -- really, really hard. You always have moments of doubt.''

He has coped with hip-deep snow and single-digit temperatures on the Appalachian Trail, 100-degree heat and thick mosquitos on the Pacific Crest, and loneliness and countless steep climbs along the Continental Divide.

In all, the trek involves more than 1 million feet of climbs.

Since taking his first steps Jan. 1 at the Appalachian's southern end, Robinson has tramped as many as 41 miles in a day and averaged 30 miles a day. He now has fewer than 1,000 miles to go to make history.

''Brian has defied the odds. This is the greatest feat of endurance on any of the trails,'' said Jeffrey Schaffer of Napa, Calif., author of Pacific Crest Trail guidebooks.

''I think it's comparable to trying to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents in a single year,'' added Karen Berger of Bronxville, N.Y., author of ''Hiking the Triple Crown.'' ''I've quit saying what can and can't be done on the trails. Humans are amazing.''

Only two dozen people, including Berger, have achieved hiking's Triple Crown in their lifetimes. In 1999, two men became the first to hike two of the trails in a single year: the Appalachian and Pacific Crest.

Only a major snowstorm or injury appear to stand in the way of success for Robinson, who already has worn out six pairs of running shoes.

''Going in, I thought Mother Nature was going to screw him,'' Schaffer said. ''I don't know what he's done to placate the gods, but I think he's going to do it. ... If he finishes it, I expect to see his face on a box of Wheaties.''

The 40-year-old San Jose, Calif., man suffered some setbacks early on, but has enjoyed considerable luck in the past few months with mostly dry weather and snow-free trails.

His troubles included a six-week case of Bell's palsy that paralyzed the left side of his face, and heavy snow in New England that forced him off the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail in April.

After abandoning the Appalachian Trail, he walked the New Mexico section of the Continental Divide Trail before traversing the entire 2,645-mile Pacific Crest in only 84 days and six hours.

Robinson now is pushing south in Colorado with a goal of completing the final 300 miles of the Continental Divide Trail at Chama, N.M., by Oct. 1.

Because there's no fixed route for much of the Continental Divide Trail, hikes of it generally range from 2,600 to 3,100 miles. Robinson is following route variations that will take him 2,588 miles.

He then will head east to walk the final 590 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Despite a 2 1/2 mph average pace, Robinson insists he's not faster than other hikers. He just puts in longer days and takes fewer days off, he says.

His last rest day was in early June on the Pacific Crest hike. He won't take another day off until after he completes the Continental Divide hike.

''I don't stop for lunch or breakfast, and I eat all food, including snacks, on the go,'' the affable, soft-spoken backpacker says. ''I'm walking the entire day.''

He came up with the idea for the trek in 1998, a year after he hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail, his first such journey.

He saved $10,000 to finance the undertaking after working 17 years as a systems engineer for Tandem Computers of Cupertino, Calif., now Compaq.

''I'm goal-oriented and I wanted a challenge. I saw it as my Mount Everest,'' Robinson said.

Incredibly, the 6-foot-1, 155-pound hiker hasn't lost a single pound. That's because he eats a whopping 6,000 calories a day -- almost triple the average daily intake -- fueling himself with peanut butter, Snickers bars and Top Ramen.

''Physically, the hike is getting easier,'' he said. ''But the main challenge is mental. I wake up at dawn and sometimes I'm tired and don't feel like walking.

''But you can't kick yourself out of bed if it's not fun. I'm seeing all the best country in the 48 lower states. What could be more amazing than that?''

He acknowledges the negatives of such a demanding schedule, though.

''I sometimes feel like I'm in a bus,'' he said. ''I have to look and go, look and go.''

Some hikers have criticized Robinson's trek, saying the trails were designed to be escapes from modern life's fast pace, not race courses.

Robinson said he hopes he doesn't spur an increase in competitive speed hiking. Instead, he hopes the trek helps raise public awareness and support for the trails, which need funding.

''You see incredible beauty beyond description out here and these trails need all the help they can get,'' he said. ''There are definitely reasons not to hike fast on these trails.''


On the Net:

Robinson: http://homestead.juno.com/roy.robinson/main.html

American Long Distance Hiking Association-West: http://www.aldhawest.org

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