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Editor’s Note: Together, the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail make up the Triple Crown of hiking; to complete them all in a lifetime is to join a group of hiking superstars. To hike all three in a year? It’s almost unthinkable.
But not for 21-year-olds Sammy Potter and Jackson Parell. Potter, a former Backpacker intern, and Parell, his fellow Stanford student, set out on Jan 1, 2021 on a mission to hike the Calendar-Year Triple Crown (CYTC), an 8,000-mile feat that’s only been accomplished by a handful of elite hikers. If Potter and Parell complete all three trails by year’s end, they’ll be the youngest to do so, and they’ll join the ranks of thru-hiking icons like Heather “Anish” Anderson and Flyin’ Brian Robinson. Follow their entire Triple Crown journey in Backpacker’s new podcast, Impossible Odds, brought to you by Merrell, premiering in October.
When I last wrote about the attempt my buddy Jackson and I were mounting to hike the Calendar Year Triple Crown, it was January and we had about 400 miles of the Appalachian Trail under our belts. Thinking back on that time—the headspace I was in, howI felt physically, the expectations I had—it seems like a world away. Now it’s mid-September, and our nine months of the trail feels more like nine years.
Prior to January, I was a complete thru-hiking novice. The longest hike Jackson had done was El Camino de Santiago, the 500-mile pilgrimage through northern Spain from town to town—and that was still quite a bit more impressive than my record hike of 200 miles, in which I carried a pack full of canned beans, three pairs of sweatpants, and a cast iron skillet for cooking (in all, tipping the scales around 60 pounds). The thought of carrying all that nonsense now makes me shudder.
I still feel like a novice in some ways. Even after 6,000-plus miles and the knowledge I’ve gained through this experience, I’ve realized how much more there is to learn about backpacking.
For now, though, back to the AT. With 400 miles under our belts, we approached the Virginia border. I don’t want to give away too much, because all the juicy details are included in our upcoming podcast Impossible Odds, but a major challenge as we continued on the trail were the heaps of snow that began piling up. What started as a dusting quickly grew to 3-, then 4- and 5-foot drifts. Initially hoping to hike around 25 miles a day on the AT, we were only averaging a little over 20, and even that drained our energy. We knew it wasn’t sustainable, so we re-evaluated our plan.