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What It Takes: Matthew Hazley's Triple Crown
How to hike 7,525 miles (12,110 kilometers) in only 239 days (and 13 pairs of shoes).   Text by Christian DeBenedetti   Photograph by Andrew Kornylak
Photo: Matthew Hazely
Speed hiker Matthew Hazley, 26, an impressive heir to the Triple Crown

When Matthew Hazley set off last May to thru-hike the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Appalachian Trails, one right after another, he knew he had his work cut out for him. Plenty of folks have finished all three, known in backpacking parlance as the Triple Crown, but only once has it been done in a single hiking season. Even more daunting, Hazley had never used a GPS, a topo map, or a compass. Ditto the crampons and ice ax he'd need on the steeps of the High Sierra. But what Hazley didn't know didn't hurt him.

On December 30, 2005—exactly 239 days, 13 pairs of shoes, and several merciless snowstorms later—the Northern Ireland native triumphantly strode the last mile of the AT. "It was insane," he says. "It's great to be back, but I feel claustrophobic." When he finished, in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest, he also established a record as the first person to conquer the trails end-to-end and back-to-back.            
BE ADAPTABLE: It was incredible having to learn everything on the trail. There were some dire moments. Mountain lions. Bears. Chest-high snow. I knew I'd finish, but I wasn't sure at what cost.

PACE YOURSELF: My goal was 40 miles (64 kilometers) a day. I felt that was covering enough ground without wearing myself out. I'd start at 6 or 7 a.m. to limit myself to 14 hours a day. Otherwise, if I started at 4 or 5 a.m., I'd go 16 hours.
EXPECT THE WORST: When I got to the AT, I assumed I'd just follow the blazes—it's a hiking highway. I didn't bring maps or a compass or GPS. But in Maine a nor'easter brought snow up to my chest. It was based on my memory of my hike in 2003 that I got off East Baldpate mountain alive. Weatherwise, I know it couldn't have been any tougher—I felt like I was in the Himalaya.
EXPECT THE BEST: The Pacific Crest Trail is awesome from beginning to end. You can be standing on ten feet of snow and looking down into the Mojave Desert. The Sierra was just incredible—like standing in a new world. On Muir Pass all you see is white snow, brown rocks, blue sky. No other colors at all.
TEST-DRIVE YOUR TOPOS: In the High Sierra, when you're above tree line, it's impossible to get lost. The trouble begins when you get below tree line. I took 1:100,000 rather than 1:24,000 scale maps. This was a huge mistake: I found myself on the wrong side of ridges and lost a lot of time correcting my course.
PACK SMART: I wouldn't consider myself an ultralight backpacker. But my pack was pretty light to start with—eight pounds (four kilograms) without food and water. When I hit the Sierra, I had to change all my gear, bring a tent, boots, extra shoes for river crossings. My pack jumped to 25 pounds (11 kilograms).
STAY TRUE TO THE TASK: I did think about taking music, but the monotony and solitude are part of the challenge. I thought I'd be cheating myself. I wanted to get to the end and know that it couldn't have been any tougher. No reading material. No radio. No cell phone.
GET LUCKY: I nearly walked into a bear at a blind corner on the PCT. I was walking, daydreaming; the bear was walking, daydreaming. He just looked at me and took off.

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