Map and photograph courtesy Samuel Gardner
On January 1, 25-year-old Samuel Gardner set out on a very, very long backpacking adventure. His 12,500-mile All-In Trek is basically the Triple Crown (Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails) plus one more (the lesser-known North Country Trail). The Michigan native hopes his love of ultralight hiking will carry him through to be the first person to trek all four trails, back-to-back, alone and unassisted. But after 44 days of trekking in one of New York's snowiest winters, Gardner admits that the challenge has transformed his goals. Read on to learn how he navigates, his favorite food on the trail, and how he learned to take it one step at a time. —Mary Anne Potts
Did someone or something inspire you to do this?
Samuel Gardner: My parents are to blame for inspiring the adventure bug in me. My early childhood memories are full of nights on the couch with my mother while she read adventure books to us kids, as well as many great memories of my father taking me backpacking.
It's February and very snowy near Ithaca, New York, where you happen to be at the moment. How's the winter treating you?
This month a crust formed on the snow! So it's been a good month for me. It enables me to snowshoe on top of the snow instead of sinking past my knees every step. January was the toughest time of my life, both mentally and physically. Now everything is turning around and getting better every day. This trek has been both the most humbling yet rewarding experience I have ever had. Lessons lived are lessons learned. I'm learned to relish the opportunity to improve every time something happens unexpectedly.
What tools are you using to navigate? Any smart phone apps?
So far I have only used my paper maps and Google maps on my iPhone. I also have a GPS and compass in my pack but haven't used them yet.
What's your favorite trail food?
Peanut M+Ms and Snickers!
Are you keeping your pace of 30+ miles a day?
No, I was injured early on in the trek. I strained my left Achilles which brought me to stop for several days and limping for many more. I switched boots which has made a difference. Now I'm just waiting for the inflammation to heal that was a result from all the limping and I'll be 100 percent! Until then, it's one step at a time.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
When do you think you'll be done?
Can't really be sure. I suspect next summer, so about 18 months total.
Is the record of being the first to do this important to you?
No. It was important when I started. However I have been learning what's important to me and what's not ever since the start. I have found that the racing mentality puts unnecessary stress and negativity into one of my favorite hobbies—backpacking. I have learned that this trek is about the journey and not the clock. It's about exploring the many landscapes and cultures that America has to offer. Never knowing what will be around the next bend in the trail keeps me going!
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