Alex Wright took his time the first time he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, covering the 2,650 miles in a leisurely six months.
This time, he plans to run it.
The Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star reports that the 33-year-old is leaving Lincoln soon to try to set the trail’s fastest known time for a self-supported hiker, hoping to cover every inch between Mexico and Canada in no more than 60 days.
He’s done the math, and he’ll need to cover nearly 50 miles a day, every day, through the heat of the desert and the height of the Sierra Nevada.
“And based on my training, I think I can hit that mark,” he said.
His training has been almost as grueling as his goal. Since January, he’s logged more than 2,000 miles, and lately has been running 31 miles one day, 26 the next, all while wearing a weighted backpack.
To prepare for the terrain – the trail reaches more than 13,000 feet at its highest – he’s trained on the grassy dam at Holmes Lake in Lincoln. His one-day record: More than 200 runs up and down, 25 miles total, nearly a mile of climbing.
“A couple of people stopped and asked how many repeats I was doing up and down the dam,” he said. “And they looked at me like I was crazy.”
Not crazy, but hooked on the Pacific Crest Trail. Wright, a pianist who once toured with Disney singer Demi Lovato, spent much of 2016 hiking the trail, leaving the Mexican border near San Diego in April, stepping into Canada in October – and then moving back to Lincoln from his home in California.
But his months in the wild had taken hold, and he couldn’t shake it.
“I got the bug for it, the love for it, being out in nature,” he said.
And something else happened since his return. He fell in love with ultra-running, too, covering any distance longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon, often in the wilderness.
A bid to set the trail’s fastest known time would combine both.
“I basically wanted to do a mix between those two this summer, covering long miles in the wilderness with everything I need in my backpack.”
That’s the definition of self-supported: He’s on his own. Nobody there to help, nobody there to give him a ride, or water, or food. He’ll mail his meals to post offices and pick them up along the way. And he’ll need about 8,000 calories a day – a combination of energy drinks, protein bars, Cheetos and dense, fatty foods.
His trek starts June 10, but he’s arriving early to adjust to the climate and elevation. Early in his 2016 journey, he covered about 15 miles a day. To triple that, he’ll need to spend 12 to 14 hours a day on the move, running about half the time.
The clock starts the moment he leaves the Mexican border, and won’t stop, for any reason, until he reaches Canada.
“The only time I’ll take a day off is if I’m too injured or sick or something,” he said. “My goal is to end the trail healthy; I’m not going to kill myself for the record.”
Wright should know if he’s on pace to break the record – 60 days, 17 hours – after he hits two early stretches that will test him. The first, 700 miles of desert in the heat of June. He’ll then climb into the Sierra Nevada faster than his body will be able to acclimate to the high altitude.
“Once I get through those, I’ll have a pretty good idea of my daily routine,” he said. “If I can get through them, I’ll be in good shape.”