First, let’s get the “What’s the Triple Crown of Hiking?” question out of the way. Borrowed from the horse racing world, this Triple Crown is an informal recognition of those that have hiked all 3 of the longest American trails end-to-end. The 3 trails are the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and the Appalachian Trail (AT).
According to the American Long Distance Hiking Association’s 2020 records (ALDHA-West), a total of 482 Triple Crown of Hiking Award recipients have so far been recognized. That means more people have been to space than have hiked all 3 of these trails! Chew on that Jeff Bezos! Money can buy just about anything but it takes some real blood, sweat, and tears to hike 8,000 miles through rugged mountains, deserts, and woods.
So what’s the Backwards Triple Crown? Well, (thanks to Google tracking, er, spying?) here’s a revealing timeline of my movements from 2017-2019:
The majority of these little red dots were connected by my footsteps. Notice any similarities to the first map? The left side syncs up pretty well (plus the Arizona Trail), but something is definitely off about the right side. This is where my Backwards Triple Crown began, on the opposite side of the planet, walking the opposite direction: southbound on Te Araroa.
Deep in my soul, Te Araroa (TA) will always stand out as my first thru-hike. It was the only trek over 2000 miles that I ever planned to do. The AT and CT were my training grounds but tramping the length of New Zealand was the zenith of my love affair with the country since my first visit in 2003. I should have been satisfied with this accomplishment and gone home to re-establish a “normal” life, but it only awakened a desire for more. Like many repeat offenders I’ve met on the trail, thru-hiking became more of a lifestyle rather than a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Grand accomplishments can often be dissected into just a series of bite-sized events, connected by the momentum of the preceding one. One things leads to another. That’s how I feel about the Triple Crown. It wasn’t even on my radar, at least not until mid-way through the PCT. After the TA, I was at a loss as to what to do. I’d quite my job to hike the TA and wanted to leave my former career behind altogether. I was also suffering from a bout of post-trail depression. To further postpone any hard decisions, I simply decided to keep hiking. Since I’d returned to the US in the late spring of 2018, a southbound thru-hike of the PCT made the most sense timing-wise.
Of course the PCT led to the CDT and many others. In keeping with the theme that began on the CT and TA (both inherently southbound hikes), I’ve completed all my thru-hikes as a southbounder (except for the GET, which is predominantly a west-east trail). This is a further calibration of my self-titled Backwards Triple Crown. As uncommon as hiking all 3 trails is, it’s even more uncommon to do every one in the ‘reverse’ direction. While I haven’t known of anyone else that’s done so, as it’s not a stat that ALDHA-West tracks, there’s probably at least been a few.
What I am fairly certain of is that I’m the first to have started my Triple Crown with the TA, which I consider to be the perfect substitute for the AT. While the 2 couldn’t be more different in terms of location, terrain, and habitat, they are about the same in length and a mirror image in title. The TA was the first of my backwards trails and if all else fails with the AT, I’ll still feel pretty satisfied with my self-appointed title and accomplishments.
The saying goes that you either walk just one long trail or you walk all three. For the majority, the AT is their first long-distance hike, followed by the PCT and the CDT. The AT will actually be my 8th thru-hike since 2017… I guess I just needed to warm up to it. But the trail has already played a huge role in introducing backpacking and thru-hiking to my life, which I detailed in a previous post.
So I guess it’s finally time to go for my official Backwards Triple Crown on the AT. It’s a privilege to walk such a historic long trail and I’m very much looking forward to reconnecting to long-time friends, hiking buddies, and trail angels along the way. I hope you can share in the adventure and if you’re in the vicinity of the trail, please reach out! I’d love to have friends join me on the trail!