8,300 Miles for Suicide Prevention: A Hiking Prodigy

“Northbounder?” I asked.

I had hitchhiked back to the Pacific Crest Trail from Chester, California, and was rearranging my pack at a picnic table. I was asking if he had come all the way from the Mexican border, but I expected him to tell me he was a section-hiker. I hadn’t met a new thru-hiker in over a month.

When I found out he was not only a thru-hiker who started an entire month after me, but also a calendar-year Triple Crown prospect with 3,800 miles under his belt for the year, I was astonished.

A few miles north, at a spring, he told stories of bearing the unforgiving weather of the Appalachians earlier that year. I had caught him in a respite a mile or so back, where he picked up his slack and tailed me to the botched faucet. He told me he liked my pace and wouldn’t mind continuing to hike behind me.

I said I was going to stay back and eat; I was well on track for my day’s itinerary of fifteen miles. But I passed him again, and when he tailed me once more, I decided it was time to let off the brakes. I cranked my hiking dial to full speed, somewhere between three and a half to four miles an hour, and jogged on the downhills. My headphones muffled out the immediate sound, but every time I looked back, Horsepower was on my tail.

He was no joke, and a hunch was forming as to how he got his name.

On October 25th, 2021, Horsepower became the thirteenth person in human history to hike all three of America’s long-distance trails in one year.

Brandon “Horsepower” Weis

suicide prevention
Left: Weis accepting an award at OSU, Right: Weis posing after back-to-back days of 25-mile runs

The 2020 outbreak of Covid-19 changed plans for most thru-hiking prospects. For many of these hikers, this change was a delay or reconstruction of their hike. For 24-year-old Brandon Weis, it was a compression of his plans.

With additional plans to hike the Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail in the subsequent summers, Brandon, or as he is better known on trail, Horsepower, proposed he was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2020. When the pandemic forced him to change his plans, he realized he was going to have to condense two of the trails into one year. He began thinking instead about doing all three trails in one year, a feat only achieved by ten humans at the time.  

On January 13th of this year, Weis commenced his journey. He contended with the biting cold and inclement weather of the Appalachians for over two months, trekking 1,700 miles north to Vermont. He then flew to New Mexico and hiked eight hundred miles to Colorado on the CDT. On April 26th, a month after I began walking north on the PCT, Weis began walking the same path. He cranked out the 2650-mile trail in three months before heading back to the CDT and finishing its remaining miles southbound.

On October 3rd, he climbed Katahdin in Maine to the northern terminus of the AT, and then turned around to walk south to Stratton Mountain, where he would finally be crowned. Three weeks later, he announced atop the Stratton fire tower that he was done.

But he wasn’t. He had been thinking about the possibility of hiking ten thousand miles in one year. He decided he would attempt it.

In November, he thru-hiked all 800 miles of the Arizona Trail. He went back home to Ohio after, and his plan was to average forty miles a day for forty-seven days straight on Ohio’s Buckeye trail to make it happen.

On November 30th, he was dropped off on the loop trail. Hours later, after walking eighteen road miles in a snow flurry, he had a realization: his heart was no longer in it. He went home.

Altogether, Weis hiked 8,292 miles over the course of 327 days. He took two days off on each trail, and spent another sixteen traveling. This makes for an average of over twenty-seven miles per day of hiking, including a day he walked over fifty miles. He traversed over one million feet in elevation change. He dealt with treacherous conditions, including a low temperature of twenty degrees below zero, and a high of 111 degrees. He exhausted a slew of shoes, retiring one pair with 1500 miles under them. At one point, he didn’t shower for a month.

Weis used the hike to promote his fundraiser, raising $4,300 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. His fortitude, self-discipline, and resoluteness has cultivated the power to save lives. 

Prior to taking his first steps on Springer Mountain, Weis graduated from Ohio State with a double major in finance and history. He has worked jobs in construction and finance. To prepare for his journey, he completed sections of the Appalachian Trail in 2019, and in 2020, he thru-hiked the 327-mile Mid State Trail in Pennsylvania.    

Interview

Weis promoting his fundraiser on the Arizona Trail
  1. Why did you choose the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as your fundraiser?

For months leading up to the hike, I knew I wanted to do a fundraiser, but I wasn’t sure which one to go with. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention seemed to be a good organization, one everyone can get behind. I’m lucky to say I haven’t been personally affected by suicide, but I know many people have. 

  1. How confident were you in achieving the calendar-year Triple Crown?

I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I was pretty confident. If I just got up and put in the work every day, I knew I could achieve my goal. My estimates were all pretty reasonable. From one campsite to the next, I wanted to average two miles an hour, everything included. For the CDT and PCT, I wanted to average two and half. For a twelve-hour day, which was on the shorter end, this would get me about twenty-four miles on the AT, and thirty on the PCT and CDT. I knew that with this, I could avoid winter hiking in the high mountains.

  1. Tell me about the worst day of the adventure. 

That’s an easy one. It was my second night on the CDT. I couldn’t fly with trekking poles, so I threw them away. I ordered new ones on Amazon, and they were late with the arrival. Guess what: I had a trekking pole tent. I checked the weather. There was a one percent chance of rain for the next several days. It was the desert, I thought. How bad could it be?

On the second night, I saw clouds roll in. I got on all my rain gear. It was between 8:30 and 9:00, so it was time to camp. Obviously, I wasn’t camping in my tent. Ten seconds after lying down, it started to rain. I packed up my stuff and continued on. The rain was coming down hard, and the winds were blowing at over forty miles an hour. For the next ninety minutes, I shouted to the sky, pleading to God. Finally, it stopped. I got to a campsite and tried cowboy camping again. Two minutes passed before it started raining again.

“Nope,” I said. I wasn’t going anywhere. I laid my tent over me. It rained for six hours. Everything got drenched. What did I do to get to this point in my life? I wondered. It was thirty-seven degrees out. I got maybe five minutes of sleep.

  1. What is the farthest you hiked in one day? What was it like?

Fifty-three miles in the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming. It was super flat. It wasn’t bad, but I was definitely done at the end of the day. I didn’t drink enough water. I was so stiff. It was hard to find a camping spot, also, because of all the overgrowth. I actually only planned to hike fifty miles, and the additional three was to get to a dirt road where I made camp. I couldn’t even fall asleep for over an hour because my legs were so antsy and my whole body ached. 

  1. I’m curious about your habits. I was always finding excuses to slow down my PCT hike to elongate it. For you, I imagine the scenario was flipped. How often did you take breaks during your hikes, and how long did you hike on the average day?

It varied so much. Normally, anywhere from thirteen to sixteen hours. I didn’t take many breaks. A couple five-minute ones here and there. When it was hot out, I took more. Another big aspect of this hike, or for anybody trying to do big miles, was to not waste a lot of time in town.

Early on, when I was not yet sick of all of the food I was eating, I would hardly stay in a town any longer than to get my resupply. Then I would get back out there and keep trucking. I think when I was about 2,500 miles in, when I started the PCT, I started to really get sick of hiking food, so I stopped and got food in nearly every town. Even with that, I was always in a hurry. I would resupply, get some food (usually pizza), charge my phone while doing so, and then head back out. I think minimizing time in towns was a simple way to cover more miles than people who were just as fast as me.

  1. What was it like bouncing from one trail to the next? Was the sudden change in landscape odd?

The travel wasn’t bad. I just kind of figured it out on the fly. The change from the AT in March to New Mexico was shocking and much preferred. It was very eye opening because that was my first time hiking in the desert, and I didn’t know how I would handle it. And I had just come off months of winter hiking in Appalachia.

When I got up to Colorado, it was very much that winter landscape again, so when I flipped to southern California, it was a big change, but kind of similar to New Mexico, starting in the desert again. It felt the same way going to Arizona after I finished the AT.

After finishing the PCT, the move to Montana was nothing. I was already used to a diversity of landscapes, and I knew it was time for the final push to beat winter in Colorado.

  1.  Tell me about the best day of the adventure.

I’m probably going to go with a day in Montana in the Scapegoat Wilderness, just south of the Bob Marshall wilderness. Before that I was pretty pissed off. The air was so smoky. Everything was hazy. I disliked the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It was all low, burnt valleys. It was not a good landscape. I started the day off by backtracking a mile and a half. I forgot I was going southbound, since I had been walking northbound prior. But then it was a day of beauty. It was just one of those days. I can’t explain why it was so great.  

  1.  You had some experience with hiking before you began your journey. Did this help?

Gear-wise, definitely, but physically, no. It’s just such a long endeavor. I’d definitely recommend training and physically preparing, but for something this big, there’s nothing comparable. Physical preparation is certainly important, but more than that, you’ve got to prepare for mental struggles. And I’m not sure how you can really prepare for those other than by just going out and doing it. And this was my first real thru-hiking experience, so I wasn’t exactly sure how I would handle it, but just knowing myself, I thought I’d be alright.

9. Did you ever want to quit?

It’s funny. When I was in Bend taking a rest day while trying to figure out the fire closure, a friend texted me, asking that question. I realized in that moment that the thought of quitting had not crossed my mind all year.

The first time the possibility of quitting even entered my mind was in the Mazatzal wilderness on the Arizona trail. I think for the Triple Crown, my focus was so locked in it was never an option, but then it crept in for the first time in Arizona, and then just got stronger. I think my mind and body knew that I had accomplished my real goal, so my insatiable drive started to wane.

  1.  What advice do you have, if any, for others aspiring to do a long-distance hike?

Great question. I’d say just get ready for the pain and hardship. Every day is going to be tough. But it’ll all be worth it. The indescribable euphoria is worth the pain and suffering. Anyone can do it. It’s just a matter of getting up and putting in the work day after day. One day, you’ll wake up and wondered how you already made it to the end.

Afterword

Frog Mountain, California

I get it. The youngest person to do anything is apt to make a great story. This is why I hold no blame on anyone for there being eight articles on the internet telling the story of Sammy Potter and Jackson Parell, the 21-year-old friends who became the youngest people to achieve the calendar-year Triple Crown this year.

But Horsepower is only three years older than these college friends, he hiked an additional 800 miles on the Arizona Trail, and he raised thousands to save lives. I think this counts for something.

Only by going out in the wilderness and emulating his habits will anyone understand the true difficulty of what he did. Attempting thru-hikes is becoming trendy, yes, and still only a slim portion of these attempts are completed. If someone tries to thru-hike, it is likely to be the toughest task ever attempted. Four thru-hikes in one year? Forget about it. At least for me. Horsepower is a certain kind of person, someone who has an uncanny ability to remain sanguine in harsh adversity. Many people talk this talk. Few walk it.

My thru-hikes have been an exemplary precedent for my life. After hiking both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trail, everything seems easier. This is not to say I don’t face daily hardships, but rather I handle them better than I did before these tests of longevity. I surmise this journey will be a positive precedent for the rest of Horsepower’s life.

From what I’ve heard from calendar-year crowners, the job is debatably fun. To hikers with high-mileage itineraries, I’ve heard countless people make statements like, “Why would you torture yourself like that?” or “You’re taking the fun out of hiking. Just slow down and enjoy it.”

This displays a great misunderstanding of the subjectiveness of fun. If someone is choosing to do something willingly, does this not mean they want to do it? Horsepower is wired differently, and there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, everything is right with it. People are designed to work hard. And even if he was torturing himself every waking minute of the hike, did it not produce something worthy? The charity aside, Horsepower has inspired many to do what they love, and to work their asses off at it.  

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Our present health care system severely limits treatment options for the mentally ill. For Americans at their wit’s end with depression, there is nothing but an underfunded line to call with grossly underpaid counselors, inundated treatment providers, and hospitals that kick you to the curb if they don’t deem you a danger to yourself. I answer the suicide hotline for work. I worked in a restaurant prior to this and made nine more dollars an hour.

This isn’t an article about the American disregard for mental health, but rather a delineation I hope can put the impact of Horsepower’s fundraiser into perspective. $4,300 is an enormous contribution, and it is bound to save a life or two.

Horsepower, you are a legend. Thank you for making this article possible.

It’s not too late to donate. To do so, click the link below:

To view Horsepower’s hike in its entirety, check out his Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/naturalhorsepower/?hl=en

To read more on Horsepower, check out these news articles:

https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/an-ohio-man-completes-the-triple-crown-of-hiking-on-the-appalachian-trail-in-vermont/Content?oid=34119532

https://chroniclet.com/news/283312/ohio-hiker-on-quest-for-10000-miles/

By entering your email and hitting the subscribe button below, you will receive new articles in your email. Nothing else. Be sure to check your email to confirm the subscription. You can cancel at any time.

Thank you for subscribing.

  

Published by Nicholas J. Devlin

I'm a freelance writer from western Massachusetts. Horror, comedy, and all the unholy things my parents told me to stay away from are pretty much my favorite. Oh and I like the outdoors.

4 thoughts on “8,300 Miles for Suicide Prevention: A Hiking Prodigy

  1. It’s hard to mentally grasp his achievement. As a marathon runner I can relate to how “torture” and deprivation can be tolerable, with the knowledge of a finish line and fulfillment after crossing that line. But his feat is absolutely insane. I guess we’re all wired differently. Two things we do have in common: we’re both Ohio boys who hiked this year for AFSP (me doing 1,300 miles on the A.T.). It’s a great cause, and thanks for including the link.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: