Sammy Potter of Yarmouth, shown in the White Mountains, will attempt to do a calendar-year Triple Crown in 2021 by completing hikes of the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail – nearly 8,000 miles in all. Photo courtesy of Sammy Potter

When Sammy Potter left Stanford University after the pandemic hit last winter to come home to Maine, he decided the time was right to take a year off from school and embark on a meaningful, life-changing adventure. So Potter planned to thru-hike the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail.

But after reading a book on hiking’s Triple Crown, his plans grew – by nearly 6,000 miles. Now, Potter aims to also complete the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail and the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, all in a calendar year.

His Stanford classmate and friend, Jackson Parell, decided to join Potter on this ambitious adventure in 2021. The two have secured sponsorship from outdoor companies, including L.L. Bean.

“I told Jackson my plan and asked him to join me for a section, maybe a week. I wasn’t going to ask him to do the whole thing. That’s kind of an insane ask,” said Potter, a 2018 Yarmouth High grad. “Then when he said, ‘Sign me up,’ I thought, if he wants to do it, he’s just as crazy as me.”

A calendar-year Triple Crown is an unusual feat, although it’s unclear how many hikers have achieved it because none of the long-distance trail organizations keep such records. But based on several interviews with Triple Crown hikers, Potter, 21, believes he and Parell, who is 20, would be the youngest to do so if they finish.

L.L. Bean is providing at least a few thousand dollars worth of gear, Potter estimated. The rest of the adventure will cost roughly $18,000, which includes their food, resupply packages that Potter’s family will mail, some stays in hostels, plane tickets, and a rental car between the second and third trail.

“When we heard about Sammy’s Triple Crown plans, we were inspired and wanted to help outfit him for the adventure,” said Amanda Hannah in L.L. Bean’s marketing department.

Potter and Parell have spent the past four months training, obtaining dozens of permits for National Parks, and assembling more than 50 shipping boxes that will hold close to 100 day’s worth of dehydrated meals. The hope to complete their odyssey in 10 months.

“The big lesson I’ve gotten from other Triple Crown hikers is no matter how much you plan, things will go wrong. I’m trying to avoid all possible ways that can happen. But you just never know,” Potter said. “The trail does what the trail wants to do.”

Stanford University juniors Sammy Potter, left, of Yarmouth and Jackson Parell of Florida are planning a calendar-year Triple Crown hiking attempt in 2021. Photo courtesy of Sammy Potter

While the hope of becoming among the youngest calendar-year Triple Crown hikers is a goal, both men said the real aim is to pursue a big adventure, and set a precedent for doing so.

Potter grew up hiking in Maine with his parents and two older sisters. His mother, Dina, first took him up Katahdin along the challenging Knife’s Edge at age 6. He’s hiked through Michigan, Northern Ireland and California.

“My primary goal with this is personal growth, to see what my limits are,” Potter said. “These days in school, I feel dissatisfied. The end goal there is a job. And I feel something is missing. I have felt deep meaning few times in my life. Those times have all been outdoors.”

Last summer, Parell thru-hiked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago Trail in Spain after a summer internship and found it an insightful break from the “hamster wheel at Stanford that funnels you into the tech industry.” He said because of the pandemic, there has never been a better time for that kind of “return to simplicity.” And Potter is the right guide to get them there.

“A lot of stuff we’ve done in preparation the past month has been very tedious. But I’ve spent the last month laughing,” said Parell, a Florida resident whose family summers in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Our kindred philosophies and his humor is going to make this trek that much easier.”

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, more than 3,000 thru-hikers each year attempt to complete the AT – and roughly a quarter succeed, most in five to seven months.

Potter and Parell will fly to Georgia on Dec. 29 and start the trail on New Year’s Day – with the goal of summiting Katahdin by March 29. Then it’s on to New Mexico.

The Continental Divide Trail spans 3,100 miles and five states stretching from Canada to Mexico. The outback trek that follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains is known for wildfires, severe weather and snowpack that all can force detours. Roughly 500 attempt to complete it annually.

Potter and Parell hope to start the Continental Divide Trail no later than mid-April and finish it in three months.

“At the core, the biggest goal is purpose and adventure,” Potter said. “But, by most hiking standards, we’ll be going very fast.”

In the interest of avoiding flying and interacting with the public during the pandemic, they plan to drive from Montana to Washington to begin the Pacific Crest Trail by late July.

The trail made famous by the 2014 movie “Wild” runs 2,650 miles through Washington, Oregon and California, ending near the Mexican border. Each year, the Pacific Crest Trail Association gives out about 7,000 sets of permits to all the National Park land, but only about 25 percent of those hikers complete the trail. Potter and Parell hope to finish it by October.

None of the associations that help maintain the trails – the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition or the Pacific Crest Trail Association – have the authority to close those three National Scenic Trails during the pandemic. But all have requested that thru-hikers postpone their hikes during the pandemic because of the danger posed to small, rural communities.

But Potter believes with their self-sufficient approach – by using resupply boxes that include personal protective equipment, by limiting stays at hostels and opting to camp most of the time, and by cutting out at least one airline flight – they can keep others safe, as well as themselves. Both are certified Wilderness First Responders.

“I will have less contact with people than if I was home working remotely. Obviously, we don’t want to spread COVID. If we feel any symptoms, we plan to stop and quarantine,” Potter said.

Their journey can be followed on Instagram at @cytriplecrown.


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