There is a lot to love about walking across the U.S. The adventure. The challenge. The uncertainty. The mental and physical stress to the body. But one of the problems is an obvious one – it takes a while. I have an insatiable adventure itch that needs constant scratching. While my walks across the country make that itch go away for a while, it always comes back with a vengeance.
A mere six months after finishing my third cross-country trek, the itch returned. I scratched it by packing up my old Honda Accord and heading for the East Coast. I spent six weeks on the road and completed a combination road/walking trip. I visited family and friends between the Springs and Washington D.C. Once I hit D.C., I left my car at my Aunt Peg’s house and walked from the Lincoln Memorial to Point Park in Pittsburgh with a backpack. The 342 mile jaunt took 19 days.
During the walk, I had an idea. What if I walked for 24 hours….straight? How far could I go? I was enamored with the idea. It sounded physically daunting, mentally grueling, and sleep depriving. It sounded perfect. And if I liked it, maybe a 24-hour walk every few months would adequately scratch my adventure itch and allow me to pursue some other challenges without walking off the face of the earth for months on end every few years.
On my way back to Colorado, I found a bike path in Eastern Indiana called the Cardinal Greenway. I pitched my tent at a nearby campground, left my vehicle, and prepared to hit the trail.
On October 27th, 2021, I began my first 24-hour walk at 10 AM with the intent to walk at least 60 miles. The first 40 miles went well. But by 2 AM, the walk got hard in a hurry. I began seeing things in the trees. I held an hour-long conversation with my new backpack, Joseph. I was almost positive he answered back a few times. The pain in my feet was excruciating. My back ached. I hobbled around like an arthritic 80-year-old man for the final 10 miles. And then the sun came up. I had a beautiful, soul-cleansing cry as I watched the sun rise over a cornfield.
I took over 130,000 steps and walked 62.4 miles with a 20 pound pack during those 24 hours. I pushed myself harder than I ever had physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And just like that, I fell in love with 24-hour walks.
The afternoon after finishing, I had a lengthy conversation with my best friend, Shea, who lives in Windsor, Colorado. Shea is an incredible athlete in his own right. He took first place in his age group at USA Nationals in the triathlon in 2007. He hasn’t competed in years, but runs between 48 and 54 miles every week. Dude can run!
I told him how much I had enjoyed my 24-hour walk, and that it pushed me to the brink, physically, mentally, and emotionally. To my disbelief, he was interested in joining me for one. It’s tough to find someone willing to spend 24 hours straight with me. Let alone someone willing to WALK for the entirety of that 24 hours. We set a tentative date for early January, 2022, to give us ample time to put together a fundraiser and continue training. We decided to call our walk the “Frostbite 24,” considering Colorado is usually cold in January.
Over the next two months, we both trained. Shea continued with his running and started taking 15, 20, and eventually, 30 mile walks. I spent the first five weeks back in Colorado doing yard cleanups four days a week. I only walked 10 miles during a typical eight hour day, but stayed fit by lugging around full bags of leaves and raking.
Planning a walk with another person was a new experience. All of my trips prior to the Frostbite 24 were solo adventures, so I only had myself to answer to. It was enjoyable to discuss the intended route, training, and logistics with someone else for a change!
Shea and I decided to incorporate a fundraiser into our journey. Although I accepted donations during my previous walks, I didn’t fundraise in the traditional sense. Any donations went directly to lodging, gear, and peanut butter. We chose the Larimer County Humane Society as the organization to raise funds for. With their help, we set up a personal page directly through their website and decided on a goal of $1,000. Any money donated went straight to the LCHS. The fundraising effort was a worthwhile and educating one.
Our original departure date was set for January 2nd. A few days before beginning, we both completed a 30-plus mile walk. Shea covered 32 miles in nine hours in Windsor. I walked 36 miles in 12 hours while pushing PJ around Colorado Springs. We hit all the hot tourist spots; Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs, Weidner Field, and Prospect Lake. Shea had never covered that far of a distance on foot (though he came close running marathons). And while I have walked more than thirty miles probably 100 times, it was essential to break down that mental barrier again. Walking thirty miles takes time, stamina, and the mental strength to actually do it. Once that barrier is broken and you realize you can (or remember you can), it become easier the next time. Our sixty mile walk would simply be two thirty mile walks. At least that’s how I looked at it.
We were both as ready as we could be as our start date approached. But Mother Nature had different plans. I drove up to Fort Collins on New Year’s Eve to spend an extra day scoping out our route and wandering around my alma mater (Colorado State). A massive snow storm moved through on New Year’s Eve and Day, dumping eight inches of snow on Northern Colorado. There wouldn’t be enough snow melt or plowing before we hoped to start walking. We made the sensible choice and postponed our walk for a week. Truth be told, Shea was the voice of reason. Plus, PJ is not a snowplow, and can only handle a few inches of the white stuff.
Six days later, I headed back up to Fort Collins, ready to give our adventure another shot. I stayed with Shea and his girlfriend, Jackie, the night before our journey began.
On January 8th, we loaded PJ into the trunk of Jackie’s car with extra clothes, shoes, water, and food. Jackie dropped us off in the Island Grove Park parking lot. We loaded PJ up and began our overnight journey at 10 AM.
Armed with hot coffee, layers, full stomachs, and sunglasses, Shea and I began our jaunt down the Poudre Trail. The paved trail connects Greeley and Windsor and closely follows the Cache La Poudre River. The scenery around the path was spectacular. We walked by farms, reservoirs, bird sanctuaries, wet lands, and enjoyed incredible views of snow-capped Longs Peak and the Front Range.
We steadily covered miles as the day went on, breaking our planned 60-mile stroll into 10 mile segments. After 10 miles I looked at Shea and said “You can’t walk 60 miles unless you walk 10.” When we hit 20, I said “You can’t walk 60 miles unless you walk 20.”
Just before dark, we hit the end of the trail and began a five mile stretch on county roads. We needed to walk two county roads in order to cross the interstate and get into Fort Collins. At that point, we were seven hours and 23 miles into our walk. We turned on our headlamps and prepared for two hours of road walking.
Thankfully, we enjoyed well-plowed trails and road shoulders for the first 25 miles of our walk – until we reached the sidewalk that crossed Interstate 25. There was a 100 yard stretch (uphill, of course) that wasn’t cleared. Six inches of snow and ice covered the sidewalk. PJ was impossible to push through the wintry mess. The only option was to carry the overloaded cart up the lengthy hill. Shea picked PJ up by his front wheel, while I got down into a squat position and lifted the back. We awkwardly made our way up the hill, taking a quick break at the halfway point. By the time we reached a traffic light and saw a clear path ahead, we were out of breath. We both agreed we brought way too much shit.
We reached another bike path a mile later and walked a few more miles before we met up with our support crew for dinner. Dean and Eileen had a fresh batch of coffee and piping hot macaroni and cheese for dinner. After sunset, the temperature dropped into the low-20s and the wind picked up, which discouraged any dawdling. We stayed warm while we walked, but became chilled to the bone quickly if we stopped for more than a few minutes. We scarfed down dinner and resumed our walk after the longest break of our journey – 10 minutes. Shea’s folks returned to their hotel for the night (it was 6 PM). We were on our own for the overnight.
We hit the 30 mile mark nine hours into our journey and were on the far east side of Fort Collins. The real test of our mettle and determination began at that point.
We spent most of our time in Fort Collins walking the Spring Creek Trail. The trail meanders along the banks of Spring Creek through the middle of the city and eventually ends near CSU’s campus. Even though the moon was only half full, we didn’t need to use any lights walking on the paths in Fort Collins. Eight inches of snow, lit up by the moonlight, added a surprising amount of light and guided us through the quiet urban forests along the trail.
We took a brief detour to visit the new football stadium on campus and snapped a couple photos next to the dueling rams statue in front of the field. From there, we walked back to Spring Creek Trail and continued west for another four miles before turning around and starting our walk back to Windsor. We approached the 38 mile mark when, all of a sudden, PJ became incredibly difficult to push. Initially, I thought he was being a petulant child and didn’t want to keep walking in the frigid air. Upon further review, we realized his left tire was completely flat.
The last thing I wanted to do was stop and change out the tube, which was a 15 minute process under ideal conditions. By that point, we had been on the road for 13 hours and I wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Changing the tire would likely take twice as long as usual. I simply pumped it back up and hoped the tire sealant that was already in the tube would plug the hole.
We headed east and hoped for the best. Three hours later, with all tires still fully inflated (hooray!) we arrived back at the interstate and our first of two county roads that would lead us back to Windsor. It was 2 AM. I looked at Shea and said “We are two-thirds of the way there,” meaning we had been walking for 16 hours (and covered 46 miles during that time).
Then, it was as if we both simultaneously realized we had another eight hours of walking ahead of us. It seemed like an insurmountable challenge at the time given the cold and our exhaustion.
We paused for a moment and focused on getting through the next hour. I cranked up some Def Leopard (Animal, of course) and we kept moving forward.
We passed the next several hours alternating between walking in silence and sharing stories. The most notable and humorous of which involved me telling unfortunate bathroom tales from my walks across the country. Shea had a few entertaining ones, too, but they weren’t quite as “messy” as mine. TMI?
3 AM and 4 AM came and went. We were still averaging a 3 MPH pace and decided we wanted to walk 70 miles, if at all possible. We were at 54 miles at 4 AM, and for some reason, walking another 16 miles seemed less daunting than walking for another six hours.
With six hours to go, we were mildly delirious and our feet hurt, but our spirits remained high. We decided to walk to Windsor Lake a little earlier than expected and spend our last four hours doing the 2.5 mile lap around the lake. It promised to be a great place to watch the sunrise, too.
It’s been pointed out to me by several regular blog readers that my writing makes my walking adventures seem easy. I think part of that is I often don’t go into great detail about what struggles I face during a particular stretch, whether they are physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Not wanting to sound like a complainer (given I am the one who subjects myself to these challenges) is at the crux of it.
So I will be crystal clear and transparent when I describe the last four hours of our 24-hour walk. THEY WERE THE TOUGHEST 12 MILES I HAVE EVER WALKED. Every step sent shots of pain through my feet. My legs felt like limp noodles that were simply swinging from my body. My brain was in a sleep-deprived fog and had difficulty stringing together coherent thoughts.
The struggle was real, but that is exactly what makes challenges and adventures like this worthwhile. Your body and mind tell you “You can’t keep walking. Why are you doing this? Quit.” Despite the objections, you keep going. You push through.
Shea and I pushed each other (not literally, but we were close). We challenged one another NOT to quit. We reminded each other that warm beds, showers, and food awaited on the other side. We just had to get there.
The sky started showing the first signs of light at 7 AM and gave us both another morale boost. We made it through the night and to the home stretch. Shea’s folks showed up right on cue, too, bringing with them hot, sugary drinks from Dutch Brothers.
They walked with us for the last five miles, adding a nice distraction.
Our last two laps around Windsor Lake were a slow affair. After essentially walking straight for 22 hours, the cold may have finally done me a favor by numbing my feet and legs. They hurt, no doubt. But the pain wasn’t excruciating. I put Walk the Moon’s One Foot in Front of the Other on my headphones and disappeared into my own little world for 30 minutes.
Shea and I met in the summer of 2020 in Colorado Springs. I was reeling from a breakup that I couldn’t blame on anyone but myself and was in a bad place, mentally and emotionally. I was three years sober at that point and had no idea I could end up in such a dark, scary place without alcohol being a factor.
He helped me through it. When I talked, he listened. When my ass was on fire and I drove myself crazy, he talked me down from the metaphorical ledge. Within months of meeting, I found a new best friend in Shea. He enriched my life and became a pillar of support I desperately needed. And now, I was about to complete a 70 mile walk with him by my side.
It’s tough to put into words the feelings I had after we finished our walk. I was filled with gratitude for my sobriety and to have such a great friend in my life. I was thankful I got to share one of my walking adventures with someone else – not just Shea, but his parents, too. And, I was relieved it was over. Weeks, months, and years down the road we could reminisce about “That one time we walked 70 miles in the freezing cold and didn’t loose any appendages.”
I have no doubt this will be the first of many long walking adventures with Shea. And similar to my other long walks, the Frostbite 24 was a reminder of what anyone can accomplish if they keep putting one foot in front of the other and simply refuse to quit.
But this adventure was so much more than that. Life is short. Spend it with people who inspire you, who listen to you, and who have your back when things get hard. Be grateful for that person, whether it’s a family member, friend, or partner. Be grateful for that relationship and that connection, and never let it go.
The Frostbite 24 by the numbers!
70.1 miles walked.
Over 140,000 steps taken, each.
$1,438 dollars raised for the Larimer County Humane Society.
One flat tire for PJ.
Too many cups of coffee to count. ZERO scoops of peanut butter (can you believe that?!?!).
I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who supported our walk, including those who donated to the LCHS. We also received a multitude of texts and phone calls during the walk, which helped immensely. I love you all.
Ben and Shea