Meet The First Person To Complete The Double Triple Crown

Craig Fowler hiked AT, PCT, and Continental Divide and pedaled Tour Divide, the Colorado Trail Race, and the Arizona Trail Race.


Craig Fowler is a 45-year-old professional doer of big, big things. He recently completed the hiking and bikepacking triple crowns. Yes, he walked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Yes, then he biked the Tour Divide, the Colorado Trail Race, and the Arizona Trail Race. Yes, that’s 7,574 miles on foot and over 4,000 miles in the saddle. No, there’s no evidence suggesting Fowler is a robot. But there’s also no evidence refuting that.

In all likelihood, Fowler is not some robo-legged outdoorsman, but the numbers associated with his accomplishment are truly mind-boggling. Plus, he’s the only person to do it, ever. Fowler completed the 2,168 miles of the AT in 153 days, February 28 to July 29, 2001. It was on this thru-hike, the first of his life, that the idea of hiking the Triple Crown was born. But the goal wasn’t inspired by immediacy.

Fowler honed his skills and his strength first by hiking 64 of the 100 highest peaks in New England. Then he moved to Seattle in 2004 to be closer to the PCT, and hiked Longs Trail. In 2007, Fowler walked the 2,655 miles of the PCT in 125 days from April to August. Then in 2015, Fowler spent 125 days from late spring to early fall hiking the 2,751 miles of the CDT. On September 2, 2015, Fowler crossed his thru-hiking triple crown finish line.

“The ‘why’ is hard to pin point,” says Fowler. “I think, at first, it was partly to test myself, an escape from mundane life. And to get back to that feeling I had as a kid when I played outside.”

Fowler grew up in South Easton, Massachusetts. His first outdoor experiences were camping and fishing with his folks and grandparents. In 1985, at the age of 13, he climbed Mt. Katahdin with his father and bother. At the top of Katahdin, Fowler asked his father if people truly walked from Georgia to where he stood. Before poppa Fowler could explain, a grizzled, greasy man yelled that he in fact had just hiked that distance. “That was my ‘a-ha!’ moment,” says Fowler. “The seed was planted. I knew one day it would be me summiting Katahdin as a thru-hiker.”

While studying sociology at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, Fowler’s hiking love merged with a mountain biking affair. But the two loves of his life wouldn’t truly combine for many years. A healthy dose of childhood reverence mixed with Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, plus a dash of a friend completing half the Appalachian Trail in 2000 was all that was needed for Fowler to begin the hiking Triple Crown. In 2013, during a single night bikepacking trip, Fowler figured he’d try for bigger, longer bike trips. “It was a new way to test my mind and body,” explains Fowler. While hiking the CDT in 2015, Fowler set his sights on the bikepacking triple crown.

When inspecting the entirety of Fowler’s accomplishment, the leap from a single evening overnight to three enormous biking trips actually seems relatively small. He had over 25 years of cycling experience and, at that point, had hiked over 8,000 miles. Go for a few long bike rides? Sure, why not? After a little internet digging to find no one else had ever completed both triple crowns, Fowler’s mind was made up.

The Tour Divide’s 2,732 miles took Fowler just 20 days to complete, June 9 to June 28, 2017. Then he completed the Colorado Trail Race’s 538.9 miles in 7 days, 12 hours, and 56 minutes, from July 23 to July 29, 2017. On October 6, 2017, Fowler began the Arizona Trail Race. After 757 miles, 15 days, 5 hours, and 49 minutes, Craig Fowler rolled to a stop on October 20th, 2017, with his goal met.

According to Fowler, the obvious difficulty wasn’t the toughest part of his journey. The shoulder pain from hiking with a pack for that many miles was hard. The girdle and hand pain from excessive miles on his bike were hard. Dealing with the heat and cold was hard. The extreme focus that was needed, the sore feet, achy joints, blisters, an Achilles issue, hunger, thirst, the stink of multiday adventure, it was all hard to deal with. But the most difficult part of his journey was each finish line.

“Every finish on all six trails were anticlimactic at best,” Fowler says. “You’re excited to be done, not to have to ride or hike another mile, or put on your nasty smelly clothes. On the other hand, there’s this void, a lack of a goal or direction that leaves you feeling lost. You end up wanting to keep going, despite any of the discomforts.”

“Life is a journey, not a destination,” is a platitude too often used in outdoor adventure. But for Fowler it was during his journey that the true meaning of his adventure surfaced, as did his true goal.

Fowler coined his journey the One of Seven Project, he being the only person out of the seven billion people on Earth to walk and bike for the crowns. “It started as a personal goal,” Fowler explains. “But as I rode the 4,028 miles of the bikepacking triple crown, I realized we’re all one of seven billion, each of us is unique. Unfortunately, not everyone chooses to celebrate their uniqueness. As the project unfolded, the goal transformed from a personal one to a broader one. I hope my adventures encourage others to know themselves and their passions, celebrate their uniqueness through their passions, be the best version of themselves, and help humanize their adventures…we’re all human, and some just do more, go further, or are faster. We should never compare ourselves to others, only ourselves. Are you better today than you were yesterday?”

 

Showing 26 comments
  • jim
    Reply

    i love these stories but i always wonder how these people finance their trip and maintain a career, a house or car etc. That part is often not told.

    • Duncan
      Reply

      Completely with Jim on this. The distance may not be the ultimate challenge, instead the challenge is making a life outside of society. To me this is where the story is- in the preparations and logistics.

      • Craig F
        Reply

        Duncan,
        Preparations and logistics. I could write a book on these two subjects. Most of my adventures take months of planning. I’ve gotten better but it’s a process for sure. Life off the trail, simple.

    • gringo
      Reply

      @Jim

      Priorities mate, priorities….

      • Ryan
        Reply

        No matter what you prioritize, you gotta pay bills, and eat, and be able to go to the doctor, etc.

    • Craig F
      Reply

      Jim,
      Sacrifice. I’ve sold a car, moved home, racked up the credit card and pinched pennies. A career or house have never been at the top of my to do list. Both of these things hold one down. To maintain my lifestyle and adventures I’ve had to keep it simple and free of the traditional things.
      It hasn’t been easy but I wouldn’t change it if I could. The places I’ve seen, things I’ve done are worth more than a career or house IMO. It’s not for everyone but it’s for me.

      • Chris C.
        Reply

        Bravo! Having the courage to do these kind of things while not worrying about your 401k is well crazy and cool at the same time…:)

    • David Gensch
      Reply

      I let him stay at my house for free.
      I put him to work in between his trips
      He is a very frugal, resourceful, kind man that was a second father to my boys.

    • kyle
      Reply

      Lots of thru-hikers (myself included), will work seasonal jobs (every job in the outdoor industry is seasonal) for half a year while renting space in hallways (literally, i did), basements or out of the back of their cars (if they have them).
      Living extremely frugal lives (saving over 50% of their income) and then become (figuratively) homeless for months out of the year while on long trips. I usually stash all my things in a basement or garage while sub-letting out my room, so I have zero expenses outside the hike/tour.

      Priorities.

  • Shane
    Reply

    “We should never compare ourselves to others, only ourselves. Are you better today than you were yesterday?”
    What a great quote!

  • Doug
    Reply

    I am a backpacker and love it. Although his accomplishments are lauditory, i’m also aware that all sports sometimes become an obsession that is covering something else up. I have experienced it myself. He said the end was anticlimactic and left him without a goal or purpose. I think his next adventure should be to be still and see what he is not attending to in his life. That may actually be the most difficult journey yet. And probably the most important of his life.

  • Max
    Reply

    Those times for the biking portions are really fast!

  • Alexa
    Reply

    This is great!

  • Sally
    Reply

    Why is he carrying a bike down the South Kaibab trail? What happens when someone is trying to complete the Arizona Trail but can’t get a permit for the Grand Canyon?

    • Craig F
      Reply

      Sally,
      Bicycles are not allowed in the canyon. As a result thru-bikers have two options. One, ride two hundred miles around the ditch or Two, disassemble your bike and carry it from the South Rim to the North Rim.
      As I was was racing the quicker option is carrying it, but believe me it was insanely hard.

  • Scott
    Reply

    one of my favorite parts of Craig’s PCT trip that was left out of this article…. he pedaled a bike self supported from Seattle down to the Mexican border to start the PCT and then packed everything back on a bike and rode from the Canadian terminus several months later back to Seattle! So a full circumnavigation of the west coast under his own power.

  • Kerry
    Reply

    I think this is a great accomplishment from Craig Fowler-to be able to both hike and pedal such great distances-two very difference skills. I do agree with @Jim and Ryan. There is nothing wrong with asking the question on how someone actually funds these kinds of adventures-especially one adventure after another-multiple years in a row. But I also get tired of people saying “priorities” and “sacrifices” when the rest of us find ourselves in regular jobs, would love to do this kind of thing, but don’t have the support system (friends around the country) or the instagram following to fund this kind of lifestyle. And, it seems that is a $600 cuben fiber tent? We have mortgages and other payments to make and regular jobs with limited vacation but we’re not just crazy consumers either conforming with society standards in a chained-to-a-desk boredom to pay for a new car. I think there is a lot of support from other people that goes on behind the scenes-friends, family, gofundme accounts, free housing, blog posts that accrue donations as well as living a more minimalist lifestyle.I know instagram accounts or blogs with patreon buttons is a huge help. However, their are achievable epics out there for those of us with less time-the Colorado Trail, the John Muir Trail, shorter bikepacking routes-here in the States and in foreign countries. It is possible to have a normal life and chase a dream, even if you are not one of 7 billion. People from my work have done so! Good luck to all the “regular people” who seek some adventure as well. Think about your own adventure and then take the steps to make it happen, no matter who has done it before you.

    • David
      Reply

      Craig could not be a more “regular guy” as you put it. He simply shared his journey…and as you suggested, he said we all find our own Epic. I like the color blue, you might like red.
      We all make choices, be it sacrifice or a cognizant desitions, or have crappy, or good luck. Knowing Craig personally, he is a humble solid man with his own purpose and wanted to share…so good job Craig

    • Craig F
      Reply

      Kerry,
      Thank you for the compliment. I feel I need to point out very few hikers are making money from social media. As Kyle stated above most hikers live simply, skimp, save, and yes at times rely on the kindness of others. Of the 3-5000 thru-hikers each year I would guess less than 10 support themselves through social media. Sure some use Gofundme but again it’s a tiny portion.
      I fear you missed my point and the point of others who say “priorities” and “sacrifice”. We willingly made decision after decision to create our situations. Situations that have allowed us to live the life we want. You choose to have a mortgage, multiple bills, a car and other requirements that require you to have the “regular job” you do. You created your “priorities” and “sacrificed” the ability to take the needed time off to do trips like this.
      With that said I’m not knocking your decisions. Their yours and if it’s the life you want than I’m happy for you but don’t say your sick of people using the terms “priorities” and “sacrifice” when describing how they afford their live style.
      We all make our own choices in life. To say you don’t have a choice is admitting you just don’t like the ones in front of you. We always have a choice. A choice to live a “regular” life or one that is filled with adventures.
      Like it or not in the end it is all about “priorities” and “sacrifice” and the choices we make.
      I would also be remiss if I didn’t stress the goal One of Seven Project too. We are all One of Seven Billion. We’re born unique, with our own DNA and finger prints to prove it. We are also all “regular people”, it’s just some of us move at a different pace with a different purpose. Some choose to celebrate the uniqueness we’re born with and others don’t.
      I totally agree with you Kerry, find your passion, live YOUR life and follow YOUR dreams no matter what they are. Now get out there and make it happen!

      • Accidental FIRE
        Reply

        Wow, amazing accomplishment. For those asking how it can be done while still eating and living a life, I can tell you that Craig’s response here is spot on. We all have priorities, and where you spend your money shows what your priorities are. Houses & cars are expensive. Craig chose to prioritize other things, which of course doesn’t mean your choice to buy a nice house and nice car is the wrong choice, it’s just your choice and your priorities. We’re all living our own lives.

        Craig is definitely an outlier. Most in society choose the ‘normal’ path. But there are other paths. I lived a pretty frugal life in my 20’s and 30’s while still doing plenty of outdoor adventures. None quite as long at one time as Craig since I had a job, but I’ve climbed 3 of the 7 summits, been to Everest base camp, and climbed Shasta, Rainier, the Grand Teton, and many other peaks around the world, I’ve been to the Galapagos, done Machu Picchu, and scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef. I did all of these things and still managed to save lots of money and become financially independent in my mid-40’s.

        My intent is not to boast & I hope it doesn’t come off that way. My message is that if you save money, invest it wisely, and forgo many of the expensive consumer-trappings of ‘normal’ American society, you can thrive. Now I’m still plenty healthy in my mid-40’s and have scaled back my job to part time so I can do longer adventures like Craig has done.

        Although he’s undoubtedly much faster than me judging by his times…. 20 days on Tour Divide? Dang….

        Kudos Craig!

  • Peter
    Reply

    Congratulations Craig!

  • Matthew J Clark
    Reply

    Craig, you should tell the story of riding your bike from Seattle to San Diego to walk back north on the PCT. Oh the little details of your great adventures… too many to keep track of. Congrats, my friend. I’m amazed.

  • jim
    Reply

    what a great response to this article by the readers! lots of good information/insights here.

    For people with a good career, children, mortgage and other responsibilities, I think the key is keep fit so that when the kids are grown and moved out and retirement looms one can still enjoy adventuring outdoors. Most of my friends age 50+ are getting old and creaky, they haven’t maintained the physical part of their life.

    I did my share of adventuring in my 20s and 30s for months on end but slowed way down after getting married and having kids (and a house and job etc.). I use much of my vacation time to backpack and ski but it’s only several weeks out of the year. 🙁 As posted above priorities and sacrifice play a part. in my case I had to put adventures behind the welfare of my kids for the past 12 years. not a hard choice to make.

    all that said, I totally agree with Craig F in that you have to create your opportunities with careful planning. Over the past few years I have saved enough to give myself a 6-9 month sabbatical and I plan on spending most of it in the wilderness teaching my children how to backpack and backcountry ski…and hopefully, along the way, culture in them the same love of wild places that us lucky ones have. Of course I’ll have to get another job but I’m pretty confident I can do that.

  • Scott
    Reply

    I love the human powered PCT trip. Brilliant.

  • Hobart Flect
    Reply

    Based on the comments above it is important to bear in mind that what we do and who we are are two completely different things and should never be confused lest one become attached to the notion that unless we “own” this, that or the other thing by a certain age, we are not “successful” or “accomplished”. No two persons journey in this incredible life are the same and the only person we need to be true to is ourself (unless of course you have a family and then everything (should) change). Bravo to this incredible adventurer, the things he has done, seen and experienced are beyond the value of what can be purchased for any amount of money and I wish him all the best regardless of what he does going forward. Godspeed and good health!!!

    • Dustin@WeGoRTW
      Reply

      I don’t know, the “Ellie on the AT” just competed the AT with baby in tow and now on to the Great Divide Trail. That little girl may cover a double triple before out of school.

      Don’t let having a family stop you 🙂

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