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?”