Jeremy Howard will turn 50 in about three weeks. If all goes as he hopes, he might be breaking the record for hiking the Long Trail, unassisted, right around then.
Howard, of Little Compton, Rhode Island, said Friday that he’d planned to undertake his extreme hike this weekend, but put it off to recover from a health issue he developed while training.
The current fastest known time for hiking the Long Trail unassisted is held by Jeff Garmire, who in 2019 finished the 273-mile journey in five days, 23 hours and 48 minutes, according to fastestknowntime.com, a website Howard says many in this community look to for tracking such records.
He’s doing it to raise awareness and funds for The Play Brigade, a nonprofit founded by Dawn Oates, of Brookline in Boston, whose daughter, Harper, suffered an injury during birth that left her disabled. Howard met Oates through past charity events. Howard himself has family members who have disabilities.
Howard plans to start his run at the Long Trail’s northern end, by the Canadian border, on June 20. He won’t sleep for more than four hours a day, and will likely space that out into a pair of two-hour naps.
Born in Arizona, Howard spent his formative years in South Africa. When he returned to the United States, he lived in several places before settling in Rhode Island. His work had him traveling a great deal, and for the sake of his physical health he started running marathons, then ultramarathons.
“I haven’t done anything quite like this before,” he said. “This will be a little new. I’ve section hiked pieces of the Long Trail, enough to have immense fear and respect for it.”
There are different categories of Long Trail runs. One lets a hiker have a support team to carry some supplies, another allows for a little less. Howard said his run will be completely unassisted, meaning he’ll have to carry his own food and water and more or less look out for himself. He’s decided to start on the northern end, when his pack will be heaviest.
“The terrain kind of holds you back, so it makes sense to get that over with first,” he said. “That’s one theory. People have different theories on what’s the best way to go, but I want to get that over with. It’s also the more interesting section.”
His biggest concern, besides weather, is the Appalachian Gap, in Camel’s Hump State Park.
“First of all, I’ve learned the word ‘gap’ on the Long Trail means bad things,” he said. “It’s some sort of a high mountain pass, but the approach on either side is some of the most insane vertical climbing that you’ll see on the entire trail.”
Once he passes the “App Gap,” as some call it, he thinks he’ll be all right.
Oates said Friday that The Play Brigade — playbrigade.com — has had much success over the years and been able to expand its efforts into areas outside playgrounds by getting people to think more about those with disabilities when they design things.
“The world is not set up for people to have disabilities,” she said. “Unless you’re affected by it, or you know a family member or friend, you’re not really conscious on a day-to-day basis of the obstacles people with disabilities face.”
She decided to form the organization while caring for Harper in her early years, and discovering that much of the usual children’s play activities weren’t open to her. She said the Brigade’s mission is really to make things so people with and without disabilities can play, compete, and act together.
Howard ran in the “Fearless Girl Relay” which was organized by Oates to raise awareness about accessibility to public art. Oates said she once took Harper to see the Fearless Girl statue, famous for being situated next to the Charging Bull statue on Wall Street, but couldn’t get Harper’s wheelchair onto the platform where most people stand for photos. The statue was ultimately moved to a more accessible location.