In August, I’m going to attempt the Pemi Loop in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. It’s a 31-mile trail with over 9000′ of climbing and I plan to do it in one (long!) day.
I’m dedicating this attempt to two non-profits that support military veterans. Please consider a donation to one or both of the organizations listed here:
Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. Their mission is to end veteran homelessness in Minnesota. Donate by clicking HERE.
Veterans On The 48. Their mission is getting more veterans outside and onto the trails to promote healthy lifestyles both physically and mentally. Donate by clicking HERE.
Your money goes directly to the non-profit. I can see what money goes to MACV because of the way the donation page is set up. I can’t see what happens for Veterans On The 48. So, I’d ask a favor. If you donate to the Veterans On The 48, please email me (ShmoF16@msn.com) how much you gave them so I can keep track of what impact you are making there.
Thank you for your support!
If you’re a glutton for punishment, I’ve got a bunch of words below the map about why I’m calling this project Shmo’s Big Stupid and a bunch of other thoughts. On June 2, the Stigma Free Vet Zone interviewed me about this trail running project and my writing. Check out that podcast HERE.
“Why these non-profits?“
Well, in a nutshell, I want to “Get veterans indoors and get veterans outdoors.”
As far as “getting veterans indoors,” I see homeless people everywhere I go as an airline pilot. But you don’t have to leave Duluth to see people who are unhoused. Pretty much every summer, if you run along the Superior Hiking Trail in the Point of Rocks, you’ll pass through a whole community of people sleeping outside. Now, there’s a lot of bad news in the world. Sometimes it’s overwhelming and just paralyzes me. I can’t fix all of it, so I do nothing. At a certain point, I realized I can’t do everything but maybe I can do something. In January 2020 there were an estimated 37,252 homeless veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Minnesota does better than most states with around 280 homeless veterans here. I know some guys that work for MACV and they are within striking distance of getting that number to zero. I don’t think people who served their country should have to live in a tent. So, I decided to point some money toward them.
As far as “getting veterans outdoors,” I believe that healthy, outdoor activities are good for you no matter who you are. But there is some research that shows it’s specifically good for veterans. I was born in Littleton, NH, just northwest of the White Mountains. When I was in high school as a kid, my dad and I hiked most of the 48 Four Thousand Footers in the White Mountains together. I finished the Four Thousand Footer list in 1990. A few years ago, I heard about the new Veterans On The 48 organization and their group hikes for veterans. I grew up in those peaks and think that this non-profit has a great purpose in one of my favorite places in the world.
“Why are you doing this, Shmo, you big dummy?”
Three reasons. First, this is the continuation of several years of big outdoor adventures that I started during the pandemic.
They canceled Grandma’s Marathon in June of 2020 and I was kind of cut adrift. I always do the Birkie ski marathon every year and Grandma’s every June. Now one of my annual milestones was gone. I need a goal out in front of me every four months or so. Not because I’m especially into the event itself. Because knowing that event is out there gets me out the door for hundreds of days beforehand. The process that is spurred by some kind of event is what I actually get out of the event. The process is what ends up being important.
So, in 2020 with no public events allowed, I decided to backpack the 65-mile Border Route Trail solo with Leo my dog. That went well so I decided to run 53k because it was my 53rd birthday. I trained all summer, including the backpacking trip, and ran two 16.5 mile loops starting and finishing in my driveway. In 2021, I started sniffing around for a 54k run for my 54th birthday. I got a brainstorm from going down internet rabbit holes. I would run from the Minnesota Low Point (Lake Superior) to the Minnesota High Point (Eagle Mountain)! I thought it was possible I’d be the first guy to do it. I scoped out an 18.2 mile route. Then I went to a website for Fastest Known Times and learned that a guy had done this very thing about 3 months before I came up with it. Dammit. But hey, 18 miles wasn’t going to be enough to get me 54k for my 54th birthday. But what if I ran up and back? That would be over 54k and I bet there wouldn’t be anybody dumb enough to do that. I went 37 miles in just under 10 hours. And now, I hold the FKT for the Low/High/Low variation in Minnesota. I did the Eagle Mountain part with Shelley and Grace. I can tell you, that was one of the coolest days I’ve ever spent outside. Now, my FKT is simply because I was dumb enough to do it first. I ain’t fast. But hey, I created a project, trained for months and it worked. And it was a blast.
So I came out of that year with ideas. Around that time, I read Jessie Diggins book Brave Enough. In it, she describes something she does each year: The Big Stupid. She says it’s “an adventure that really isn’t the smartest from a training perspective for my sport, but is very necessary in order to feed my soul and sense of adventure.” Without realizing it, I was coming up with my own Big Stupid ideas for several years. Big dumb ideas that spurred me into a months-long process outdoors to prep for some big adventure outside. Not very sophisticated, but it works for me. I get into a really fun headspace when I think about what to do next. Even more fun between the ears when I settle on an idea and start figuring out how to get ready. So, that’s why I’m calling this project Shmo’s Big Stupid. Thanks, Jessie.
My second reason for doing the Pemi Loop is the process that goes into it beforehand. Even if I never did this project, my summer is looking pretty monstrous to get ready. I’m running a trail ultramarathon: the Superior Spring Trail Race 50k on May 20 on the Superior Hiking Trail. Then I’m running Grandma’s Marathon in June. Then in July, I’m going to tackle a big one: the Voyageur. A 50-mile trail ultra. I’ve done the Eugene Curnow three times, which is the 25-mile version from the zoo to Carlton. So I’m familiar with the trail. I figured, Hey, I can run 37 miles, why not try 50 miles? If I can come out of this summer healthy, I figure I can go do the 50k Pemi Loop with a fair amount of confidence.
My third reason, is because I can. Someday, I would kill to be able to do something this stupid.
“How’d you get this idea?”
A few years ago, I wrote an essay about maps. In it, I looked into the history of the Appalachian Mountain Club maps that guided me up those 48 Four Thousand Footers. I learned that my 1987 list of peaks was now obsolete. In 1998, the AMC went from the manual maps to an all digital map process. During that switch, they learned that Wildcat E was shorter than they thought. So, Wildcat E got demoted and Wildcat D got promoted. So, the list I completed in 1990 was retroactively incomplete! My OCD took over. I came up with an idea to go back east and climb Wildcat D to make sure I’m actually complete with the current list of 48 mountains. This is something I may try to do while I’m back east doing the Pemi Loop, hopefully with the whole family.
While I was scouring the internet about Wildcat D and the Four Thousand Footers, I ran into something called a White Mountains Direttisima: 240-mile direct route that’s the shortest way to climb all 48 in one shot. I got super excited about this. The main stumbling block was finding enough time to do it. I figured I’d need 45 days (driving from MN to bring my gear). I’d have to beg for time off from work, even more than the vacation I already burned. I’d split the 240 miles into three ten-day chunks with a couple days resupplying at my parents’ house in Maine in between. With a few days of family vacation in Maine beforehand. But ultimately, I’d be 30 days in the hills by myself. I was recently eating dinner in a restaurant in Boston and sat next to my dad. I explained this Big Stupid idea. He said, “That’s really dumb.” Like, not in a cool way. I took a step back and reevaluated this 6-week long project and agreed. Too big. Too dumb. Too much time alone instead of with family. So, I scaled back to a one-day suffer-fest on the Pemi Loop. I think that’ll be plenty.
I’m excited to go back to the land of Live Free or Die. My dad started his Forest Service career on the White Mountain National Forest. I was born right there in Littleton. We hiked all over there. My dad was the District Ranger on the Pemigewasset Ranger District of the WMNF. So, I’ll be running a loop around the Pemi Wilderness, the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi, which used to be in his district. It’ll be kind of like going home. If you’re really bored, you can read this thing I wrote several years ago called “Good Views” about Owl’s Head, which is in the center of that loop. Kind of gets at how the mountains mean a lot to me there. I’ll be sharing my process and the Pemi Loop itself on social media. You can find those links at my About page. Please consider a donation to the two non-profits at the top of the post.
I’ll close with a picture of me on Mt. Garfield around 1983. My dad’s taking the picture looking over me to Owl’s Head on the left and Flume in the distance. I’ll be running past this spot in a few months, 40 years after the picture was taken. Kind of cool.