In early November 2022, Carl Stanfield—trudging south through fresh snow near Bend, Oregon—admitted the math no longer worked.
Since New Year’s Day, when Stanfield touched the striped Key West buoy that marks the United States’ southernmost continental point, he had walked more than a marathon per day through some of the country’s most formidable landscapes. On foot, he’d connected 1,200 miles of the Florida Trail’s swampy morass to the Georgian start of the Appalachian (AT), reaching the Canadian border nearly 2,300 miles later in early June. After a quick break at home in Huntsville, Alabama, he raced through the Sierra Nevada and the northernmost 1,900 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in just 60 days.
Then, in late August, he headed south through Montana along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), reaching Mexico in 73 days, condensing the arduous route to less than 2,000 miles by mostly walking on roads adjacent to the peaky wilderness. The route was fast but brutal on the feet, a compromise he had to take in stride. He was trying to set a world record, and he actually had a chance.
Stanfield, known on trail as “Professor,” had been hatching and pursuing a seemingly impossible plan for two years: He hoped to walk more miles than any other human ever had, a record set at 10,244 by serial adventurer Cam “Swami” Honan a decade ago. Stanfield, 29, wanted to clock 11,000 miles, or, as he often put it, “30 miles a day for the 30th year of my life.” By October’s end, he had walked along the United States’ three parallel spines—the Appalachians, the Sierra and the Cascades, the Rockies—and now he just had to get through 700 miles of California desert and a