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A Kansas City native conquered the country's longest trails and earned hiking's 'Triple Crown'

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A man leans on a trailhead sign in a national forest.
Alle Janssen
Charlie Janssen stops at sign for the Belly River Trailhead on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Leawood, Kansas, native Charlie Janssen has qualified for hiking’s 'Triple Crown' award, which recognizes hikers who have completed three of the country’s longest trails. Janssen joins an elite group of people who have completed all three trails in a calendar year.

It wasn’t until Leawood, Kansas, native Charlie Janssen was completely alone in a remote stretch of northern California, along the Pacific Crest Trail, that he began to feel sick.

“Being a public education teacher, I somehow managed to stay COVID-free for two years.” Jassen said. “But somehow, in the remoteness of northern California, I contracted it.”

Janssen was more than four months and thousands of miles into a lifelong dream: hiking all 7,800-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail in a calendar year.

Earlier this month, Janssen completed that goal, qualifying for the Triple Crown of Hiking award. He joins an elite group of fewer than 15 people to have done it in one year.

While he doesn’t live in the Kansas City area anymore, he says his hometown was always in his mind.

“I feel like doing something of that extreme length is really foreign to Midwesterners," Janssen told KCUR’s Up To Date on Wednesday. “I really wanted to represent Kansas City and my alma mater of Pittsburg State. I also wanted to show that anything is possible to my students.”

Janssen is a high school history teacher and cross country coach at Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum, Colorado. He formerly taught in Girard and Russell, Kansas.

A winding journey

After years of planning, Janssen took a sabbatical from work in December 2021 to begin preparing for the hikes.

He began his journey at the Appalachian Trail on Feb. 3 — his 34th birthday. The trail starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and stretches north to Katahdin, Maine.

Janssen hiked for 71 days until he hit a major roadblock.

“I was about 390 miles short (of finishing),” he said, “but I ran into impassable snow.”

Unable to continue, Jassen packed up and flew across the country to begin the Pacific Crest Trail, stopping briefly in Kansas City to change out his gear.

He started the Pacific Crest Trail on April 17 and traveled north for 56 days before deciding to go back to New Hampshire to finish the final leg of the Appalachian Trail in warmer weather. He completed that trail on June 29.

Two days later, he was back on the Pacific Crest Trail, which he completed in 42 days, despite a forced break to quarantine because of COVID.

Janssen began the third and final trail on Aug. 16, at the northern end of the Continental Divide Trail. After 91 days of hiking what some consider the most difficult of the three trails, Janssen finished Nov. 15, completing an entire Triple Crown attempt in just 285 days.

Janssen can now apply to be officially recognized for his efforts through the American Long-Distance Hiking Association, a nonprofit organization which has awarded the prize since 1994.

He didn't say if he’d put in an official application when they open in June, but Janssen said he’s thankful he had the chance to live his dream and reconnect to the world around him.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do,” Jassen said. “But what’s great about through-hiking is that you find the absolute best in nature and the absolute best in humanity. … In such a socially tumultuous time, it’s just really refreshing.”

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