Stanford students from New England attempt the calendar year Triple Crown

  • Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter, students at Sanford, are attempting the Triple Crown, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. —Courtesy

  • Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter, students at Sanford, are attempting the Triple Crown, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. —Courtesy

  • Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter, students at Sanford, are attempting the Triple Crown, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. —Courtesy

  • Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter, students at Sanford, are attempting the Triple Crown, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. —Courtesy

  • Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter are attempting the Triple Crown, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. Courtesy

  • Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter, students at Sanford, are attempting the Triple Crown, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. —Courtesy

  • Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter, students at Sanford, are attempting the Triple Crown, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. —Courtesy

  • Sammy Potter (left) and Jackson Parell, students at Sanford, are attempting the Triple Crown, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/9/2021 10:09:50 PM

Penned up by the coronavirus pandemic, Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter had an idea to do something outside – something big that few others had done.

Parell, who goes by the trail name Woody and Potter, who goes by Buzz, had enough of Zoom fatigue from school and work, so they decided they needed to go out into the wilderness in search of something real.

They took time off from Stanford University to attempt the Triple Crown, which is 8,000 miles of hiking over the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail in under a calendar year.

“I didn’t want to, at the end of my pandemic, say that I had, you know, just wasted my time,” Potter explained. “But instead, I took advantage of one of those opportunities. I think that was a big thing for us, just mentally, it’s reframing the situation we’re in as more of an opportunity.”

Their trail names – a common tradition on long through-hikes – took inspiration from Pixar’s Toy Story, according to Parell, who is from Hampton. Potter grew up in Maine.

The two 21-year-old economics majors have loved the outdoors since growing up in New England and saw the pandemic as an opportunity to take on a new challenge. If they accomplish the Triple Crown, they will be the youngest people to complete it. Outdoors brands Merrill and L.L. Bean are sponsoring their journey and Backpacker Magazine will be documenting it with a podcast.

Potter explained that after spending so much time in Zoom classes and working virtually, he felt unsatisfied with that environment.

“There seemed like there was no better way to try to break out of that than just, like, do something like super crazy, and try to figure out how to make it work,” Potter explained.

Now, hiking gives them focus, one step at a time, working toward a larger goal.

“We both found a sense of purpose,” Potter explained, because they have a clear cut mission of what they’re trying to try to do. “We’re trying to do something seemingly impossible but just, like, breaking it down into little sections to make it work.”

Parell found himself frustrated with the circumstances of the pandemic. He and Potter were at the point in their university careers that they were expected to answer a daunting yet pivotal question – “what do you want to do for the rest of your life?”

“I became unmoored from the institutional structure that I was supposed to answer that question in,” Parell said. “So I found myself kind of in a way, existentially set adrift. After the pandemic hit, I thought that this was the perfect opportunity really to take some time and space and reflect on those questions a little bit more.”

They are currently on the Appalachian Train in New Hampshire, getting close to Mount Washington. They are nearing about a third of the way through their journey, which they expect to finish their trek some time in October. At first they were going to try to finish earlier, but both realized that they wanted to enjoy their time more and put a little less pressure on themselves.

“I think there are a few opportunities in your life where you can do something really crazy and bold, and something that may not fit really neatly with the narrative of your life story,” Parell said. “But I think those opportunities can be just as rewarding as the ones that may line up more neatly, like an internship or summer job or something like that.”

Parell and Potter became friends during their sophomore year, living and quarantining together during the pandemic, but then they both went their separate ways after that. Potter went back to Maine and Parell returned to New Hampshire. Potter visited Parell in in New Hampshire and they decided to traverse all of the Presidential peaks in the White Mountains.

“This was over summer,” Parell said, “and Sammy started telling me about this idea that he had read about, which was the calendar year Triple Crown. I had been really interested in long distance hiking for quite a while, which was an interest I think that was kind of instilled in me in my time in New Hampshire, really. But I became more and more excited about the idea, and from there on out we were just kind of partners in the whole thing. So, we started doing all the logistical planning, figuring out resupply, figuring out where we’d be and when, and there was a lot of it, but it’s just been an incredible journey ever since.”

There have been a few hardships along the way, but they’ve been able to overcome them. At the beginning of their trek in Georgia on Jan. 1, they were in the Smoky Mountains and got blasted by snowstorms.

“There was one day that I remember we got up, it was sub zero, it was snowing, we had to cook breakfast, and we’ve been joking about it as the breakfast from hell, just because it was probably the coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Parell said. “And then midway through that day we summited Clingmans Dome (in North Carolina). And after that, we started our descent down the mountain, and all of the water sources were frozen, and so we became deliriously dehydrated.”

Luckily, they did eventually find water.

“I think that moment specifically too highlights the duality of difficult moments that we faced on trail, which is every really challenging moment that we’ve had has also had its incredibly beautiful and touching moments as well,” Parell said.

From almost stepping on rattle snakes to seeing large herds of animals up close, both Parell and Potter have had quite the adventure so far. Most other difficult moments were caused by the extreme cold weather or high winds they faced. But the rest of their journey should be on the warmer side, which they welcome.

“We just want to finish before winter comes around again, because I feel like we’ve paid enough dues, due to the cold weather,” Potter said.




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