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Coralville native takes on 'Triple Crown' of hiking, starting with Appalachian Trail

Drew Boysen plans to hike three major trails in nine months

Drew Boysen poses for a photo along the Appalachian Trail. Hiking solo, he sets up a camera to take his own photos. (Photo by Drew Boysen)
Drew Boysen poses for a photo along the Appalachian Trail. Hiking solo, he sets up a camera to take his own photos. (Photo by Drew Boysen)
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By B.A. Morelli, The Gazette

CORALVILLE — Hikers typically start in March or April and plan to spend four to six months traversing the iconic Appalachian Trail, which spans 14 states and 2,190 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Coralville native Drew Boysen, 25, knew he’d have to start much earlier and keep a faster pace if he wanted to achieve his goal of completing the “Triple Crown” of long-distance hiking in a calendar year.

“I become my best self when I do stuff that scares me”

- Drew Boyson

That’s the Appalachian Trail, the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail from Waterton Lake in Montana’s Glacier National Park near the northern U.S. border to the Crazy Cook Monument in New Mexico’s Big Hatchet Mountains near the southern border, and the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail from the U.S. border with Mexico near Campo, Calif., to Manning Park in British Columbia near the Canadian border.

Boysen started Jan. 30 and hopes to complete the more than 7,900-mile journey — roughly three months on each trail — with enough time so he is “not so disheveled and can put back on a little weight” before serving as best man at a wedding in Norwalk on Nov. 2.

“You have to start early if you are doing all three in a year,” Boysen said during a phone interview from a ridge in New Jersey on the Appalachian Trail. “If I get snow out here, it’s whatever. If I get snow in the mountains out west, it can be dangerous. You have to pick where you want to suffer.”

Boysen, who grew up in Coralville, graduated from West High and earned a marketing and entrepreneurial management degree at the University of Iowa in 2015, has been documenting the adventure on Instagram at @drew_boysen.

He’s captured the scenic mountain ranges, ascents up rocky peaks, vistas over never-ending valleys, challenges scrambling over ice and climbing through heavy snowpack.

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If it was easy, he probably wouldn’t be there.

Leaving his job to hit the trail

Flash back to 2016, when Boysen was fresh out of college with his first job working as an associate project coordinator for the city of Coralville. Among other tasks, he worked with consultants and architects to land a $12 million grant through the Iowa Economic Development Authority for the new Coralville Xtreme Arena.

His name appeared as the contact for many of the requests for proposals for the arena project.

He was a dependable, thorough employee who was detail-oriented yet could see the broader vision of what was being accomplished, said Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth.

While successful, Boysen decided he needed to make a change. He said he saw a career path and security, which he liked, but he didn’t feel like he was doing everything in his power to live his best life. The thought of not using his potential scared him, he said.

In February 2017, he quit his job to hike the Appalachian Trail for the first time.

“My first reaction was, ‘He is nuts,’” Hayworth said. “It sounded cool, but I’m thinking, ‘How are you going to pay for all of this?’ It sounds like a crazy idea.”

Professionally, Hayworth and colleagues were disappointed to lose a valuable contributor, but on a personal level worried whether Boysen knew what he was doing.

“I thought, ‘You’ve got a great opportunity here with Kelly and the city. You just graduated. People would be envious of this opportunity,’” said Josh Schamberger, president of Think Iowa City, the local tourism bureau, who also worked closely on the arena project. “But, no, he had his mind made up. He was going to do it. And he did it.”

A few weeks later, Boysen was on the Appalachian Trail for his first thru-hike — hiking a trail from end to end — completing it in July 2017. In October through December, he hiked the 800-mile Arizona Trail, and then in 2018 he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail for the first time. He also spent time in Nepal and Vietnam.

“I was just going to go hike and got addicted to it,” Boysen said.

Life on the trail is liberating, Boysen said. Goals are simple, clearly defined and there’s a direct path to accomplish it, he said. Off the trail in day-to-day life, goals are not as clear and the path is not as obvious, he said.

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Back home in Iowa, his old colleagues follow along equally impressed and astonished — and a little jealous. After one of his adventures, Boysen did a presentation about his trek during a “lunch and learn” for his former Coralville colleagues. He also spoke to a Boy Scout troop about how to plan for such a trip, Hayworth said.

Taking on the ‘Triple Crown’

When Boysen learned about the Triple Crown feat, it felt like it a challenge he wasn’t sure he could accomplish — which made him want to do it even more.

Now with a thick blond beard, often donning an Iowa Hawkeyes ball cap and 15 fewer pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame from when he started — down to 158 pounds — Boysen said he’s hit his stride on the Triple Crown challenge.

This time of year he is mostly alone and gets lost in thought. He stays entertained with podcasts, such as the Joe Rogan Experience, and audiobooks.

“I think about myself and choices, and what I want to do in the future,” Boysen said. “I get really introspective at times. If I run into other hikers, we get in really deep conversations because you have hours to kill, so you get deep into ins and outs of different topics.”

Going by the trail name “Scooby,” he’s a minimalist and an “ultralight” backpacker.

He hikes 30 miles per day on a good day and carries next to nothing — he estimates about 10 pounds of gear, not including food and water.

He carries a 38-liter backpack with a main compartment and exterior pockets that can be good for wet gear, water bottles or other items.

Rather than a sleeping bag, he carries a sleeping quilt that has a 10-degree temperature rating. He has an inflatable sleeping mat, rain coat, rain pants, gloves, warm hat, an extra pair of socks, a tent, microspikes for walking on ice, a mini-shovel, phone, charging cord, battery pack, a pen flashlight he can clip to his hat, a 1-liter water bottle, and a toothbrush and toothpaste.

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Instead of hiking boots, he wears light trail-running shoes. They have no waterproofing but dry quickly, he said.

“With a lighter pack, I don’t feel I need extra ankle support,” he said.

He carries no stove, pots, pans or fuel, just trail bars and meals he can reconstitute with cold water. He carries no water filter, either, feeling confident in the quality of water coming from springs along the trail.

He resupplies in towns he passes through or sometimes hitches a ride to a store, and occasionally gets a hot meal and beer in a bar or restaurant. If his breaks take too long, he hikes at night to make up the miles and stay on track for his ultimate goal.

Costs are fairly minimal, he said. He already owned much of the gear he uses. He’s aiming to spend about $1 per mile, but with flights to the other trailheads, the budget may be closer to $8,000 or $9,000, which he saved by working and living with family after college.

He said he’s learned to scrimp and save, limiting the number of rest days and the number of times he goes into town for food and showers.

“Down days mean I am buying a hotel,” said Boysen, who at this point had reached Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. “I’d rather get on the trail, and if I need rest, just take it slow for the day.”

He hopes to reach Mount Katahdin by May 1, hitch to Portland, Maine, and catch a flight to Southern California to start the Pacific Crest Trail straight away.

Boysen connects his hiking experience to his fear of public speaking. He would get nervous and tremble, so he volunteered to deliver his commencement address to his UI graduating class.

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“I become my best self when I do stuff that scares me,” he said. “If it scares you that much, do it a bunch of times until you are OK at it. … I want to find out who I am when I’m uncomfortable.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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