They set out to hike America's 3 longest trails in less than a year. What could go wrong?

Faith E. Pinho and Gina Ferazzi Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A thunderstorm in Colorado sent the two college students racing for cover down a mountain ridge. A black bear charged at one of them in Washington state. A wildfire’s flames spurred a harrowing escape in Northern California. And a raging infection waylaid the travelers for days in the Wyoming wilderness.

While much of the world was locked down during the first year of the pandemic, Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter were busy planning their escape. The Stanford University students had weathered shared coronavirus infections and quarantines. And after spending months cooped up in online classrooms, they were itching to break free.

So they hatched an ambitious plan: to hike three of the nation’s most arduous trails — the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide — all in a single year.

The two meticulously planned their trip, tracing their projected paths along the country’s most difficult terrain. They transformed the ground floor of the Parell family’s New Hampshire cottage into a situation room, taping paper maps to the walls and stockpiling boxes packed with trail provisions. They saved roughly $25,000 from summer jobs, internships and Stanford research projects to fund the trek.

“At the

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