December 17, 2018
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Penobscot Nation elder runs 100-Mile Wilderness in under 48 hours

It seemed impossible to hike through Maine’s rugged and remote 100-Mile Wilderness in less than 48 hours, but that’s why the challenge appealed to Barry Dana, 59, of Solon former Chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation. Whether he attained the goal or not, the endeavor would push him to the edge of his limits — mentally, spiritually and physically.

When Barry Dana read about the challenge online about four years ago, he thought, “100 Miles. OK, well, that’s too far, so that’s a problem. And there are too many mountains in the middle — too many — so that’s another problem. But wouldn’t it be cool some day?”

It took years of planning and training, learning the trail and even changing his diet, but this October Barry Dana was ready.

“I’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle,” he said, “so why not try it?”

[82-year-old man becomes oldest person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail]

On Oct. 8, Barry Dana completed the 100 miles. Following the Appalachian Trail, he traversed two major mountain ranges and kept up a quick pace through two nights and days. His time: 45 hours and 35 minutes.

“My thoughts as we finished … I never want to feel like this again,” he said.

The 100-Mile Wilderness is the most remote stretch of the AT, spanning from Monson to the edge of Baxter State Park. This section of trail doesn’t cross any major roads or pass by any towns or places to resupply. It does, however, cross over woods roads, which are used mainly by logging trucks but also allow a way for hikers to receive supply drops. Typically, hikers cover the distance in about a week, and a sign at both ends of the 100-Mile Wilderness section encourages hikers to carry at enough food for at least 10 days.

The monumental challenge to hike this section of the AT in fewer than two days was drummed up by the southern Maine group Trail Monsters in 2011. That year, a dozen runners set out to complete the 100-Mile Wilderness in less than 48 hours, and just four of those runners — Ryan Welts, Adam Wilcox, Hogan Marquis and Joe Wrobleski — made it to the finish in the allotted time. Barry Dana read about their undertaking online, and he was hooked.

[Finding the trail in the 100-Mile Wilderness]

“I was like, anyone who has a thought in their brain that they can’t get rid of,” Barry Dana said. “You ask yourself, do I have it? Am I capable of doing something that’s really on the outer edge of anything I’ve ever done? Then you start planning it out and think, wait a minute, maybe I can do this.”

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy keeps no official record of speed hikes or challenges on sections of the trail. However, on the online forum for the 100-Mile Wilderness at fastestknowntime.proboards.com, a dozen people have reported successfully completing this particular challenge, including the four runners from Trail Monsters in 2011. In recognition of Barry Dana’s accomplishment, the Trail Monsters sent him a finisher’s belt buckle, which displays the Trail Monster logo and the words “Maine 100 Mile Wilderness Run.”

Barry Dana is no stranger to long-distance endeavors. A Penobscot Elder — which is tribal members ages 55 and older — he regularly participates in Katahdin 100, the Penobscot Indian Nation’s 100-mile spiritual run and paddle from Indian Island to Katahdin organized each Labor Day. Dana also has competed in the 50-mile off-road race at the Pineland Trail Running Festival in New Gloucester. And at the beginning of September, he hiked from Mount Washington to Katahdin, 261 miles on the Appalachian Trail, in eight days in honor of his late uncle Cliff Phillips, who died in a plane crash on Mount Washington in 1969.

[With a 25-pound pack, Joe McConaughy breaks Appalachian Trail speed record]

“It’s really a part of our genetic code,” Barry Dana said of why he thinks people undertake long-distance journeys. “It’s coded in people, all cultures. But as a Penobscot, I’ve grown up hearing stories where our hunters would actually run down deer and moose and caribou. … They’d pick out an animal and literally run it to death. … It’s just in our blood.”

To hike Maine’s famous 100-Mile Wilderness in under 48 hours, Barry Dana started in Monson at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6. While that may seem odd to start at a late hour, it actually didn’t matter, considering he would have to hike through two nights regardless of what time he started the trail. Following the white blazes of the AT north for 15 hilly miles, he came to his first big obstacle, the Barren-Chairback Range, in the dark. The mountain range includes five major peaks: Barren, Fourth, Third, Columbus and Chairback mountains, all topping off more than 2,000 feet above sea level, and the trail travels over the top of every single one.

“One can not just head off and start running to do 100 miles straight,” Barry Dana explained. “You need to rest at intervals, food, water, change of clothing, and so many little things that if are not on hand can become big things. This is where the crew become lifesavers.”

Following his progress north, Barry Dana had a crew of three: his wife, Lori Dana, and two friends, Barbara Daggett and Roger Johnstone, all experienced long-distance runners.

“I’d come off the trail in the rain, and there they were at the truck hanging out under a canopy, stove going with hot water and coffee, seat out, dry clothes and a whole lot of encouraging words,” Barry Dana said.

Each had a role to play.

“[Lori] knows the trail, she knows me, she knows how to keep me going,” Dana said.

Johnstone was invaluable in his ability to navigate the confusing network of woods roads that lead to the Appalachian Trail’s few road crossings in the 100-Mile Wilderness. And both Johnstone and Daggett ran sections of the trail with Barry Dana when he needed their company and encouragement the most.

“We were a team,” Barry Dana said. “In no way could this time of 45 have been reached had it not been for the love, support and total giving of these three.”

After speed-hiking over the Barren-Chairback Range, Barry Dana waded across the West Branch of the Pleasant River, then continued north, following Gulf Hagas Brook to the start of the next lineup of mountains: Gulf Hagas Mountain, West Peak, Hay Mountain, White Cap Mountain, then down to cross the East Branch of Pleasant River and hike over Little Boardman Mountain.

Barry Dana was 62 miles into the journey when he felt like he might not make it. A leg injury had slowed his progress to a crawl when he arrived at his crew’s makeshift camp on the side of the road and took a seat. Lori Dana covered him a wool blanket, and he fell into a dreamless sleep.

“I felt as though I had just closed my eyes when Lori was waking me up,” Barry Dana recalled. “I [had] slept for 30 minutes.”

Lori Dana handed him a plate of eggs, moose sausage and cheese, and as he ate, she got to work massaging his shin, releasing the tension in his leg.

“If I stopped here, I was OK with failure because me and these three people gave it our all,” Barry Dana said. “What more can one ask for?”

“At the age of 59, if you fail, you’ve achieved that understanding of what failure means,” he added. “It means you’ve done everything you can and you can’t do any more.”

Revived with the meal, nap, and encouraging words, Dana wanted to see if he could bounce back. It was just 3 miles to the next road crossing. The short distance would be a good test of whether he could continue.

“I picked up the pace,” Barry Dana said. “Speed is relative, but I knew I was moving. It felt great. In 48 minutes, I saw headlamps of the gang. They were high-fiving, knowing I was moving good.”

After crossing the road, he had a 14-mile stretch before he’d see the crew again, and that’s when the exhaustion started to play tricks on his mind.

“Mile after mile came and went,” he said. “I was starting to have hallucinations, very subtle. Rocks I needed to step on perfectly were moving, vibrating. I saw a wolf lying by the trail but its eyes did not reflect my light. It was there to give me oneness with the night world.”

“As the sun started rising, competing with the full moon, I started seeing camps, roof lines, windows, tents, people cooking around a fire, all not really there,” he said. “I saw them, and knew they were not real.”

He remembers hitting Nahmakanta Stream at sunrise.

“I saw two moose in the water,” Barry Dana said. “When I went by, [they] were really rocks.”

Next was a steep climb up and over Nesuntabunt Mountain.

“As I climbed, I was fighting falling asleep,” Barry Dana said. “This is not good for being on a mountain with hundred-foot cliffs. I was getting a slight panic going. Then, as if a prayer was being answered, it began to rain. It rained hard. I was waking up, feeling alive again.”

Descended to Pollywog Bridge, he met his crew and Daggett joined him for the final 18-mile stretch through the Nahmakanta Unit and Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area.

“It’s deeply spiritual,” Barry Dana said. “Even if you’re griping because you’ve stubbed your toe for the 18,000th time. At times like that, you dig so deep in yourself to keep going and pushing and knowing you’re not going to quit. … You are mentally totally digging into that spirit that you need to push you over the next foot, the next rock, the next hill.”

The sky was darkening as the two jogged over the Rainbow Ledges and headed downhill to the end at Abol Bridge. When they got there, Lori Dana and Johnstone were waiting.

“The sky was dark with stars shining,” Barry Dana said. “We had made it.”

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