“[It] was to be one of the most challenging events of physical, mental, and spiritual awareness. It would make or break me. It could test me, but also, at any given point, take my life.”—Barry Dana
The idea to run the 100-Mile Wilderness section of Maine’s Appalachian Trail in under 48 hours didn’t come about because of any contest. It was not a contest. For Barry Dana, it was a test of his own journey to push to the edge of his own limits and grow by it, attaining the goal or not.
The 59-year-old Dana first heard of the challenge through a southern Maine trail running group, the Trail Monsters. Dana read about it on their website years ago, and it had nagged at his conscience since.
This past October, Dana successfully met his goal, completing the remote section of the AT in 45 hours, 35 minutes. For reference, it takes many AT thru-hikers over a week to hike this section of the trail.
“My daily mantra is, ‘Be prepared at any given moment to do any given thing,’” said Dana. “If you want to do something, get up and go do it. Don’t just think on it, be in the right shape and frame of mind to do it.”
Dana, the former chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation, is no stranger to endurance events. He’s a regular participant in the Katahdin 100, a non-competitive Native American spiritual event involving a 100-mile trek by canoe, bike, and foot to Mount Katahdin. And just last September, he completed a hike from Mt. Washington to Mt. Katahdin, an eight-day, 261-mile journey to honor his late uncle, Cliff Phillips.
“I had heard so many stories growing up, of how our elders would snowshoe from Indian Island to Lincoln Island before supper,” he said. “How they would run down a deer or moose to kill it, for there was honor in doing so. It was a very spiritual experience, and they kept fit to go at any time, any distance.”
With that background behind him, he knew that changes he had made since a “heart incident” about six years ago could benefit him in this new challenge. He and his wife, Lori, had changed their diet to incorporate more natural foods and had eliminated refined foods, unhealthy sugars and carbs. He began to gain new strength and found that his heart had returned to a healthy place.
He was assisted on the trail by Lori and two friends, Barbara Daggett and Roger Johnstone, both accomplished hikers and long distance runners who knew the route. The two ran segments of the trail when he needed their company and strength to keep going.
Dana began his journey around 9 p.m. in Monson, knowing he’d have to hike through two nights of darkness to complete his quest.
“When we came to Barren-Chairback Range, we were in the dark,” said Dana. “On the map, the range shows Barren, Fourth, Third, Columbus, and Chairback mountains, all more than 2,000 feet above sea level with the trail traveling over each one. In the dark, any wrong move could mean death.”
With a headlamp in place to pierce the dark, he said he started to feel “done in” around mile 62. At the designated meeting point, his crew was waiting for him with a fire, food, warm clothes, and encouraging words. Tired and soaked from rain, Dana rested and ate butter-fried eggs and moose sausage while Lori went to work on his painful knee.
“She drove her knuckles right into it and nearly rolled my eyes back in my head,” he said, “but it was the right fix.”
Dana pushed ahead. With the miles beginning to blend together, sleep deprivation started setting in.
“I tried to be one with the trail and fight off the need to sleep,” he said. “These boulders and rocks were moving. At one point I thought I got turned around and it freaked me out. I backtracked and said okay, I’m where I should be. The night was breaking dawn, but the moon and sun were casting shadows and I knew I saw a wolf, but it was a stump. The shadows turned into lean-tos. I saw two beautiful moose near sunrise, only— [he laughed]—they weren’t there.”
An almost deadly climb came at Nesuntabunt Mountain.
“I was falling asleep on my feet, and the cliff had an over 200-foot drop in places,” he said. “Not a good place to fall asleep! I felt a slight panic as I stepped out onto a rock face that was slick as ice and to my right was nothing but a long drop, straight down. As if in answer to my prayer, it began to rain as I grabbed for a branch and went into the tree area and told myself, ‘I got this.’”
At Pollywog Bridge, Daggett rejoined him for the last few miles of the trip. She kept just ahead of Dana as if an invisible tether were holding them together, helping him to push hard forward.
“The blisters on my feet were bringing waves of tremendous pain, and I could barely move,” he said. “All I could think was ‘move, move.’”
The two ended at Abol Bridge where Lori and Johnstone were waiting for them, just over 45 hours after Dana had began the trail.
For his accomplishment, the Trail Monsters presented Dana with their logo belt buckle that carries the words, “Maine 100-Mile Wilderness Run.” When asked if he would do the arduous journey again, Dana was reflective but positive.
“It was not easy, but even my lows were not that bad. I was so peaceful. I can live with having done it once, and I’m okay with it. Talking about it, it’s like reliving those feelings all over again.”
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