Two American veterans are organizing what promises to be one of the most ambitious and unique thru-hikes ever and you could get the chance to go along, provided you’re up for a long walk in a vast wilderness. Dubbed Push Beyond 2020 (Great Western Loop), the goal of the project is to bring together groups of experienced and dedicated backpackers to take on the Great Western Loop, a series of interconnected trails that covers more than 6875 miles (11,064 km) across the American West.
Originally conceived of—and first hiked—by Andrew Skurka, the Great Western Loop connects some of the most famous and iconic trails in all of North America. That list includes the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Arizona Trail, and the Pacific Northwest Trail.
The route passes through the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades, and the Sierras, while wandering through 12 national parks and 75 wilderness areas. It has only ever been completely hiked in a single year by two people, Skurka being one of them. The Push Beyond 2020 squad hopes to change that.
The Push Beyond project is the brainchild of two American veterans who connected with one another through long-distance hiking. Trey Cate was a soldier serving in Iraq when he was injured in an attack involving an improvised explosive device, sniper fire, and exploding gas cans.
Doctors said he’d never walk again, but determined to continue living his life to the fullest, he has since not only regained the use of his legs, but has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the PCT. He met a former Marine named Jeremy McDonald, and the two hit it off famously, hatching the idea for creating a 12-person team to walk the Great Western Loop in 2020.
The idea behind the project is to split the group into four smaller teams who will hike the GWL together. Their goal is to cover the entire 6875-mile distance in just 304 days, which equates to about 22.6 miles (36.3 km) of hiking each and every day.
That’s a pretty hefty paces considering the terrain is rugged, mountainous, and quite demanding at times. Still, the plan is to get started in Cuba, New Mexico in March with seven men and five women making up the initial squad. There are also a host of alternate hikers waiting in the wings in case they need to be called upon, with applications still being accepted for others to join the crew.
Cate and McDonald aren’t taking this undertaking lightly. The goal is to not just hike the Great Western Loop, but to also raise money for charity along the way. But they’ve also turned this into a major marketing push, raising $250,000 to organize the hike and help spread the word. They’ve been pretty successful in that mission so far, as they caught the attention of Outside magazine recently, with a story published about project and its goals. You can read that article here.
This is a pretty interesting and unique undertaking to say the least. The GWL is a massive thru-hike and I’ve never heard of anyone organizing teams like this to take it on before. Plus, a $250,000 budget is impressive in and of itself. Considering what most thru-hikers spend on a long-distance hike, that seems like a lot of cash. Of course, the goals are much bigger than just completing a massive hiking route, so it should be fun to watch this unfold. You can find out more on the Push Beyond 2020 website.