Many of us might enjoy a pleasant walk through the mountains this Spring.
Think lofty views. cool breezes. Getting back to nature.
That’s not exactly what two Blackshear men are preparing for, however.
Scotty Hayes and Jonathan Daniels are in training now to run a 100-mile section of the Appalachian Trail this month — a feat they narrowly missed last year. Their goal has many of their friends supporting, but also calling them crazy.
The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world at approximately 2,190 miles with an elevation gain/loss of 464,500 feet throughout. The Trail, known simply as the AT within the hiking community, crosses 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin, Maine.
Locals may have seen Hayes and Daniels running miles through town in recent weeks. They’ve been training since November to run the AT from Albert Mountain, N.C. to Springer Mountain.
Hayes and Daniels will take up the 100-mile challenge May 17-18, endeavoring to complete it in 36 hours without stopping.
“Most people don’t like running. We’re the weirdos who love it!” Daniels says with a laugh. “It’s a nice escape from everything else, a nice getaway.”
Hayes agrees running is fun, but not necessarily during the grueling training period.
“It’s secondary fun. It’s fun afterwards,” he explains.
Hayes, minister of students at Emmanuel Baptist, and Daniels connected through the church and teamed up to run together about seven years ago, but running has been a lifestyle for both men since they were kids.
“I’ve been running as long as I can remember,” Daniels says.
Hayes recalls participating in one-mile fun runs at Blackshear’s Pecan Festival as a kid and learning running technique from a middle school coach. Both guys ran track and cross-country for school teams.
After running races and competing in triathlons for a while, the men decided to try something different.
“We got the idea to see instead of how fast we could go, how far we could go,” Daniels says.
Three years ago they completed a 50K race through Cloudland Canyon, a state park in northwest Georgia, in cold, icy weather. The event boosted their confidence.
Hayes and Daniels tackled the Appalachian Trail for the first time last May and made it 80 miles before succumbing to inclement weather — a rookie mistake they now claim.
Their truck with all the needed supplies to keep going was just eight miles away when the men, freezing from running in pouring rain, gave up and tried to find shelter on the mountain. A fellow hiker lent them a tarp and they fashioned a makeshift tent.
“It was the worst night of our lives,” Hayes recalls.
They didn’t warm up or get any sleep. As soon as daylight broke the men headed for their truck.
Hayes and Daniels joke that they’ve blocked out some of the trauma from that trip, but they do recall a close call with a bear. Near the end of their run, Hayes says the exhaustion was so strong he fell asleep once while only leaning on his hiking poles.
In spite of all that, they’re both excited to go back this year.
The guys started training a couple months earlier for their second attempt and are incorporating cross training for strength and endurance. They run over the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Glynn County and frequent the trails at Laura S. Walker State Park. They intend to run every inch of city street in Blackshear before heading back to the AT, too.
Hayes and Daniels prefer cross-country runs because of the beautiful scenery — even if the terrain is more challenging.
“You can run and it doesn’t hurt as bad because you’re not just pounding the cement,” Hayes says. “And, people go hiking this stuff just to look at it.”
Gatorade and bananas keep them going when their bodies start to crash, but the men each bring unique qualities to their partnership that keep them pressing on for the long haul.
Daniels brings running technique and expert training knowledge to their daily routine while Hayes supplies will-power and stubborn determination to move forward.
In four months they’ll need all of that, and more, to successfully complete their 100-mile AT trek.
That, plus they hope to see no more bears.