Grad completes Calendar Year Triple Crown

On Feb. 3, before the sun rose over Georgia, a former member of the Pittsburg State University track and field and cross country teams began his most physically demanding and daunting challenge yet. On Nov. 15, before the sun set at Mexican border, he finished it. 

Charlie finished vertical

Charlie Janssen (BSEd ‘12) wanted to become the 13th person — and the first PSU graduate — to complete the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, consecutively, in a calendar year. 

On Nov. 15, at 10:28 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, at the border of Mexico, he achieved his goal. 

Total length of the AT: 2,190 miles across 14 states, from Georgia to Maine.  

Total length of the PCT: 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington.  

Total length of the CDT: 3,100 miles from Canada back to Mexico, across five states along the spine of the Rocky Mountains.  

Combined miles: 7,940 in 285 days.   

He spent a couple of years pouring over maps and blogs and coming up with a strategy, but with only 12 people having achieved it, there was not a lot of first-hand data.  

“But I believe I can do it,” he said back in February. “I learned grit and tenacity running at Pitt State.” 

That belief was what mattered most — more than his carefully curated set of 45 items he packed in a Hyperlite Junction backpack (total weight: 22.28 pounds). More than the “trail magic” he came across (acts of generosity on the trail, from a candy bar to a ride into town to resupply). More than the weather he encountered (oppressive heat, gale force winds, thigh deep snow). 

“The mental fortitude I learned as a Pitt State athlete – that tenacity – is something I will take with me on the trail,” he said before beginning.   

Janssen, who described himself “as an average athlete at Pitt State,” was coached by legendary coach Russ Jewett, who retired in 2021. Janssen went on to become a cross country and track coach himself, as well as a history teacher for nine years in Girard and Russell, Kansas, and Gypsum, Colorado, before taking a sabbatical for this monumental undertaking. 

Charlie AT

Janssen starting the Appalachian Trail on Feb. 2

Logistics were challenging, from cell phones to permits. Illness and injuries also were challenging, from hip flexor issues to borderline hypothermia.  

“There isn’t much room for error,” said Janssen, who chose the trail name “Kansas Express.” 

With the help of his wife, Allie, he took about 500 fans along on his journey through daily posts and reports on his personal Facebook page and on a group page called “Where is Charlie Hiking Now?” 

Charlie PCT  

Janssen at the end of the Pacific Coast Trail on Aug. 13

Those fans saw wonderous sunrises and sunsets, wildlife, and weather.  

They went from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Mojave Desert.  

They watched as he discovered fossils and artifacts, like a piece of pre-Colombian pottery and a woman’s shoe circa 1885. 

They worried as they saw him cross unrelenting terrain, struggle with food poisoning, and encounter tarantulas and rattlesnakes. 

And then, when he posted a photo of himself at the southern terminous of the third and final trail, they began an outpouring of congratulations from across the U.S. and around the world. 

Charlie in snow Charlie CDT

“It’s pretty surreal to be done. Weirdly, though, I don’t feel very physically taxed,” said Janssen, who most days logged a marathon in mileage, on a car ride from Albuquerque, New Mexico, back to Kansas Wednesday. “Being in a car has been marginally uncomfortable, sitting for more than 30 minutes which is something I haven’t done for the past nine and a half months, and I have a mild feeling of claustrophobia.” 

What was the key to his success? 

“Determination, tenacity, stubbornness, stupidity,” he said. “Some days sucked. So cold, so uncomfortable. But it never crossed my mind that it wasn’t going to happen. I was so invested, had so much at stake. My wife went back to travel nursing for this. I quit my job teaching for this. Quitting was never an option. I was not going to throw in the towel. It was either finish or death.” 

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