Trail running for the trails
As a seventh-grader in Indiana, Brian Stark, not only lost, but came in last, every race he entered in track and field. Instead of being deterred and accepting that maybe running just wasn’t his sport, Stark created a running regimen.
He knew running was going to be part of his life. In elementary school he’d beg teachers to challenge how far he could go — around that tree, then to the fence. The longer he went the more he liked it. He hadn’t expected to lose when he signed up for 7th grade track.
So he created a year-round training program running farther each week.
When 8th grade track and field started, no one could beat him.
Now 40, and living in Arizona, Stark is running across Wyoming this week to help raise awareness for the historic trail systems that crisscross the state, including the Oregon Trail, which he’s following — or at least attempting to follow.
When he started, near where the trail crosses into Wyoming from Nebraska, he found the granite marker signifying the trail, but all around was head-high corn and no path. So he started his journey running country roads.
Using running as a form of sightseeing and travel began when Stark graduated college. Suffering through studies and tests, he made a deal with himself once he graduated he’d hike the Appalachian Trail. He bought a map and hung it in his dorm room where he could look to it whenever he needed motivation. He finally hiked the Appalachian, and he loved the trip so much he wondered, why not see more of the country on foot? A few years later, he ran from Delaware to California following the American Discovery Trail.
Years later he’d still never been to Wyoming, so when planning his next running adventure he decided he’d run across the state. Stark is hoping to become the first person in modern time to cross all 50 states on foot. When finished, Wyoming will be his 29th state. He plans to cover about 40 miles, finishing the about 500 mile trip in 13 days on Sept. 14.
His first few days pitted him against the elements, 94 degrees Fahrenheit and a stiff Wyoming wind made for slow going 12-hour days. It is always a shock to the system when he starts a long run, but luckily Stark’s never dealt with stomach issues or blisters so his body quickly settles into a routine.
His days on the trail typically start by 7 a.m. so he can slow his pace by mid-day in the heat, sometimes even walking a bit. A support vehicle, driven by a friend, meets him every few miles giving him water refills, or energy supplement shakes he drinks throughout the day. He eats four freeze dried dinners at a hotel or in a campground at night.
A few people ask his friend, who is often stopped on the side of the road waiting for Stark, if he’s alright. When he tells them he’s fine, he’s just helping his friend run across Wyoming, they simply nod and move on. In other states that line usually generates a conversation, Stark said.
Most don’t comment when Stark stops at gas stations in his alien costume of bright yellow shoes, hydration pack and waist pack laden with energy drinks. When people do ask what he’s doing he takes a moment to talk about the trails, but he doesn’t go door-to-door to push his message. Approaching a home, even for directions, can be nerve-wracking in Wyoming, he said. When looking for advice on where the trail picked up he approached a home with a sign on a cattle guard saying trespassers will be shot and survivors shot again. For emphasis, among the fake bullet holes on the sign were a few real ones.
Stark kept running.
He’s not against energy development, but he loves being on the trail and imagining he’s back 100 years in time, a sense that will be lost with development in the view sheds.
In just one morning on the trail he saw about 80 pronghorn, wide open views that seemed to go forever and an abandoned action figure wearing shoes just like his.
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at email@example.com.
If you enjoyed this story and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.