“960 miles through some of Idaho’s most remote, wild, and scenic country,” is a simple way to describe the Idaho Centennial Trail. Since its creation in 1990, only a handful of people have completed a through-hike of the entire trail and many of them took months to do so. That’s where Andrija Barker and Taylor Neal come in, crazy (some might say) and ambitious. These Idaho-based runners are hoping to tame the trail in just 30 days pounding out 30-35 miles each day.
Sitting in a conference room with Andrija and Taylor, it’s clear to see why these two have been friends for more than a decade. After meeting while working at Bandana Running and Walking in downtown Boise, they have the kind of relationship where they finish each other’s sentences and prod each other like siblings. As we prepared for the interview, I found myself hoping to catch a bit of the entertaining duo’s infectious charisma. And entertaining is just the beginning of what they will have to be in order to survive the elements -and each other- on the ICT.
So how do you talk someone, even your best friend, into a challenge that has you pushing some serious mileage through primitive Idaho backcountry and that will likely push you well beyond what you think your body and mind can conquer?
I sat down with Andrija and Taylor to find out how they are preparing to hit the trail on July 31st for their epic adventure.
Q: How did you come up with the 30-day window to complete this trip?
A: Taylor – We are just super competitive and there has always been a goal, whether it’s to get to the top of the mountain by the end of the day and back down, or now, it’s to cross an entire state, north to south, in 30 days, we want to make sure we do it.
This trip will take Andrija, 35, and Taylor, 30, from the Idaho-British Columbia border all the way down to Murphy Hot Springs on the Idaho-Nevada border. Traditionally, those who do the whole trail complete it going south to north, but Andrija and Taylor picked the opposite route in hopes of avoiding late forest fires and other weather hazards.
This trek will take the duo across six major river canyons, dense cedar forests, alpine meadows, sagebrush desert, and up numerous steep climbs. The runners are likely to encounter numerous unknown obstacles along way.
Q: How do you prepare for a 30-day run with such diverse terrain?
A: Taylor – Preparing for steep grades… and getting your mind right.
Andrija- Your mind will give up a thousand times before your body, so just really planning mentally, I think is more important, at least for me, than the physical part. It’s making sure that 15 days in, when we know our bodies are going to be hurting and we’ve climbed another mountain when we thought we were going to have dinner two mountains ago and we still have to go over two more, just knowing that this is what we signed up for.
Keep in mind the training process for Andrija and Taylor has been a lifelong love. Both of these runners have done numerous endurance challenges and “ultra” events and a six-hour Sunday afternoon run is something both Andrija and Taylor enjoy. In fact, to test their “mental game” together, these friends recently took a trip to Iceland that forced them to be in a van almost 24-7 as they traveled. Andrija said it tested their friendship the same way it will be tested on the trail and that amount of time together can definitely make or break any relationship.
Q: Do you have a code word if one of you really needs a boost?
A: Taylor -We know we can push each other because we are competitive enough. I’m not afraid of making her mad in order to keep her going. But we have more of a code phrase like “maybe you should be like five minutes ahead of me right now”, it also allows a bit of space.
On this run, planning is serious business. The backcountry aspect of the Idaho Centennial Trail means the pair will depend on strategic meetups with family and friends and even mail drops at backcountry airstrips in order to get supplies. The packs they will use in the most remote section of the trail in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Bitterroot Mountains will not weigh more than 15 pounds with water, chews, and a sleeping bag in tow. Andrija and Taylor plan to consume close to 8,000 calories a day in order to not lose weight, something they say will be a little bit of a battle. They hope they’ll meet a few friends along the trail who will help keep their calorie counts up. “A lot of relying on the goodwill of people, but we will plan on none of it,” said Andrija. Taylor was quick to follow up with, “But if they offer us a meal and a beer, we will take it!”
Besides the battle for calories, these runners will also need an ample supply of shoes. Each of them will roughly go through six to nine pairs of shoes running the rough and rugged terrain. Saucony is a gear sponsor of the duo and will outfit them for the duration of the trip.
Even though these runners have spent the last year meticulously planning this trip, there are still unknowns they can’t account for until their feet hit the dirt.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge that lies ahead of you?
A: Taylor -I think the biggest challenge for both of us is navigation, not because we don’t have any clue how to do it, but the trail is… it’s really remote, I think we both have good sense of direction, but there’s a lot of trails, there’s a lot of forks, there’s a lot of places where there have been fires, and stuff is just grown over because it’s just so remote people don’t go on it. I think that’s what we are most concerned about. We don’t have a ton of room for error.
Andrija – You could get behind by a day or two so quickly by taking the wrong turn.
The pair has spent countless hours learning as much about the trail as possible. In addition, they will wear GPS monitors that will show their location on the trail every step of the way, allowing family, friends and anyone else who’s interested to track their every move for all 900+ miles.
Q: At the end of these 30 days on the Idaho Centennial Trail what do you hope others will have learned from your experience?
A: Andrija -Number 1, at a base level, I hope that people that live in Idaho…anybody who just doesn’t know a whole lot about our state, I hope their view is expanded in a new way; that they see this amazing country that we have and how diverse it is across the entire state… that’s the main thing. Then I think that next tier, to me, is just that more people go out and experience it…. And then I think my top tier is that I hope people (Idahoans) really start ingraining themselves in these (Idaho) experiences and people who aren’t from here come and want to experience this super cool trail that Idaho has, and this awesome experience that Idaho is – period. It doesn’t even have to be on the trail.
With this epic adventure just around the corner, both Andrija and Taylor say they are ready to enjoy every minute of the experience. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
“I’m going to want to punch [Taylor] in the face and I’m going to want to jump off a cliff and I’m going to sit down on the trail, which he’ll probably record on a GoPro, and I’ll cry and be like, I just want to go home, see my dogs, and I’m going to love every moment of that, in the aftermath,” Andrija said.
Taylor echoed a similar sentiment, “Part of the thing that’s keeping me going is when people say there are less than 10 people that have finished this entire trail in a through-hike. And I think that we are trying to push so hard and make decisions quick, but also the fact that we’ve been planning for over a year. We’ve planned a lot, we know there’s going to be tough parts, but I’m excited for all those.”
Andrija and Taylor hit the trail July 31st and plan to be done by August 30. If you’re interested in following their journey, you can track their adventures on Instagram. You can also follow their real-time ICT travels by checking out their Facebook page.
You may meet up with Taylor and Andrija during their journey and learn more about the Idaho Centennial Trail during their trail party on August 19th – 21st in Stanley. For more information on the meet up, click here.
Curious if Andrija and Taylor made it? Did they get lost? Did they meet their 30-day deadline? Find out what happened in part two of this story.
Published on July 28, 2016