Given that he’s already hiked the entirety of both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, it would seem that bagging the Continental Divide Trail — thereby completing the Triple Crown of long-distance through-hiking — this summer would be pretty much a done deal for Richard Jones.

But there is this mitigating factor: 

He’ll turn 80 somewhere in Wyoming.

You’ve got your goals and Richard has his, and his involve doing something fewer than 600 humans have done: hike each of America’s three storied and legendary long-distance hikes: the 2,650-mile PCT, the 2,180-mile AT and the 3,028-mile CDT.

It’s no small feat: 7,858 miles in total, 2.7 million feet of elevation gain (program that into your stair stepper), 22 states and more calories than you can possibly count or eat. (On each of his previous hikes Richard lost 40 pounds. He expects the same this time, which is why he’s allowed himself to put on a few extra going in.)

Those who complete all three hikes in their lifetime qualify for the Triple Crown of Hiking Award presented by the Western division of the American Long Distance Hiking Association. According to the ALDHA-West website, as of 2021 just 525 people had pulled off the feat. And no one whose age began with an 8.

To arrive at the cusp of the Triple Crown, Richard hiked the Pacific Crest in 2013 and the Appalachian in 2015, when he was a mere 70 and 72.

His plan was to do the Continental Divide — the longest and considered to be the toughest of the big three (the trail’s motto: “embrace the brutality”) — much earlier than this. 

But life got in the way. He built a new house. He started an online sock business. COVID-19 hit. The next thing he knew, he turned around and it was ... now.

Avid hiker Richard Jones poses for a portrait along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in the foothills above Salt Lake City on Monday, April 17, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

“I’m hopeful, but to be honest I don’t know if it’s going to happen, I really don’t. I’m anticipatory,” confessed Richard before flying to Tucson earlier this week. From there he took a greyhound to the little town of Lordsburg, New Mexico, and then a shuttle van the last 80 miles to the U.S.-Mexican border, where on Friday, April 28, he turned around and started walking north.

“I’m not as good as I was 10 years ago,” he said. “I have a knee that is weak; if I step wrong it will bother me.”

And did we mention the pacemaker doctors inserted in his chest a year ago, to keep his A-fib in check?

But he is not without his advantages, beginning with the muscle-memory acquired from a lifetime of doing this kind of thing — besides being a veteran of his previous long-distance treks, this is the same Richard Jones who solo-rowed the Atlantic Ocean in 2001 when he was 57. Plus, he’s trained harder than either of the previous hikes. And he knows he’s going to want to quit in the beginning but won’t.

“Within two or three days on the PCT I called Jodie (his wife) and said, ‘I can’t do this, come get me,’” he remembered. “She said just try a couple more days and see how you feel. The same thing happened after two or three weeks on the AT. I expect it will happen on the CDT. I’ll call and say, ‘come pick me up,’ and she’ll give me a pep talk, and then I’ll keep going.”

Finally, there’s his new pack.

During workouts at the gym this spring, and while on training hikes along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Richard strapped on a weighted vest that was evenly proportioned front and back. He found the equitable weight distribution translated to less wear and tear on his back and shoulders. That prompted him to invent a front-and-back pack of his own design (he sewed most of it himself in his basement.) He’ll wear the prototype on the Continental Divide, packed with the 30 pounds of food and gear he’ll be carrying.

 If it works well, “I’ll patent it,” he says.

At an average of 20 miles a day, it will take a little less than five months to get to the Canadian border that separates Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park. Getting there by mid-September is imperative to avoid early snowfall.

He’ll add bear spray to his pack when he gets near Yellowstone, aka grizzly country. One blast, at least in theory, and the bear will back off like it’s been tazed. 

“It’s nasty stuff,” said Richard. “The hope is it gets to him before he gets to you.”

Jodie plans to meet Richard from time to time, at junctures where the trail meets pavement. She’ll for sure drive out to see him on July 9. That’s the day Richard turns 80. If all goes well, he’ll have cleared the 700 miles through New Mexico by then and will be passing near Rawlins, Wyoming, or maybe Pinedale.

“I’ll be cheering him every step of the way,” said Jodie, who has a GPS app so she can follow her husband’s progress step by step, and who, by the way, never tried to talk him out of it.

“It’s Richard Jones,” she said, “what’re you gonna do?”