There’s a saying among the hiking community that “ounces add up to pounds,” in reference to gear they’re carrying.
Retired Juneau lawyer Jeff Sauer knows all about that. He also knows that steps add up to miles, and for him, those add up to more than 7,500 miles across the country’s three most renowned trails: the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails.
This summer, Sauer became one of just under 400 certified hikers to complete all three trails, which he’s done over a span of more than 30 years. Each of the trails is longer than 2,000 miles, he said, and he’s walked with numerous people, including friends, strangers and his wife Theresa Svancara.
He’s picked up wisdom along the way, from how to pack lightly to how to mentally and physically prepare for the treks — and the tumbles.
“Everybody falls down,” Sauer said. “If you’re going to walk 2,000 miles, you’re going to trip over something and fall down. It’s inevitable.”
Sauer will share some of that wisdom at the Juneau Audubon Society’s meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Alaska Southeast. He believes he’s the first person in Juneau to hike all three trails — known as the Triple Crown.
The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West tracks the names of those who have done it but does not track demographic information, ALDHA-West Secretary Kate Hoch said. She said there are at least a couple others from Alaska, but the organization doesn’t have a record of exactly who.
Sauer’s trek began in 1985, when he was 30 and quit his job as a public defender in Kenai with an eye on finishing the Pacific Crest Trail. The Tides, a publication in Kenai, wrote a story about his ambitious goal of hiking the whole trail that summer.
“I sat down with the paper there, which I was a little apprehensive about, because this was before I hiked,” Sauer remembers. “Like, ‘Geez, what if I completely bomb out?’”
That didn’t end up being a problem. He did the whole 2,600 miles or so of the trail that summer, and then came back to Alaska to continue his law career.
In the early 2000s, Sauer began hiking the Continental Divide Trail in sections. Sauer then hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 2010 before hitting the CDT hard starting in 2014. He’s returned to the CDT every year since then, finishing the final 400 miles this summer. Svancara did more than 1,000 miles of the CDT alongside her husband.
The Juneau hiking community is extremely active, and Sauer said he’s far from the only one who has undertaken these long hikes.
In fact, it might not be long before another Juneauite completes the Triple Crown. Pat Murphy is 646 miles away from joining Sauer.
Murphy’s interest in long-distance hiking began with a National Geographic article in 1970. He and his wife Anne have hiked all over the world, but he didn’t start on the Triple Crown until 1997. Murphy, 75, has been walking sections of the trails since then with Anne and with their son Erik Lindbeck.
Murphy hasn’t been able to hike for the past couple years, but hopes to return to the CDT next summer.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Murphy said of Sauer finishing the Triple Crown. “It’s a pretty cool thing.”
Sauer and Murphy can tell stories for hours about their adventures on the trails. There was a time in Wyoming when Murphy was out of water and happened to run into a man on horseback herding sheep who gave him water. There was a time on the Appalachian Trail when one of Sauer’s friends fell in a river and Sauer and another friend took an extra second to take a photograph of the fallen friend before helping him out.
The Appalachian Trail has become incredibly popular among hikers young and old, Sauer said.
“It’s like a college dorm moving 20 miles a day,” Sauer said.
Other memorable moments came when Sauer was all on his own. He remembered a spring day on the Appalachian Trail when he came to a point where flower petals covered the trail ahead of him. He stopped in his tracks, taken by the beauty of what was in front of him.
He ended up taking a couple steps off the trail and walking around, not wanting to disturb the scene. Moments like that are some of the more meaningful memories, he said.
“There’s just this freedom of being out there, self-contained, getting away from all the distraction and noisiness of the world and just walking,” Sauer said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.