Fending off bears and dirt miles is the path for Lake Park native pursuing hiking history
Lake Park, Minn.
His dreadlocks cover his ears, but 25-year-old Lake Park, Minn., native Dan Binde can still hear people questioning when he's going to grow up, get a real job and stick to the straight and narrow.
Behind the scraggly hair spread across his chin, the kind eyes and childish smirk, is a hiker prepared for anything in his path. There's nothing straight and narrow about the nearly 13,000 miles he has hiked.
Binde's plan does not involve a 401k, a picket fence or anything down the usual road of life. His life involves no road, for it's off the beaten path.
Binde plans shelter in the wilderness when dark clouds surprise the blue sky. He plans what loud noises he'll use to fend off the charging black bear five feet from him. He plans the screams he'll make to scare off the eyes emerging in the darkness of the dead of night.
"I'm always looking ahead," Binde said. "I'm usually always thinking of my plan for what happens next. When you see eyes at night your mind goes in a million different directions."
Binde lives on the dirty miles.
"Getting used to being dirty all the time is probably the hardest thing," Binde said about hiking.
Binde, nicknamed "Knotts," claims he hiked the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia, in 53 days, 22 hours, 57 minutes. He said he hiked 18 hours a day, limiting his supplies to less than six pounds on his back.
During the final 1,500 miles of the trail, Binde had an infected ingrown toenail on his big toe. His finish would be a record for people who have done the trail without support, topping Heather Anderson's 54 days, 7 hours, 48 minutes in 2015.
Binde's time hasn't been verified because his GPS equipment malfunctioned, so several days were not tracked, including a 17-day period. Hiking times used to be based on a hiker's word, but now, with sponsorship and money on the line, there's tracking equipment to document.
Peter Bakwin is a longtime ultrarunner and former atmospheric physicist, who created the Fastest Known Time website to document times for trails and routes around the world.
"While we have no reason to doubt the claim, the verification materials provided are quite thin," Bakwin wrote in regards to Binde's claim.
Binde understands the confusion, but he sticks by his time.
"There's more rules that came out that I didn't see," Binde said. "I had GPS tracking, but my GPS broke, so a lot of unfortunate events that made it hard to piece together. It's really unfortunate because it's unverified, but nothing is ever really verified."
Debbie Binde always knew her son had energy. Working in grammar schools, she's well aware of what energy looks like. He used that energy in football, baseball and basketball at Lake Park-Audubon High School, graduating in 2010, eventually getting his associate's degree in landscaping from Minnesota State Community and Technical College.
Dan was the youngest of seven and the only boy of Debbie and her husband Dale, who she met at North Dakota State. Once a year, one of the children would pick a place in the country to visit. Dan was always the one asking his mother to take a picture of him near a cliff or doing something dangerous to get on her nerves.
"He's always had more energy than the average person. It seems like it's exploded with hiking," Debbie said, as she and Dale drove Dan to Minneapolis to fly out for his next hike. "I'm nervous for him, but I'm so happy for him because he's finding such joy and peace in what he's doing. You just bless them and pray that God be with them and send them on their way, knowing that God will meet them where they are."
At 16 years old, Dan went out to his aunt's bed and breakfast for a summer and discovered Glacier National Park in Montana. For six summers he visited his aunt, hiking for a couple days here and there. He learned lessons like when he nearly froze because he forgot the liner for his pack and everything on him was soaked after 16 hours of rain and sleet.
During one hike at Glacier National Park, Dan met a guy who told him about the Pacific Crest Trail. Dan didn't have anything to write on, so he wrote "Pacific Crest Trail" in the dirt and took a picture of it to remember. He tested the waters of his ability, hiking the 93-mile Wonderland Trail in Washington in seven days.
After that, at 22 years old, he was committed to the 2,654-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which is spread across California, Oregon and Washington.
"What can a mother do," Debbie said. "I encourage him because I know his heart is there and how passionate he is. In some ways, it's hard to encourage too much because you know the dangers. It's kind of a funny line you walk."
At 6 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 10, Dan flew to Reno, Nev., where his plan is to hitchhike to Bishop, Calif., to hit the Pacific Crest Trail. Dan is attempting to do the triple crown of hiking, which is made up of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails, in a calendar year.
He's already completed a triple crown, but never in a calendar year. He still has portions of the Pacific Crest and the Continental Divide, which is along the Rocky Mountains, spread across Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. In total, the triple crown is about 8,000 miles. Dan estimates if he is to stick with his plan and finish in December, he will have hiked for eight months of 2017.
"The more you hike the more your bucket list just keeps getting bigger," Dan said. "Maybe if I find a girlfriend, that'll take me to a normal lifestyle and off the trail. For now, that's where I'm rolling."