You can hear the wind gusting on the other end of the phone. The sound is akin to a pugilist's body blows accompanied by bear growls. Shhboomgrrrbamgrrwooshhpow. Then it subsides, and Jason Dorgan's voice is audible again.
It is about noon on Monday, April 23, the 10th day of his quest to become the first person to run the length of the Ice Age Trail in the span of 22 or 23 consecutive days. Fewer than 20 people are known to have dedicated a single effort to hiking the trail, which winds from St. Croix Falls, near the Twin Cities, down to Janesville, then up to Door County. None has done so in less than five weeks.
"We're just outside Antigo," says Dorgan, 41, who once ran four 100-mile races in a span of three months. "We" includes his support crew. Friends are splitting duties in the car, ferrying food and other supplies to trail crossings and spots along road segments. "I just had some chicken noodle soup," he adds.
So far today, Dorgan has run about 20 miles and walked between five and 10 more. The Madison engineer and ultramarathoner hopes to log another 20 or 25 miles before stopping for the night at the Dells of the Eau Claire River. That would put him about 435 miles into the 1,079-mile effort. He expects to be running Dane County's Ice Age Trail segments and connecting roads this weekend.
But at the moment, he is walking. "You can't physically run 1,000 miles," Dorgan explains over the phone, between gusts.
As a veteran of California's 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, he speaks with authority. The ne plus ultra of extreme distance running starts in Death Valley at 280 feet below sea level and climbs over three mountain ranges en route to the finish, at 8,360 feet, on the flanks of Mount Whitney. Peak race-day temperatures can approach 130 degrees. Dorgan finished the 2005 edition in 15th place, clocking a few minutes under 38 hours.
After the Badwater experience, Dorgan conceived this undertaking as his next great personal challenge - but also as a means to draw attention to the Ice Age Trail, generate donations toward its completion (more than 600 miles are now finished) and boost membership in the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation. "It got stuck in my head, so I had to do it," he says.
He took the first stride a little after 7:30 a.m. Saturday, April 14, departing from Interstate State Park near St. Croix Falls. He is averaging about 45 miles per day and hopes to finish May 5 or 6 at Potawatomi State Park in Door County, after traversing about 620 miles of established Ice Age Trail segments and 460 miles of connecting roads.
Dorgan is wearing a pair of Nike Pegasus running shoes, and carries a Camelbak pack filled with water, salt tablets ("in case it gets hot out"), energy bars and gels, amino acid tablets and other fuel. He also consumes Gatorade, Mountain Dew and generic nutrition shakes. "Every hour, hour and a half, I'm taking something in," he says.
He figures he is burning about 6,000 calories per day. "I try to get a really big dinner," Dorgan adds, to make up most of the deficit.
He finds sleeping accommodations at hotels along the route. "The first few nights it was a little tough," Dorgan allows. Muscle soreness woke him up. He has also endured tendinitis in both ankles, along with blisters. Ice baths have helped reduce the aches, he says, and "Ibuprofen has been wonderful. Overall, I've been happy with how I've slept." Rest and recovery are essential for such relentless physical exertion.
There is also the mental challenge. He tries to avoid thinking in terms of 1,079 miles. "You've got to break it down," Dorgan says. He focuses on running 20 or 25 miles in the morning, then divides his afternoons into five-mile segments.
"A few days ago I didn't know if I could finish," Dorgan admits. "I still don't know if I can finish, but I'm feeling better about it." The rising confidence is audible in his voice, and legible between the lines of his daily blog postings at blog.iceagetrail1000.com.
The experience is not all struggle and challenge, Dorgan notes. High points so far include "seeing a lot of new trail and having people come out" to run alongside him. He looks forward to having friends turn out to run with him on stretches of Ice Age Trail in Dane and neighboring counties this weekend, when he expects to traverse the Lodi Marsh, Indian Lake, Badger State Trail and Brooklyn segments.
As the weekend approaches, runners interested in joining him on the trail can check his blog for updates on his progress. "If people would like to come out and run with us," he says, "that would be great."