Runner crossing U.S. one stride at a time

Across the Country: Tuscon native Brian Stark, 41, runs along the Pere Marquette Trail in Reed City on Thursday to reach a break point at the Reed City Depot. Stark has been running across Wisconsin and Michigan to further reach his goal of running through all 50 states. After staying the night in Baldwin, he continued onward through Lake and Osceola counties. His ending point will be in Bay City. (Herald Review photo/Karin Armbruster)
Across the Country: Tuscon native Brian Stark, 41, runs along the Pere Marquette Trail in Reed City on Thursday to reach a break point at the Reed City Depot. Stark has been running across Wisconsin and Michigan to further reach his goal of running through all 50 states. After staying the night in Baldwin, he continued onward through Lake and Osceola counties. His ending point will be in Bay City. (Herald Review photo/Karin Armbruster)

REED CITY — For more than a decade, 41-year-old Tuscon, Ariz. resident Brian Stark has been attempting to cross all of the states in the U.S. on foot.

This week, he traveled through Wisconsin and Michigan, marking his 30th and 31st states. On Thursday and Friday, Stark crossed Lake and Osceola counties along the Pere Marquette Trail.

The goal of hitting all 50 states began after he trekked thousands of miles as a gift to himself after graduating from college in 1995.

“I hiked the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, which is 2,000 miles, and I knocked out a bunch of states,” Stark said. “This whole goal thing wasn’t on my radar until recently. I just wanted to do a long hike.”

After the trip, he became a teacher in Indiana and decided to do another long trip. To train, he would run to and from his workplace carrying a 10-pound pack. Once he felt he was ready, he began.

“I started in Delaware in March of 1998 and ran 5,000 miles across the country on a collection of trails called The American Discovery Trail. I think I’m the first person who’s done it on foot,” he said. “I started in California, just north of San Francisco, I went through 12 pairs of shoes and I slept in all kinds of places.”

Since he was a child, running has always been in Brian Stark’s blood.

“I’ve always been good at endurance. I remember in third grade asking the teacher to make me run laps around the playground because I liked it. That was probably an indication of what was to come,” he said laughing.

When crossing thousands of miles, Stark makes sure he is prepared and flexible for whatever may happen. He carries a water pack, electrolyte tablets, energy powder to mix with water and one change of clothes. For entertainment and documentation of his trips, he has a GoPro camera strapped to his chest, a smartphone and a pair of headphones.

During his trip, he uploads photos and provides updates to his Facebook page and YouTube. At times, sponsors help equip him with the necessities. Campaigns from Kickstarter, an online funding platform, also have helped him complete his goals.

Local residents have become a large part of his travels, and many times will assist him along the way by providing food, water and a safe resting place.

“I really have depended on the kindness of strangers up to this point. If I run out of water my first tactic is to find a town if there is one nearby. If not, I’ll go to a farm house. Really, people are quite helpful,” Stark said.

In addition, the publicity he receives attracts people who ask for photos and autographs, which he enjoys and is happy to oblige.

“It’s incredible. When I started, I was out there plodding along, no one ever heard of me and no one knew what was going on,” he added. “Now, I’m at the point where I’m meeting people and people are calling me to ask questions. It’s kind of fun.”

While even a seasoned runner becomes tired, sore and ready to give up after thousands of miles, Stark said his body still finds the ability to begin again each day through the aches and pains.

“I don’t know how it works, I can’t describe it,” he said. “I’ll have some days where I almost can’t walk to dinner. Like my feet are so sore and my muscles have tightened up and I’m like, ‘How am I going to run 40 miles tomorrow?’ Then I wake up thinking I’m better, and I stand up and it’s just as bad, if not worse. I’ll have to leave in 30 minutes and I wonder how I’m going to do it, and then in those 30 minutes, some magical spell happens where my feet just say ‘OK, fine, we’ll do it again.’ I don’t know how that happens.”

Once he completes his two-state journey, he will have run about 500 miles at a slow, 12-minute-mile pace. Stark expects his trek through Michigan to take him through Saturday at the earliest. On Monday, he returns to Arizona to his life with his wife and children.

In total, he estimates he has run more than 30,000 miles across the country through the years using only his two feet. Texas and Alaksa are on his list, as well as all five islands of Hawaii. The final state will be Rhode Island. Although he would like to cross all 50 states, he said he would not be devastated if he came up a few states short.

“I won’t die unsatisfied if it doesn’t happen, but it would be really neat,” Stark added. “It takes a long time to do this stuff. A single state is two weeks.”

For other runners who are looking to follow in Stark’s footsteps, he has some advice.

“You really have to be flexible and listen to your body and figure out how to adapt to life on the trail at a pace that your body can keep up with,” he said. “You also have to have a supportive family, and I couldn’t do this without them. That really makes it possible.”

To train for such an epic journey, he said entering 5Ks and working up to 10Ks, then to a half marathon and finally a marathon is the best way to start. Making sure you enjoy it and that the body can handle the work is a vital part, as well.

A trail connoisseur, Stark said trail systems in Michigan and throughout the country are something to be valued by locals and visitors for an economic reason. A combination of good attractions will bring money into communities, he added.

“The Pere Marquette Trail is awesome and if it wasn’t for the trail I wouldn’t be in this part of the state right now,” he said. “I love that the Pere Marquette is open to bikers, hikers and snowmobiles in the winter. There’s awesome fishing in the area. All these things working together bring me and lots of people like me into the community, spending money. If the community can support projects like this and continue to develop them, you’re going to see a lot of extra income.”

To learn more about Brian Stark and see more of his progress through Michigan, visit his website, www.statesrunner.com. or find his Facebook page by searching “The States Runner.”