Each step on Ice Age trail brings him closer to goal

Runner expects to finish his 1,079-mile expedition sometime late Sunday
By TOM HELD
theld@journalsentinel.com
Posted: May 2, 2007

Delafield – Jason Dorgan climbed the lookout tower atop Lapham Peak about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, snapped a photo in each direction, then carried on toward his personal pinnacle, one 224 miles away but clear in his own mind.

His stride was still purposeful, if a bit stiff, after more than 850 miles of running and walking over the hills and mudholes, roads and paths of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Each step took him closer, not just to a personal achievement, but a never-done-before accomplishment, the fastest through-run of the 1,079-mile trail.

The 41-year-old engineer from Madison has covered roughly 45 to 50 miles during his 11-hour days, and is on pace to finish his quest in Potawatomi State Park sometime late Sunday. That will be 23 days from his first step at the trail’s western terminus in St. Croix Falls.

“I don’t think it surprises anybody that he would be doing something extreme, but we really do admire him,” said Tim Yanacheck, a friend and fellow member of Dorgan’s Fat Thigh Thursday running group.

“We all recognize this as an extraordinary accomplishment, beyond all his other accomplishments,” Yanacheck said. “Nobody’s ever done this before.”

Dorgan brought solid credentials as an ultramarathon competitor to his current challenge: He finished the notorious 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon through Death Valley in 2005, and he knocked off the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, four 100-mile races in 14 weeks, in 2001.

Still, the challenge of knocking off 50 miles a day, every day, for three weeks, is daunting to even elite endurance athletes.

“It certainly is a challenge that’s unlike any of the ultramarathons that I’ve participated in,” said Carolyn Smith, who won a national championship by running 139 miles in 24 hours in November.

The local physician could only project Dorgan’s daily discomfort:

“You’re chronically sore and chronically fatigued, and the mental challenge is knowing you’re going to feel that way for the next 11 to 12 hours, then you’re going to feel that way again and again and again,” she said.

Dorgan does feel discomfort, even pain, on the trail.

He doesn’t show it or complain about it.

“That’s a waste of time,” he said.

And Dorgan doesn’t waste time.

He passed through Delafield, then Hartland and on to North Lake and Monches on Wednesday, his head tilted down slightly, his pace alternating between a slow run and a brisk walk.

He barely slows to take food and liquids from his crew waiting at a crossroads, moving ahead while a fellow ultra marathoner, Robert Wehner, puts food in his pack.

Over the miles, Dorgan has seen more of the Ice Age trail than all but roughly 30 people who have hiked every foot.

The isolated woods of northern Wisconsin and the area’s state forests have given way to tidy subdivisions and country roads. Most of his time is spent alone, with his own thoughts and the sounds of birds and frogs.

He’s enjoyed spending time in the woods since his days as a Boy Scout in Verona, and he has approached this challenge as an opportunity and not an obligation. He’s learned much about the state, and about himself.

“I can push myself further than I thought I could,” Dorgan said. “There were times when it would have been quite easy to give up, with the pain and the problems.

“Now, I’m glad I didn’t.”

Dorgan’s purpose, other than personal achievement, is to draw attention to the Ice Age trail and to further the effort to replace the roughly 400 miles of road sections with off-road paths. He intends to continue that effort after he completes his through-run on Sunday.

And he intends to return to some of the far-flung sections that he had never traveled before this undertaking.

After all the miles behind him, and those ahead, he still thinks a run, maybe a hike, would be enjoyable.

JSOnline.com To see a video of Dorgan on the trail, as well as keep up with his progress on his blog, go to www.jsonline.com/links

Video here.

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