On September 16, Justin Simoni, aka “The Long Ranger,” completed a feat that would take a lifetime for most. Simoni finished what he's dubbed The Highest Hundred Tour—summiting Colorado's 100 highest peaks, the Centennials, in a continuous, self-powered push. It took him just under two months. Setting out on his bike from his home in Boulder, Colorado, on July 18 at exactly 3:42:52 a.m., Simoni bikepacked, camped, hiked, ran, climbed, and scrambled all of the peaks (plus five bonus peaks en route) over 60 days, 14 hours, 59 minutes and 42 seconds. He was strictly self-supported, carrying all his gear and stopping in towns to resupply as necessary. Simoni tagged the final summits with a blustery trip up Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak before biking the 40-odd miles back to Boulder from Rocky Mountain National Park. He stopped his clock at 6:42:34 p.m. on September 16, 2017.
Simoni is hardly a stranger to long-distance tours and alpine challenges. He's traveled across eight countries on his bike, is a two-time Tour Divide veteran, and once held the record for the Colorado Tour 14er—a self-supported and self-powered link up of all the Colorado 14ers. His inclination toward lengthy outdoor pursuits can be traced to his childhood. Simoni grew up in an adventurous family. He spent many summers on the family sailboat, which was pivotal in exposing him to long-distance, human-powered voyages. Then, with a father and sister who were both distance runners, it was hard not to develop a love of the outdoors and more importantly, to have a drive to push the boundaries of his physical limits deeply ingrained early on.
Simoni cites a range of motivations for establishing new mountain challenges. He likes to inspire others to attempt them, and enjoys contributing to the underground culture of unofficial challenges. But he also finds fulfillment on a level deeper than the physical accomplishment.
“My father was a fan of Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual guru, who believed long distance runs were a path towards self-transcendence," says Simoni. "So running and races to him were more than just about a test of fitness. There was something on the other side worth seeking through all the pain you need to endure.”
In 2011, Simoni registered for the Tour Divide, a 2,700-mile mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta to Silver City, New Mexico. However, severe weather and related course modifications left him feeling that the race had deviated from its core concept. Not wanting to be robbed of the experience of following the original route, Simoni decided to follow it anyway:
“The persistent snow levels on all the mountain passes and flooding that summer  forced the race organizers to make massive detours for pretty much every mountain pass north of Colorado, which were simply unrideable underneath feet of snow," he says. "Since the route for the Tour Divide is defined by going up and over the Continental Divide, all through the Rocky Mountains—well, that's a lot of the character of the route being radically changed. I thought, the hell with that. I packed snowshoes to take on the intended route without any detours, even if it meant snowshoeing for endless miles through closed-off roads alone, just pushing my bike, for hours and hours on end. And believe me, that's exactly what I did." Even after his efforts to stay pure to the intended course, Simoni's first attempt at the Tour Divide course ended with a crash and resulting shoulder injury 100-miles shy of Silver City.
The following year to add intrigue to his unknown, darkhorse status, Simoni created a veil for himself by signing up as, "The Long Ranger" and was satisfied enough with his performance that the name stuck, "I finished pedaling on my single speed—the the first single speeder to finish that year.”
Experiences like those on the Tour Divide course informed the Long Ranger’s personal ethos. When it comes to completing both official and unofficial races, he defines them as: “Try not to break the law, do everything yourself, and be honest to others on how you completed the course.”
After completing the Tour 14er in 2014, the inevitable “What’s next?” prompted Simoni to devise another adventure while still decompressing and recovering.
"Completing the Tour 14er was a huge milestone for me," Simoni says. "[but] the trip had been done before, if only a handful of times. All I really did was formulate it into an underground race almost no one is crazy enough to even try, and go just a little bit faster."
With the goal of adding a novel challenge to the docket of underground ultra-distance courses, the Long Ranger settled on tackling the Centennials.
“It would be, essentially, twice the peaks to do—twice as long of a challenge," he says. "Completing the Centennials is usually a multi-year effort. It's only seen a completion in one season by any means a handful of times—ever. The Centennials are a little more obscure, the beta a little harder to find, and the peaks a little less sexy in the public's eye than the 14ers, for no other reason except maybe the marketing of them. The bottom 47 peaks on the list are also harder, more remote, and more technical.”
With original plans to take on his self-directed “race” in 2016 thwarted by a climbing-related ankle injury, Simoni announced that he would attempt the Highest Hundred Tour in April of this year after completing a birthday challenge.
“I set up a Birthday Challenge to 'Everest' Boulder's Green Mountain—run it 13 times in a row to match the elevation gain of Mt. Everest: 29,000'," he says. "I was successful, so I thought, let's do the big trip, and publicly announced my plans for the Tour of the Highest Hundred the next day. For all of 2017, I had been training like an alpinist with a mountain bike problem. I felt ready-enough.”
He lists the highs of the trip as beautifully linked enchainments and a lost beer found in a snowfield on Conundrum Peak ("I was able to enchain all the Centennials in the Crestone Group: Adams, Challenger, Kit Carson, Columbia Point, Humboldt, Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle. It took around 48 hours to complete, but I saved a ton of time by not breaking up this group of mountains into smaller trips.")
The lows include sopping weather conditions (“I hadn't ever backpacked for six days in a row—I don't even necessarily like backpacking! I got rained and hailed on every single day...It became a mantra for me whenever things went SNAFU: 'Well, it's not as bad as the Weminuche [range].'") and pure fatigue-induced clumsiness ("I fell on my ass a million times on talus, on flat ground, in creek beds, crossing endless fields of willows, tripping over the guylines on my tarp...").
The reality of actually finishing the project didn’t hit until Simoni was “fast-limping” down from the last two summits after (finally) rolling an ankle.
“I knew from my first Tour Divide that it's entirely possible to screw the whole trip up at the very last day," he says. "Easy mountains still need to be summited—you can't skip a mountain! The summits still could have a nasty lightning storm waiting for me at the top. As the tour went out, my fatigue worsened. I just didn't know if I could carry on with the miles I had planned to do. I woke up after a short nap before my final peaks— Meeker and Longs—and I didn't even know where I was, or what I had to get accomplished for that day. Hiking up Longs Peak, everyone I met was heading down, the conditions were terrible. They looked at me like I was a fool. I probably was!”
At the end of it all, the opportunity to tackle whatever came his way next was the biggest draw.
“The devastating beauty of the trip is that there are just so many things that could go wrong. Every day could be a disaster.” And, he adds, you go into something like this knowing that some days will be a disaster. “You will run out of food or water. Your bike will break down. You'll break that very important piece of gear. Turns out, the beta for a mountain is totally wrong. This is what you signed up for. It's not an easy objective to complete.”
This unpredictability, he says, can be countered only by accepting that fact that, “Hard is the new normal.”
- Start date: 7/18/17 @ 3:42:52 a.m.
- End date: 9/16/17 @ 6:42:34 p.m.
- Total time: 60 days, 14 hours, 59 minutes and 42 seconds
- Mileage/elevation gain
- On foot: 624 miles, 247,810' elevation
- By bike: 1,720 miles, 136,374' elevation
- Total Mileage: 2,344 miles (Boulder, Colorado to Caribou, Maine)
- Total Elevation Gain: 384,184', or more than 13 summits of Mt. Everest from sea level.