Of late, Adrian Crane has had more than his share of ups and downs. But that’s exactly as he planned it. By setting foot in mid-July on the peak of Washington’s Mount Rainier (14,410 feet), Crane completed a circuit that has put him at the highest point in every one of these 50 United States.
But wait, you say, didn’t a dozen or so other people do the same thing at one time or another? Yep, but nobody has done it as fast as Crane. The swiftest previous 50-states summiteer took a comparatively leisurely three years to top out completely. Crane, 34, a computer systems analyst in Modesto, Calif., enjoyed his 50 peak experiences in just over three months, much of it spent tearing around the country in a white Ford van (excluding Alaska and Hawaii, to which he flew). His uppity 101-day marathon is expected to land him in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In some places, though, the terms “scaled” and “peaks” seem a tad grandiose. The highest point in low-lying Florida, for example, is a bump in Walton County just 345 feet above sea level, and Crane easily achieved that part of his goal by jogging along the yellow stripe in the middle of a highway. In contrast, he faced true mountaineering challenges in May, when he braved blizzard conditions in an ascent (14 days up, three days down) of North America’s highest summit, Alaska’s 20,320-foot Mount McKinley (Two other mountaineers died climbing McKinley in bad weather conditions in June.)
But mighty cliffs or overgrown molehills, “all of them have their own personalities,” Crane says. He spent hours driving on tiny, twisting roads in search of Virginia’s Mount Rogers (5,729 feet) until he stumbled onto a trailhead. But Cling-man’s Dome (6,643 feet) in Tennessee required only a long trudge through an enormous parking lot, past signs that say PEAK THIS WAY. After climbing Missouri’s Taum Sauk Mountain (1,772 feet), Crane wasn’t sure which was the highest point, so he hopped from rock to rock to land on all the likely candidates. And after he reached the deserted summit of Kentucky’s Black Mountain (4,139 feet), he kept on climbing up a radio tower, even though man-made structures (skyscrapers, artificial mounds) aren’t supposed to count.
In some states, such as Delaware, where the highest point (442 feet) is at an intersection on Ebright Road in New Castle County, he could have just casually driven by. But Crane is a stickler for form. In such instances he dutifully parked his van a few miles away and jogged to the spot to simulate a climb. “That’s my little bit of respect for the mountain,” he explains.
Adrian Crane has spent much of life straining to find his physical limits. A native of Beverley, England, he was born into a mountaineering family and recalls his first “rite of manhood” trip with his father, brothers and uncles to Scotland’s snowcapped Cruic Ardrain when he was 15. Crane says he owes his stoicism to the frequently inclement climate of Britain. “I was brought up climbing in crummy weather, and you just keep on going to see what happens,” he says.
Since then he has been to more mountaintops than he can remember and has an entry in Guinness under “World High Altitude Bicycling Record.” He earned that in 1986, when he lugged a bike to 20,500 feet on Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo and then cycled down to the Pacific Ocean, all in 48 hours. In addition he has completed 36 ultramarathons of 50 miles or more. In 1984 he and his older brother Richard set off on what they thought would be the ultimate test: a 2,040-mile run through the Himalayas, again in 101 days. “Unfortunately we did exactly what we planned to do, which kind of ruined it because we still don’t know how far we could have gone,” Adrian laments.
Surprisingly, when he isn’t puffing for breath, Crane lives a quiet life with his wife, Karen, 38, and their two sons. Karen, a hospital accountant, doesn’t pretend to understand her husband’s adventurous compulsions and has no desire to accompany him on any of his trips. “I like comfort, okay?” she says firmly. “I don’t believe in wanting to feel pain.” While she does worry about the risks he takes, Karen insists that she has never asked him to seek sedentary pursuits, because “doing what he does makes him happy.”
Crane himself has been asked “Why do you do it?” so many times that his answer is now almost automatic. “Originally, it was probably just a romantic sense of adventure; it does feel neat to find out what you can do,” he says. “But now there’s a real desire to go back to basics. Life is really simple; it’s about keeping your body going and wanting to get to the finish line and maybe overcoming a few problems.”
Crane quit his computer job at a newspaper prior to his Hi-Tec 50 Peaks Expedition (named for the sports shoe company, his sponsor), and he is now weighing an offer to teach at a junior college nearby. “I’ve had quite a lot of excitement lately, so I won’t be averse to settling down for a while,” he says. Really? Well, at least until the next time “I bump into a person who wants to do a big trip somewhere…”
Dan Chu, Dianna Waggoner in Modesto, Calif.