It takes Anthony Seidita and me 50 minutes and 17 seconds to hike up Snake Mountain. Not bad, considering our laid-back pace — he occasionally pauses to swipe away the blackflies, pick up after his Belgian sheepdog, Bella, or admire the trilliums.
But then, it’s less than two miles to the top of Snake. The Scarpa-booted Seidita will have to pick up speed for his next peak-bagging adventure: climbing to the tops of Mount Marcy, Mount Mansfield and Mount Washington in under 24 hours. That’s three summits in three states. It’s a thigh-burning, joint-jarring fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association that begins at midnight on June 25 — a challenge Seidita designed for himself and two friends.
With a total of 30 miles of hiking and an elevation gain of 9275 feet, Seidita’s stunt may seem puny compared with, say, a 100-mile ultramarathon (which athletes have completed in less than 12 hours). But the Hike for Diabetes, as Seidita has dubbed it, is a unique challenge — even with the driving breaks to each trailhead — and it requires a unique training regimen.
“It’s intense,” allows Seidita, 38. “But I’m having so much fun with it. If I’m sitting still, I’m doing something wrong.”
Though Seidita now lives in a leafy Shelburne neighborhood with his wife, Zynnia, and their two young children, he grew up in not-so-woodsy Queens. “I didn’t know anything about nature,” he says during our hike up Snake. “I didn’t know about what kind of tree is that, I didn’t know about birds, I didn’t know about what goes on inside a lake.”
In his twenties, on a whim, Seidita decided to check out Harriman State Park in upstate New York, which he had passed on trips to college in Buffalo. His and Zynnia’s regular weekend routine at that point, he says, involved clubbing until 6 a.m. “But I said, ‘Why don’t we go grab a backpack, throw some crap in it and see what this park is all about?’” recalls Seidita. “We found a beautiful rolling trail, and we didn’t see another person for eight hours. I don’t think ever, unless I’m sleeping, do I not see anybody for eight hours.”
Hooked on hiking, the couple eventually ventured farther north to the Adirondacks, and in 2003 relocated from New York City to Burlington to be closer to the mountains. One by one, Seidita has picked off nearly every major peak — 45 of 46 — in the Adirondacks. Next winter, he aims to finish his quest to become one of about 500 “Winter 46ers” in the world. Hikers earn this title by climbing all of said summits between December 21 and March 21, braving cold, ice and snow.
“These are crazy, balls-out, hardcore, ‘Wow-we-really-did-this’ mountain climbing trips,” says Seidita of some of his expeditions with New York buddies. That thrill is just part of hiking’s appeal, though, he explains. “I love the gear, I love the people you meet, I love the nature, I love the physical aspect,” Seidita says. “You can’t be a wuss. You get tested, whether it’s the bugs, the head, the cold. It’s the grittiness of it, and the lack of crowds. I just love being on top of a mountain, especially when you’ve worked hard to get there.”
It helps that Seidita, who works full time in pharmaceutical sales, is also an exercise junkie. So when the idea of the Hike for Diabetes began to percolate in his mind last summer, he was already in top shape, not just from hiking but also from cycling, paddling and snowshoeing. (He took up snowboarding this winter.)
Still, as trainers point out, prepping for the rigors of a tough hike is different from other athletic endeavors. “A hiking environment is unpredictable and requires more core strength,” says Peter Milhous, a personal trainer at Williston’s Synergy Fitness. “High-volume training is important, because you are not training to bulk; you’re training for endurance.”
Accordingly, Seidita — who works out two days per week sans personal trainer at Synergy — has dropped upper-body lifting from his regular routine. “As a guy, you want your arms to have those nice cuts,” he says. “But right now, I’m focusing on working the hell out of the legs.”
On Fridays, that means an exhaustive series of such moves as squats, leg presses and hamstring curls, followed by a weekend of hiking or biking, and then an hour on Monday devoted to cardiovascular training with a jump rope, treadmill, rower and stairmill. Tuesdays and Thursdays involve more outdoor exercise, including racing with the Green Mountain Bicycle Club. Wednesdays are rest days. Whew.
All good for going up, says Synergy co-owner Yuri Trump. But there’s also the going down, which concerns Seidita. “It’s harder on the joints and muscles,” he says and explains that, while he’s conditioned his body to weather the pounding, he’s still taking glucosamine and chondroitin supplements to help rebuild cartilage. (His toenails are already long gone.)
There’s another twist. Seidita, who’ll be doing the Hike for Diabetes with two New Yorker friends, chose June 25 because it’s the closest Saturday to the summer solstice, with near-maximal daylight. But he’ll still be starting at midnight and ending in the dark, which means he could face hallucinations and other side effects of sleep deprivation. Seidita hasn’t trained for those and says he isn’t too worried: “I’m a night-owl type of person,” he says, “and I think the excitement of the hike will have my adrenaline running high for the entire 30 miles.”
But he does confess some concerns about venturing above Mount Washington’s tree line in the dark, especially if nasty weather kicks up and he’s not totally alert. Nausea is another threat. “More than once I’ve thrown up on the side of the trail,” says Seidita, who was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and is now on medication that he hopes will stave off that side effect.
Tummy troubles aside, Seidita estimates he’ll burn between 15,000 and 20,000 calories, some of which he’ll replenish with peanut M&M’s and GU energy-gel packets stashed in his red Osprey daypack. (It also has a 3-liter hydration reservoir that will be filled with water.) For refueling, Seidita and his pals have the benefit of a support vehicle: Seidita’s black Subaru Outback, piloted by Zynnia.
Herein lies another potential setback: Seidita can’t train for the cramp-inducing rides between mountains. “This will be a huge problem,” he says. “I know from past hikes that when I drive home and step out of the car, the lactic acid and stiffness set in, and it’s hard to get the train rolling again.”
It’s also been hard, says Seidita, to get the ball rolling on fundraising. He set a goal of $10,000 for the American Diabetes Association and has so far reached less than $1600 in pledges. “It’s been a rude awakening,” says Seidita, who chose the ADA because Zynnia’s mother died of a heart attack related to diabetes in 2006.
Seidita recognizes that, compared with other mountaineering endeavors, his upcoming hike is a relatively humble one, and perhaps not unprecedented. Though an exhaustive web search turned up no individuals who had hiked Marcy, Mansfield and Washington in less than 24 hours, Seidita says a Burlington man recently contacted him and claimed he’d completed the feat.
“That was a little bit of a heartbreaker,” admits Seidita, shrugging beneath his pack. But the disappointment doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for challenging himself on the trails — a passion he wishes more Vermonters shared. “I can’t live life and just say, ‘I have to work and drop off my kids at T-ball on Saturday,’” he says. “And I can’t believe something like this isn’t more popular.”