The nickname doesn’t really do him justice.
Justin Simoni, a 36-year-old Colorado-based adventure junkie who recently rode and climbed his state’s 100 highest peaks, is known on the trail as “The Long Ranger.”
But “long” feels like an understatement when describing the 60-day, self-supported, 2,344-mile journey that involved 384,184 feet of elevation gain (the equivalent of 13 summits of Mount Everest from sea level). Simoni’s bike-and-foot tour of the Centennial Peaks, which he completed on September 16, marks the only known attempt of its kind. It certainly isn’t Simoni’s first feat though: he’s biked along the Continental Divide twice, crossed the country by bike three times, and toured through eight other countries on two wheels. Perhaps “Relentless Ranger” would be more apt.
Whatever the moniker, Simoni is one tough dude. But his background—and what drives him—isn’t what you’d expect from the peak-bagging bandit.
Simoni, a software writer consultant by day, grew up in Connecticut and moved to Boulder in 1999 for college, studying painting and drawing at the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design. After school, he rented studio space in a Denver gallery and literally lived there, making art by day and sleeping among his creations at night.
He began biking in 2005 after selling his car to save money and eliminate the headache of parking. What started as a utilitarian activity quickly transformed into a passion after he biked from Denver and Boulder—a roughly 29-mile trek—on a whim. “Six hours later, I was totally crushed,” said Simoni of the experience. “But it was amazing—I didn’t know I could do that.” He caught “the bug” and began touring around the country.
“Biking is a moving meditation,” Simoni says. “It’s a way for me to find balance in my life. And I really love the feeling of being destroyed—in a good way— after a long bike ride. It’s like you accomplish something.”
His quest for the highest 100 began in 2014, after he tackled all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers (i.e. peaks with an elevation of 14,000 feet or above) in just 34 days. His first thought upon finishing the challenge: what’s next?
“I’d done 58 mountains, so I thought why not do 100?” he says. It took him a couple years to figure out the logistics, nurse a lingering ankle injury back to health, and psyche himself up.
As he does with all of his adventure treks, Simoni brought an artist’s mentality to the centennial challenge, thinking of it as “a piece of performance art” and “an experiment in exhaustion.”
“I wanted to know the limits of human endurance,” he says. This hinged on the idea that such a feat was not for the physical benefits or the vanity, but more about the hero’s journey, about achieving something impossible and becoming a changed person because of it.
Simoni began training in January, scaling the toughest rock climbs in Boulder, running up nearby Green Mountain, and pedaling close to 100 miles a week. He also spent hours methodically planning out his routes. As best as he could, at least.
“A lot of mountains don’t have trails—you kind of just make it up,” Simoni says.
He set out on July 18, beginning the trip with a negative split strategy—going at about a three-quarter effort for the first 30 days and using the extra rest to build up his fitness for the last 30 days, when he picked up his pace and tackled tougher terrain.
And once he reached that second half, it was head down until the finish. Simoni didn’t shower—or change his clothes—for the final 30 days. “I could smell myself,” he laughs. “It was a transformative thing, moving further and further away from my own existence.”
Simoni describes the lowest moments of the experience as those when he had to deal with things he had no control over, like the relentless rain that blanketed much of the first half of his trek.
“There were days where you would leave town in the rain, get to the trail in the rain, reach the top and be in clouds unable to see more than 20 feet in front of you, feel miserable and cold, and then turn around and reverse it,” he says.
But there were also moments of raw and unrelenting beauty. Simoni remembers his back-to-back climbs up Vestal Peak (elevation: 13,870 feet) and Jagged Mountain (elevation: 13,830 feet), a “legitimate rock climb in the middle of nowhere” that included a night camping directly above Jagged Mountain and awaking to the sun pouring over the series of breathtaking spires that form the mountain top.
On his final day, he tackled Mount Meeker (elevation: 13,911 ft.) and Longs Peak (elevation: 14,259 ft.), pushing through high winds and snow. “Everyone I passed looked at me like I was crazy,” says Simoni of that day. “I was like, I am crazy.”
Properly fueling for such a trek was probably one of the toughest challenges, says Simoni, who admits that he ate “mostly candy” (read: Red Vines) and struggled with proper rationing, oftentimes running out of food hours before he’d be able to resupply. One of his favorite meals involved a mixture of peanut butter, coconut oil, and jam that, when spread on a tortilla, tasted “like a pastry.”
And then there was the constant fear of getting lost. The GPS tracker he bought for the trip was supposed to beam down his location every 10 minutes. But just a few days into the trip, Simoni discovered that it was broken and beaming every 10 hours. “That was in the back of my mind the entire time,” Simoni says.
Surprisingly, he had very few wild animal encounters during his journey. The most menacing creature he confronted: “a marmot that nibbled on my pack and tried to steal a glove.”
Would the adventure junkie ever consider going pro? In short, no.
“I don’t have competitive drive,” says Simoni. “I’m more into discovering, mapping and trailblazing. I want someone to go for 100 highest peaks and beat my time. I want to inspire other people.”
After Simoni finished the 100 peaks challenge on September 16, his next thought was, of course: what’s next? For starters, he wants to write a guidebook about bikepacking in Colorado. It will include tips for safely navigating the terrain and the best underrated trails and hikes.
And then, perhaps a sea-to-summit challenge involving a self-supported trek up the seven highest peaks on all seven continents. To be clear though, his drive for “more” is not about ego or adrenaline or fame. “It’s about moving meditation, joyous movement, and seeing what you’re capable of,” he says.
As for his advice to others looking to embark on an adventure of their own?
“Start anywhere,” he says. “And if it’s not fun, don’t do it.”