Joe Grant

How to survive 31 days alone on junk food

Words: Michelle Hurni
Photo: Fredrik Marmsater

Surviving in the wild with only junk food for 31 days, one man knows how.

When Joe Grant pedaled down the dirt road from his home in Gold Hill, Colorado, toward his first 14,000-foot mountain, he had barely any food in his bags. 31 days, 8 hours and 33 minutes later he returned after climbing all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks (plus three bonus 14ers), breaking the previous record by over three days. And he did it fueled by gas station food.

He felt strongly about leaving and returning home in a full circle, with a universe of possibility in front of him, keeping it simple and spontaneous. Self-powered adventures revolve around self-sufficiency, and Grant traveled 1,100 miles on his bike and another 400 on foot, alone. He popped into the occasional restaurant for a real meal and once had “trail fairies” pour him some tea, but mostly it was 24/7 gas stations where Joe fueled up.

An endurance athlete by trade, Grant shares what he’s learned about eating, sleep deprivation and enduring his own company.

How to prepare for hitting the trail

“How fit do you need to be to continuously bike and hike every day? It’s hard to say what that benchmark is. Generally, if you’ve got experience [and are] comfortable with the specifics of what the trip will entail, doing those things in training is important. But that’s only a very limited part of what you need to do to prepare for the trip. It’s not just, ‘Here’s your eight-week fitness plan,’ — it’s that plus everything else. What’s your nutrition plan going to be? How are you going to tackle those mental lows? Is that something you’ve never done before and you need to work on and train? Or is it something you can you draw from other things in life?”

How to fuel the self-powered beast for 31 days  

“I just eat cheap, high-calorie junk food most of the time. Pretty much anything goes. You are burning so much that it’s very difficult to be eating continuously, and you can’t physically just come into town and replenish 8,000 calories in one go. There were a few periods during the trip where I felt I was losing a little too much weight. My quads were kind of shrinking, my chest was shrinking. In those situations, you need to just eat as much as you can. You aren’t necessarily even hungry, you’re just depleted.

I ate portable food from gas stations. Frozen bean and cheese burritos that I would just let thaw on the bike. They’re flat, decently dense, easy to eat. Snickers bars, cookies, trail mix. I actually ate at McDonald’s once. I’m ashamed to admit it and felt as bad as I thought I would feel. It’s not like Oreo cookies and burritos are great. There are tiers in junk food. There’s junk and then there’s toxic stuff. It’s all pretty bad, shades of terrible.”

On to the Chicago Basin 🚂 🚲 #tourde14ers #colorado #selfpropelled

A post shared by Joe Grant (@alpineworks) on

What to know when you are sleep deprived  

“When I’m sleep deprived, I get negative, impatient, a little bit hard on myself. The awareness that you are sleep deprived and being negative can all of a sudden make you better at managing it. Don’t be an asshole, you’re just tired. It’s a weird rationalization. Your body is capable of doing so much, but it’s only if the mind is going to go through with it. There is this intense desire to stop and sleep, but if mentally you are able to tell yourself that all of the discomfort you are feeling is just linked to that, it’s like a distraction and you are able to feel all right.”

How to survive your own company  

“I think the best thing about being on your own is that you can really get into your own rhythm. If you want to get up and go, you go. If you want to wait for the storm, you wait. As soon as you have somebody else there, you have to consider the other person. When it’s difficult, when it’s really hard and when I’m in that zone in my head, it’s really helpful to not have those distractions.

It’s a very different dynamic when you are by yourself, you have to make all your own decisions, for better or for worse. If you aren’t feeling good, you have to talk yourself out of it. You have to self-motivate. That’s a great exercise, but it’s also a difficult one. With another person you don’t really have the same intensity. You can talk stuff out. Alone is really interesting and trying. And you are going to be more vulnerable and introspective because you’re by yourself. That’s a great building block in life.”

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