Five years ago, Will Robinson wasn’t much of a hiker. He had vague memories of a cold, wet day on Camel’s Hump in Vermont with his mom and stepbrother. It was an experience that didn’t suggest hiking would become a habit, much less his passion. But now, he can’t be stopped—and his hiking accomplishments in the last few years are astonishing.

The switch flipped with one good hike up Vermont’s Mount Abraham. After that, he heard about the many lists that hikers pursue and Robinson had a full-time hobby. He did Vermont’s 4,000-foot peaks, then turned to the Adirondacks, finishing all 46 in a year. New friends invited him to join in a single-season hike of New Hampshire’s 48 tallest peaks, which he didn’t try to resist. And once, with four days’ notice, he jumped into a friend’s Direttissima (a thru-hike of NH’s 48 tallest peaks).

“That destroyed me,” he says, admitting that he wore brand-new boots on the first day, resulting in horrific blisters. Apparently, he’s human after all.

Will Robinson hiking in the Whites

Whetting His Appetite

After a transcontinental summer road trip, he was smitten by Colorado. It’s not hard to guess what came next. As soon as he could, he hiked all 58 of that state’s 14,000-foot peaks in just 37 days, sleeping in his Toyota Corolla. He’s also completed a single-season (winter) summit of all 115 New England and Adirondack mountains.

“I guess I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to lists,” he admits.

The tall, lean 28-year-old from Middlebury, Vermont, has racked up more hiking cred than most people who’ve spent decades on the trails. His “aw shucks” attitude distracts from the serious stats: last summer he pioneered a route that links all of the 4,000-foot peaks in the Adirondacks, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, which he completed in a single 1,300-mile, 59-day odyssey. Did we mention the 262,000 feet of ascent involved? The numbers stack up to about half of the miles and elevation of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Tackling the NE 115

The NE115 wasn’t his first rodeo, but he was the first recorded hiker to accomplish it on foot. He nods to another adventurer who did nearly the same route but rode a bike over the hundreds of boring, lonely miles of road necessary to complete the task. He also credits Will Peterson, who attempted a thru-hike of the 67 tallest peaks in New England (NE67) with providing motivation. “Once I heard about him I started planning it out,” Robinson says.

Robinson started his NE 115 bid in the southern Adirondacks as soon as summer vacation started (he’s a preschool teacher, more about that in a minute). He knew it would be tough, but didn’t anticipate just how hard it might be.

After the first couple of peaks, there were miles of road walking: three days of 30 miles each. He sought the remote Northville-Placid Trail to bypass the worst of it, but that left him feeling isolated. On the tallest mountains, he had terrible leg pain—first in one, then the other—and was passing blood in his urine every few days. Like the Biblical plagues, the hits kept coming: torrential rain turned the trails into swamps. And there was loneliness. The few people he met on the trail were day hikers, and their brief but pleasant interactions weren’t enough to bolster Robinson’s mood for very long.

“I gaslit myself into believing it wasn’t horrible,” he says. Yet he hopes others will follow his lead and try the route. He suggests more training to prepare.

His target of 20-30 miles per day became difficult to maintain, and with his leg pain, it dropped below 20 miles a couple of times. He took two “zero days” in quick succession, going to his mother’s house to rest, ice, and stretch. The debilitating pain subsided, although the rain kept up. He credits his mother’s enthusiasm about crossing the bridge into Vermont for improving his outlook and maintaining his motivation.

“My mom kept talking about ‘Bridge Day’ and counting down to it. That was a great motivator,” he says. She also spent her birthday doing a resupply mission for him.

Will Robinson begins his thru hike

Slogging On

Unfortunately, the heavy rain that sank many hikers’ summer plans followed Robinson into Vermont, where he hoped to see more people on the Long Trail that links the state’s five 4,000-foot peaks. But the Green Mountain Club had admonished hikers to avoid trails that were inundated, leaving Robinson slogging over flooded trails with fewer companions than ever before.

Entering New Hampshire at Mount Moosilauke felt like going home to him. A friend and fellow hiker, Phil Carcia (@FindingPhilip), posted about Robinson on Instagram, and soon he found himself among friends everywhere he went. “Every day I met someone who knew about me, which was a supportive boost,” he says. “The hiking community in the Whites is so much stronger than in the Adirondacks.”

Although his route wasn’t along the Appalachian Trail where he’d see more fellow thru-hikers, he was able to find other hikers when he entered Maine, lessening the solitude of the trail. After a scary chest-deep river crossing, he finished on a high note at Baxter State Park, on Mount Baxter (Katahdin), with a bevy of friends who were camping nearby.

Staying Humble

One might think Robinson would cool his heels a bit before tackling another long-distance hiking challenge, but it’s not likely. He’s glad to leave FKT (Fastest Known Time) challenges to others but he’s always mulling crazy combinations that may, someday, include a grid of the NE 115 (hiking the 115 tallest mountains in each month of the year—which can be spread over several years).

There are still a few months for him to decide on his summer hiking project. In the meantime, he’ll continue to be a Head Start preschool teacher, and enjoy the humility his pint-sized students offer. “I FaceTimed my class once from a 100-mile ultra marathon and their reactions ranged from, ‘I do that at recess’ to ‘That’s impossible, it’s the biggest number there is,’” he says with a chuckle.

There’s no crowing about the accomplishments he’s had just in the past few years. “I’m at a certain level but there are people who are way better. They’re untouchable,” he says.