Lacking sleep and much-needed energy, Reno resident JB Benna began hallucinating as he attempted to tackle a Tahoe Rim Trail record last month.
He’d been awake and hiking for about two days with less than an hour of sleep, he said. But keeping a strong pace was crucial if he was to top a record held by Michael Popov, a friend who died last year.
Popov, an ultrarunner like Benna, died during a run through Death Valley after he ran out of water and passed out in 130-degree heat, Benna said.
Now, sleep deprived with 23 miles or so to go, Benna watched what appeared to be a man walking in front him.
“I couldn’t help but think it was my buddy, Michael, guiding me,” he said via phone Wednesday.
Benna, who went for the record in Popov’s honor, said the phantom convinced him to start running. He eventually completed the 170-mile trek in 58 hours 43 minutes and 12 seconds, a new record on the Fastest Known Time online forum for finishing the trail unsupported.
His time would also be a record at the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, said Shannon Skarritt, director of membership and outreach. But Benna has not yet submitted an application.
The Tahoe Rim Trail circles Lake Tahoe and cuts through six counties, one state park, three national forests and three wilderness areas, according to the association website.
It is also comprised of significant elevation changes. The highest point is Relay Peak at 10,338 feet. The lowest is Tahoe city, which sits at 6,300 feet.
Benna prepared for the trek by attempting a 60-mile test hike from Echo Lake to Spooner Summit about three weeks before his record attempt, he said.
However, it didn’t go as planned. He got lost, his feet became sore and water was more difficult to come by then he first expected, he said.
So, Benna made some adjustments. On Sept. 29, the day he began the 170-mile trek, he had only two walking sticks and a backpack full of gear.
“Within the first 24 hours I’d hiked about 73 miles,” he said.
He started at Spooner Summit and began clockwise around the lake. Aside from some rain and wind, the first 70 miles weren’t so bad, Benna said. But the lowest point came when he started vomiting in the middle of the first night.
The vomiting, it appears, was worse than the delusions that occurred about 65 miles from the finish line.
On top of imagining a man walking in front of him, Benna said he began talking to his equipment and limbs as if they were “their own characters.”
“The hallucinations kept changing and evolving,” he said.
Benna’s family and friends met him at the finish line at Mount Rose Meadows, where his legs locked up and he needed help getting in the car. He had a difficult time walking without support for the next three days.
He said he runs on the trail frequently and thought pursuing a record would be a great way to test himself, as well as emphasize the importance of the trail.
“It’s really just you against yourself,” he said.
He also started a fund for anyone wanting to donate to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association at http://www.active.com/donate/trtfkt.
Benna is back to his normal self, going on runs and hikes frequently again, he said. He might even attempt to break another fastest time on the trail if, or when, someone beats his time.
“You just have to be able to push through all those excuses and things that would otherwise make you want to quit,” he said.
Skarritt said finishing the trail in Benna’s time is no small feat and that it would “take a big toll” on a person’s body. Many people have attempted the record, but most never finish or get lost on connecting trails.
“It’s pretty amazing that that didn’t happen to him,” she said. “It’s quite the accomplishment.”