Reporter's note: Special thanks to journalist Devon Haskins with KGW-TV in Portland, Oregon, for going out of his way to help bring us this report.
Hundreds of runners will line up Saturday at the yellow gate in Frozen Head State Park for the Barkley Fall Classic. The 50-kilometer race through the steep terrain in Morgan County was created to give runners "a small taste" of the world-famous 100-mile Barkley Marathons held every spring.
The creator and director of the infamous Barkley Marathons will have to hustle to make it back to Tennessee in time for the Fall Classic. Gary Cantrell, also known as "Lazarus Lake" or "Laz," is on pace to finish his summer-long 3,365-mile walk from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean on Thursday in Newport, Oregon.
"It seemed like it would make my summer seem longer and it has worked exquisitely," said Cantrell as he hiked along Highway 20 near Bend, Oregon. "Now as it's getting nearer the end, it's just really long."
Cantrell is known for devising a sinister 100-mile race on an unmarked course that punishes the best runners in the world. Only 15 runners have completed the course within the time limit in 33 years. This summer, the 64-year-old concocted a taste of his own medicine by walking across the continent in a trek he calls "LazCon."
"People are discouraged from trying things because they might fail. You never know until you try," said Cantrell.
The worldwide running community has followed Cantrell's journey on social media using the hashtag #LazCon.
If this journey makes you think Cantrell enjoys misery, he also loves company. Many people have met Cantrell along the route, introduced themselves, and walked as many miles as they wanted with the man many ultra-marathoners consider a playful "evil genius."
Complete strangers have offered moral and physical support to Cantrell, bringing him food and other supplies as he walks an average of around 27 miles per day.
"What really hurts is nobody has accused me of using performance enhancing drugs or cheating. Nobody would pretend to go across the country this slow," joked Cantrell.
LazCon began May 10, 2018. After walking through 13 states and five pairs of shoes, Cantrell says there's is one day on the trip that always stands out.
"The best day is today. Because yesterday is over and tomorrow is not guaranteed," said Cantrell. "You dream big dreams and do what it takes to make it happen."
Laz is on pace to reach the Pacific Ocean on Thursday. His plans for the finish line are not elaborate. They only involve toes and a vial of water he has carried from the Atlantic Ocean.
"Dip my toe in the Pacific Ocean and dump my vial of Atlantic water into the Pacific and dip me a little vial of Pacific water," said Cantrell.
The current plans are for Cantrell to catch a midnight flight Thursday back to Tennessee in time to attend the Barkley Fall Classic at Frozen Head State Park.