Karel Sabbe Loves Me

Karel Sabbe loves me. Don’t believe it? I have the receipts. 

For those living under a rock, Karel Sabbe is the Michael Jordan of hiking, the undisputed G.O.A.T. And he’s currently on pace to set yet another record, this time for hiking the PCT. He’s previously held the record, plus the AT, plus the TA, plus some other stuff in Europe, if you wanna count that. 

In our family, we often joke about setting FKTs, Fastest Known Times. Maybe one day we can set an FKT for geriatric backpacking 🤣 Or maybe one of our kids will take up an as-yet-unworn mantle someday. But for now, we just fantasize about being able to hike that far, that fast, day after day. 

Karel is currently hiking about 60 miles per day, well more than two marathons, over rugged mountains, for weeks on end. 

It’s not like we’ve been stalking him, but ever since he started at the Mexican border, we’ve been tracking his movements daily, actually more like every five minutes, and plotting how we can casually bump into him. That’s not stalking. Stalking would be creepy. 

The day came. Slowly. We cruised into Ashland, Oregon well before Dr. Sabbe. In fact, we spent a day doing only eight miles so we could line things up. 

“Ok, people! This is what we’ve been practicing more. No more rehearsal. This is the real deal! Ready?”

We were pulling up to where the trail crossed a dirt road in the hinterlands of southern Oregon. We jumped out of the minivan, now blocking the trail, and sprang into action. 

“Get out the water, the soda, the snacks! Why didn’t we get ice?! We won’t get a second chance at a first impression. I wonder if we got the right snacks. What if he doesn’t like our food?!?”

We waited. Compulsively, I refreshed his GPS tracker. He’s running this morning with a pacer. They’re both south of this road and heading north… coming right at us! Couldn’t be more perfect. How’s my hair? Silly me, I’m wearing a hat. Like every day for the last few months. Dear, maybe pluck a few eyebrows while we’re waiting. Best impressions!

Reload. Oh drat! His pacer’s GPS tracker just passed the road crossing. We missed him! Apparently, he’s not wearing the special GPS tracker we sent him to wear just for us. Again, not creepy-stalker-ish at all. 

“Not a drill! Back in the car! Go, go GOOOO!!!”

Somewhat anticlimactically, we need to spend a few minutes in the van looking up the next crossing. I really want to impress Karel. I’ll meet him at road crossings his crew supporting him wouldn’t think of. I’ll show him my extra level of commitment. He will definitely be impressed. 

We bump down a rutted and rocky road no minivan has ever traversed before, rattles and clangs echoing in every direction. Destroying the minivan is a small price to pay. A few miles later, we pull in, positive this time we’re ahead of him. Drinks and snacks return. Angel Wings spells “KAREL” out of leaves in the middle of the trail. Leave No Trace can wait until Karel passes by. 

Other hikers arrive, potentially foiling everything. They begin to eat Karel’s food, assuming this is typical Trail Magic. We talk. Everybody knows about Karel. 

Finally, the moment I was born for arrives. “There he is!” says my silly, but adorably cute wife. 

Obvi, this isn’t Karel. I’d recognize him anywhere. This is his pacer. I’ll let people obsess over the pacer. My eyes are fixed on the runner coming up behind. 

“KKAAAAAARRRREEEELLLLLLL!” I hear a woman’s voice scream in overzealous admiration. 

Then I realize that was my own voice. I’m a fan, apparently. 

Without prompting, Karel starts handing out high-fives. I feel his palm on mine, but my grasp closes too late, and I think I’ve lost my chance forever. 

My wife’s voice reminds me of my mission. 

“Karel, take this and sign my chest!”

I don’t give him time to acknowledge the request in the affirmative or the negative. My shirt is off 0.4 seconds after uttering the command. 

Karel accepts the writing implement, but seems confused. I assume all the sleep-deprived and calorie-depleted exertion has gotten to his brain. So gesticulating by culturally-appropriate means, I try again. 


I’ve learned that when speaking to those whose first language isn’t English, it’s helpful to yell. 

He uncaps the highlighter. This is it. He’s actually going to do it.

I swear this isn’t photoshopped. This is the moment. Pinch me.

I feel the tip against my bare skin. I can make out the K. Then the A. He’s taking so much time out of his run! The antepenultimate… R. His record will be 30 seconds slower than it could have been! The second-to-last, E. And the climax, L. ALL. CAPS. 

But wait, he’s writing more underneath. Decoration? I can’t make out what it is. Squiggly lines? It isn’t “Sabbe.”

He turns and starts running down the trail, leaving his pacer in the dust. I feel I should take a little credit for inspiring his record. When he came upon us in the woods, he was walking. But after our pep… he’s now running. Clearly not just running to get away from a creepy stalker. 

I turn to my wife. “I’m never washing this chest again,” I say with somber gravitas. 

“He drew a heart under his name!”


I went straight from the trail to a tattoo parlor just to make sure it would be permanent. And so I could shower someday.

“What!” I look down. It’s unmistakable. Karel Sabbe drew a heart on my chest, cleverly, directly over where my real heart was.

Was this premeditated and he’d been looking forward to meeting me? Was it simply spontaneous agape shared between two hikers, once who happens to hike four times faster than the other one?

Karel, I wish you all the luck in the world. Go get ‘em!


The guy with the heart on his chest

(P.S. Karel, in a totally non-stalker-like fashion, I kept looking at your Instagram posts, as well as those of your support crew. I notice that your diet consists entirely of soda and candy. I can recommend some great dentists in case you don’t know any.)

You, dear reader, can also stalk Dr Sabbe at https://instagram.com/karelsabbe?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

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Comments 4

  • Mria : Aug 15th

    I LOL’d multiple times. Enjoying your writing and the family’s journey!

  • P : Aug 15th

    Well told!

  • Susanne : Aug 15th

    This was hilarious!!! What great writing. I was on the edge of my seat

  • Warren Edward Doyle : Aug 16th

    Bravo fanboy!


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