Carolina man braves Independence Pass during cross-country run for veterans

Prior to starting his trek across America, Larkins had never run more than a marathon and had never been to Colorado

When coming over Independence Pass from Twin Lakes and Leadville, there is a bit of a false front to it that deceived Russell Larkins. It was all worth it in the end, he said, but admits he didn’t quite know what he was getting himself into on Monday morning.

“I had no idea. Absolutely none,” Larkins said Wednesday. “It was kind of flat for a while and I was like, ‘Oh, that was it.’ And then I hit that next turn and realized that was the real pass. When I got to the top of that it was beautiful, but I was crushed.”

Larkins is a 30-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran from North Carolina who is in the midst of running across the country. He began his journey April 27 and hopes to finish up roughly six weeks from now in San Francisco, all to promote veteran suicide awareness.

He was inspired to try his cross-country trip after reading, “Can’t Hurt Me,” a self-help memoir written by veteran and ultra-distance athlete, David Goggins. Larkins left all of six days after finishing the book.

“The longer you plan it, the more you can talk yourself out of it. I just took off,” Larkins said, saying he’s also drawn inspiration from Aspen runner Rickey Gates, who completed a cross-country run a few years back. “We are just really trying to motivate veterans to get outside, to help with PTSD depression and any thoughts of suicide, or anything like that. I’m trying to get people to really reach out to veterans, because 20 veterans commit suicide every day. It’s really sad and in all this isolation — even with non-veterans, I’m sure — suicide has increased since COVID started, with all the isolation. So it’s not good for anybody.”

Prior to starting his trek across America, Larkins had never run more than a marathon and had never been to Colorado. He came over Loveland Pass and into the Breckenridge area last week, saying at the time Summit County was the “most beautiful place” he’d ever seen. It seems Independence Pass may now be No. 1 on his list, but whether he enjoyed it is a different question.

He left Twin Lakes around 10 a.m. Monday and reached the top of the pass sometime after 1 p.m., all while dodging traffic with a 34-pound pack and a rather large American flag in tow.

“If I didn’t have a pack on, I don’t think it would have been that crazy. It was just the fact there are cars passing you while you are on the ledge of a mountain; that was kind of crazy,” Larkins said. “Independence Pass to Aspen, that topped Loveland Pass, for sure. I was so tired that I don’t think I could really enjoy it … I don’t know if I enjoyed it more. I have no idea. I was so exhausted.”

Larkins had planned to do the complete 40-mile journey over the pass in one day, but by 10 p.m. still had 8 miles to go before reaching Aspen and decided it was too dangerous to continue and completed his journey Tuesday morning. This did give him some extra time in Aspen, where he stayed at the Mountain Chalet and dined at Campo de Fiori, all courtesy of giving locals.

He then left Aspen for Glenwood Springs on Wednesday, where he is now bound for the hot, dry desert of Utah.

“I’m still figuring out the logistics of crossing the desert, because I need to carry more water,” Larkins said. “You can kind of adapt to that. In Afghanistan it was averaging in the 100s and we were out there with 100 pounds on our backs. You get used to it.”

Since the beginning of his journey, Larkins has started a nonprofit called “Veterans for Good,” which raises money for veterans struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues. He occasionally runs with his dog, Storm, to raise money for service dogs. Michelob Ultra has also been a major sponsor for Larkins during his trip, which now is officially west of the continental divide.

“I probably had to sit down a solid 10 times going up that thing just to catch my breath. But it was beyond beautiful and it was totally worth it,” Larkins said of going over Independence Pass. “Colorado, I don’t think I’m going to be able to top it. A lot of people said Utah was really beautiful, but I don’t see how I can top these mountains. I really don’t.”

For more on Larkins and his nonprofit, visit or search for “Run Russell Run” on Facebook.