A whirlwind of nerves

Finally packed up and ready to drive to Michigan.

Having 42 things on my to-do list for the week before I left on my halfway thru hike of the North Country Trail meant that a frenzy of activity distracted me from my nerves.

I focused on getting my will done, a list of my passwords for online accounts, so my family doesn’t have logistical headaches on top of their grief if the worst comes to pass during my journey. I tested my InReach Delorme with GEOS. I made several disorganized trips to area stores, and took over my mother’s living room for two full days, an explosion of gear and dehydrated food.

As fast as I scrambled, I still left town 36 hours later than planned. Driving though Wisconsin and Michigan, through the Upper Peninsula, I studied the landscape for when I’d be hiking through the area again a month later. I slept in my car, then arrived just minutes before the Long-Distance Hiking workshop at the North Country Trail Association’s 2019 Trail Celebration in Bellaire, Michigan.

I met up with Lisa LaPorte Light, my first trail angel of the trip, who hosted me at her cabin for the weekend. She’d done a 13-mile hike that day. Both exhausted, we headed back to the cabin to get into pajamas and talk all things trail late into the night. It was the best sleepover ever.

The next morning, I went on a 10-mile hike in the Sands Lake Quiet Area and proceeded to get really excited about starting my journey. I was exhausted to the bone, but one walk along the beautiful Boardman River reminded me why I’d been working so hard.

Trumpeter swans on Sand Lake.

Getting to meet other NCT hikers, including Joan Young, one of only five women to complete an end-to-end trip, made me realize that although I’m hiking solo, I am not alone. I was overwhelmed with offers of assistance by everyone around me, and requests to meet up to hike with me along the trail. Gratitude was the emotion of the day.

Pleased by how my body stood up to its first long-distance hike of the season, I stuffed my face with pizza and then returned to the cabin with Lisa and hit my first tech roadblock. I’d shot so much video, my phone’s memory was full. I’d arranged to interview Joan, Luke Jordan, a 2013 thru-hiker, and Derrick Passe, a board member and maintainer of two wilderness sections of trail in Minnesota. Instead of heading back to the celebration, I was trapped beneath a gorgeous white pine at Lisa’s frantically trying to figure out how to transfer video to a memory card. Due to my late arrival, I’d also missed connecting with some trail chapters to discuss trail conditions. I felt like I was messing everything up already.

I bought Derrick Passe an IPA to say thank you for the incredibly hard work he and others did to clear the Kekekabic Trail, a wilderness section of the NCT, and the Snowbank Trail, another BWCA hiking trail, after 2016 straight-line wind storms destroyed the trails.

Finally, I rushed back to the celebration, got my interviews, and drove back to the cabin to collapse into a deep sleep.

It wasn’t until I was driving further south to my starting point near Croton Dam on Sunday that the fear and nerves started to set in. Hundreds of miles from home in territory completely unfamiliar to me, I started to fixate on all the unknowns, the dangers.

But having met so many people, having received so many offers of help, my fears and nerves were banished from knowing I’m not really alone out here.

Time to start this hike. I can’t wait to meet you, North Country Trail. Let’s make some Wild Stories together.

Why the North Country Trail instead of the Appalachian Trail?

Crossing a beaver dam on the Snowbank Trail.

Beginning May 2019, I’ll attempt to hike half of the North Country Trail, America’s longest National Scenic Trail at 4,600 miles. The North Country Trail (NCT) stretches from Vermont at its eastern terminus all the way to North Dakota.

I’ll begin my trek near the trail’s halfway point in lower peninsula Michigan, hike north to the upper peninsula, turn west toward Wisconsin, eventually cross into my home state of Minnesota, and finish at the western trail terminus in North Dakota.

I plan to hike 2,400 miles in 5-6 months. I’ll keep hiking as long as my body, money, and the weather hold out.

There are 11 National Scenic Trails in America. The three most well-known are the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Instead of heading to a trail on the coasts or the divide, I want to stay in the northern woods that I love. In recent years, the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail have become pretty crowded if your main motivation for backpacking is the peace, quiet and solitude the woods can offer, like me.

The number of people thru-hiking (or hiking an entire trail) the Appalachian (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) has been increasing each year. In 2013, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) issued 1,879 long-distance permits (hiking 500 miles or more). In 2018, the PCTA issued 7,313 permits, according to the PCTA’s website. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy asks AT thru-hikers to register their start date on its website. According to the registration charts for 2019, between March 1 and May 1 there are six days when more than 50 thru-hikers plan to start hiking northbound on the same day, and between March 1 and April 10, there is not a single day when fewer than 20 hikers plan to start the trail. That is a lot of people, so many people that the ATC has started asking people to “flip-flop” the trail to reduce damage to the trail.

Another way to reduce damage to America’s most popular National Scenic Trail would be to go hike a different one, which is my plan.

Even though I won’t complete a “thru-hike” of the trail (I’m calling my hike a “half-thru hike”) I will hike more miles than AT hikers, and a couple hundred fewer than PCT hikers. For me, the title of thru-hiker is less important than the experience of hiking 2,400 miles in 5-6 months. Although I’ll likely miss out on hiking with other people like the “trail families” that thru-hikers form on the PCT and AT, the tradeoff of having peace, quiet and alone time in the woods is worth it for me.

Follow along with the blog or vlog to see if my hypothesis that the NCT can offer an equally stunning and life-changing thru-hiking experience is true.