Notice: I've taken a part-time job, and it's definitely affecting my blogging time. I'll continue to add content here as often as possible. Pertinent guest posts are always welcome.


Monday, July 12, 2010

All But a Couple of Miles!

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J Young and Marie Altenau with Mackinac Bridge in the background (photo by JHY)

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by JHY

I've returned from my extensive wanderings, and although to keep telling about my own hikes here seems a little self-serving, it is my blog, and it is NCTA news. I've been pretty swamped, and still am, which is why I've been so slow to get back to this blog.

But, here I am, 20 years after the beginning, on the verge of finishing my North Country Trail Quest. My hiking buddy, since the beginning, is Marie Altenau. She hasn't been as interested in hiking the entire trail as I, nevertheless, she has walked an impressive 2660 miles of the NCT.

We hiked the almost final 115 miles between Five Lake, Michigan and the Bridge in June. My first NCT miles were hiked in September of 1991. At that time, I had no idea at all of hiking the whole trail. The primary source of my excitement was that I had found a National Scenic Trail very near to where I live. My childhood dream was to hike the Appalachian Trail, the only other NST that I knew about.

After a few other short hikes on the NCT, Marie and I took our first long hike in 1994, completing the NCT through the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania in 1994. We were having fun, but I still had no thought of hiking the entire trail.

By the end of the next summer, we had sampled the plains section of the trail in North Dakota and I had decided that I really did want to try to hike the entire trail. By that time, only three other people had hiked it (Peter Wolfe, Chet Fromme, and Ed Talone), and one followed the route by bike and on foot (Carolyn Hoffman). But I was in no hurry. I wanted to savor each piece. And I have.

Skip ahead to about 2005, when I published a book of my adventures North Country Cache. Much to my great surprise, there was still no other woman who had hiked the entire trail. In fact, no one else had completed the challenge. Andy Skurka was actually on his was across the country, using the NCT as part of the Sea to Sea route.

I decided that I'd just keep plugging away at the trail, and try to keep my ears open for rumors of any other women who might be setting out to hike the trail. I'd had a bit of a "scare" in 2004 when JoJo Smiley, and her husband, Nomad (not Nimblewill Nomad), set out to hike it, but they left after completing just under 1300 miles.

A few more hikers finished the NCT, but they were all guys: Don Beattie, Allen Shoup, Bart Smith. But last summer, two people rose to prominence in trail news. They were Nimblewill Nomad (Eb Eberhard) and Mother Goose (Bonita Helton).

As the years had crept on, and my total exceeded 3000 miles, and then 3500, I realized that I could beat any woman who set out to hike the NCT, as long as I knew in time. Although Nimblewill was out to hike the entire trail in one year- and he did- Mother Goose settled on a two-year plan. I knew that if I increased my pace that I could be first. But, did I want to do that? One of the things I liked best about my yearly pace is that it gave me time to think about and savor the locations and things I'd experienced. For about a week, I wrestled with that decision, but finally decided that I did want to be first. As it turns out, Mother Goose hiked about half of the NCT, and then headed back to the drier west.

And here I am, 20 years after beginning, just a couple of miles short of being the first woman to hike the entire North Country Trail. If you count only the people who have traveled it entirely on foot, I'll be number 9... the last of the single digits. That's truly amazing. Of course I do have to hike those last miles. I'll try not to get run over by a truck before August 3.

I've tried to keep very close track of the miles I've walked, and to stay as close to the route of the trail as possible (except in the Adirondacks where there was no potential route when I hiked there). My total is going to come in at 4394 total miles. I'd like it to be 4400 without rounding up, but the numbers are what they are. You can hike those final miles with me by coming to Petoskey, Michigan. See more information at the link below. It's been a great walk!

See Books Leaving Footprints


Mike Duchek said...

Curious as to how you "thru-hikers" reconcile the fact that since the trail is always growing, you soon find that segments you "completed" may now have miles of new trail. Do you strive to go back to new segments at some point, or are you just trying to walk the whole path from ND to NY?

Sharkbytes said...

Mike- It's always, on all trails been somewhat honor system, and the trail that counts for you is whatever it was when you hiked it. Trails are always changing.

No one would say that an AT hiker from 1950 hadn't hiked the trail because many parts are different now.

Mike Duchek said...

That's what I thought. I joined the Heritage chapter this weekend for a work weekend. Here are some photos. There will be a guided hike to this segment for the upcoming conference.