North Country Trail – Hike 100 Challenge

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I am extremely proud to say that I am a supporting member of the NCTA (North Country Trail Association).  I have taken it upon myself to take on the NCTA Hike 100 Challenge for 2018. If you aren’t familiar with this, you can read more about it here, on the NCTA website. The challenge is to hike 100 miles on the North Country Trail within the year.

This may not seem as much of a challenge to many of you young whipper snappers, and I say this with great respect to my elders. I may not seem old to many of you, as I am merely a middle-aged father nearing the end of my thirties. I understand that I may still have a whole lot to learn, but I also have gained some wisdom that I am able and happy to share with those younger generations just starting to gain afoot in the world.

"North Country Trail Manistee Forest" by Raccoon Posse is licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The challenge for me is that even though the rules state that I am able to hike the same 5-mile section of the trail 20 times, I do not want to hike the same section more than once. I want to see 100 different miles of this trail, making this just a bit tougher. I also live more than two hours away from any section of the trail, so I will have to drive a decent amount to get to the trail. I have a full time job supporting my family, which I can’t just up and ignore. I also have an amazing family; a beautiful wife and two amazing daughters (ages six and one) that I don’t want to spend too much time away from.

I do, however, have some options to explore. This past October, I enjoyed an awesome, adventurous two-day kayak trip on the Pine River in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, you can read the story here. The trail covers almost 140 miles within the forest, and I would truly enjoy spending a few days hiking it, and exploring much more of what I haven’t discovered yet. I can also head down to Ohio, where the trail runs down the west side of the state, along the southern part, and back up the eastern side. I could choose a section of the trail in Ohio, and maybe stop and visit my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and their kids in Wilmington, which isn’t far off the trail, by the Little Miami River in the Little Miami State Park or hike through Hocking Hills, which I have been wanted to take my wife to for quite some time now.

I guess I need to start planning out my year in order to accomplish what I am setting out to do. I know that I can break it down to a bunch of day hikes, but I wouldn’t mind doing some overnight backpacking on the trail, whether it be in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or possibly the Allegheny National Forest of Pennsylvania. I could try and plan a family trip to the Adirondacks of New York, but I’m not sure if this year would be good for that, having a one year old. That may have to wait a year or two, unless my wife would agree to a trip there with just the two of us, if we can get a babysitter. I could also do a section of the trail up in the Border Region of Minnesota, a 104-mile section rated as difficult where backcountry experience and land navigation skills are necessary, visiting the Grand Portage State Forest, or even the Great Plains of North Dakota, which I have not visited yet in my life. With over 4,600 miles, the options are copious.

"FLT M01 17.90 mi - Sign at blue trail junction (Access 6)" by javajoe6 is licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Maybe I can talk my wife and kids into hiking part of the trail with me. It may be tough for my little one as she just started walking, but I’m sure with the way that she can’t sit still now, walking constant circles through our house, that she may be up to a little bit of a challenge and do some easy hiking with Daddy later in the year. We may not cover much distance, but the experience of getting her out and getting used to hiking in the woods will be heartwarming to me, and quite an adventure for her. Her only experience hiking in the woods so far has been her sitting in the umbrella stroller, which isn’t too horrible for me pushing through dirt or wood-chip lined paths. I have still been awed to see the wonderment in her eyes when we explore the towering trees, when we notice a deer just off the path, or hearing the sounds of a small river or stream running over large rocks or a downed tree. I can already tell that she is going to have a passion for the outdoors, just like her daddy. I can see it in her eyes and deep down in her soul.

As for my six year old, she’s already beginning to take after my passion for the outdoors. She has begged me on multiple occasions to take her on a hike and explore new trails. She loves being in the woods, listening to the wondrous music that nature composes. She seeks out to find and catch a glimpse of squirrels, chipmunks, frogs, snakes, and other fauna that love to hide in the brush. She has conquered a few six-plus mile hikes with me already. However, she does have her moments that her feet hurt and wants me to pick her up and carry her on my shoulders. I’m not too sure that my back can take it too much longer. She’s growing like a weed these days, and she’s much taller than her other first grade cohorts.

"North Country National Scenic Trail" by Aarongunnar is licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0

I am soon looking forward to get my wife out on a few overnight backpacking trips. We have definitely done our fair share of tent and wilderness camping, but I have not had the chance to get her out on an actual backpacking trip. I think we’re going to have to work our way up to longer trips, beginning with a one-nighter first. I’m looking into a guided backpacking beginner trip, where an expert guide can teach her the basics, as I may have a tough time trying to teach her myself. I apologize in advance, but she doesn’t take much to me telling her what to do. I’m sure many of you can relate. Sorry, Tweety (I say this with a grin on my face and pouty eyes).

All in all, I am excited to take on this challenge, and will do my best to quash the trial I lay before myself. I am adrenalized to explore new crooks and crannies, bridges and footpaths, and passageways that I have not come across before. Are you ready for me, North Country Trail? This is what I live for as a hiker; a nature enthusiast; an outdoor soul. I’m taking my soul outdoors. It’ll thank me.

Happy hiking, and maybe I’ll see you out there.

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