Trekking the North Country Trail: How’d That Work Out for You?

July 13, 2023

Trekking the North Country Trail: How’d That Work Out for You?

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. Young, 74, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010. 

She began her trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. Though she was unable to continuously hike the trail, due to weather, she completed her trek on June 18, 2023, ending where she began.

Most readers are aware by this time that I did finish my second hike of the North Country National Scenic Trail on June 18, 2023. Everyone keeps asking me how I feel about this accomplishment, but I have not had a very good answer. There hasn’t been enough time to process the feelings or the reactions of people or the physical satisfaction.

Was it a thru-hike? Who knows? Not by the way some folks tally such endeavors. I took a three-month break in the middle. I didn’t finish in a 12-month period. I have to confess to some disappointment that I was not able to finish in a continuous hike, but what would have been the point of hiking about two miles a day for the next six months (it was June before the western UP was open for hiking the piece I had to abandon to deep snow) just to say I hiked continuously?

We’re not even sure if I’m the first person to do it twice. Ed Talone has at least done large portions two times. Pretty sure I’m the oldest, 75, at time of finish, but with 70 being the new 50, I suspect that won’t last. 

Am I happy I did this? Yes, I am! It was a year of my life well spent. I became even more dedicated to this trail, and I know I was able to generate enthusiasm in other people.

To all those who say that I’m amazing: Thank you for your sentiments, but I would defer that praise to God, who is amazing. I only got up and put one foot in front of the other every day. This is what an amazing God can do for us. Once we have a purpose, the wonderful thing is that we can continue to walk one step at a time toward the goal. My “message” about this hike is not that you can do it too, but that you can tap into that same available strength to do whatever you are called to do. 

Of course, there were days that were hard. There were a few days I quit early due to weather issues. There were even a couple of days when my joints hurt so much that I wasn’t sure how many miles more I had left in me. I had to walk around or through obstacles–deep water or snow, blown-down trees, temporary trail closures, missing blazes. I caught some flu-bug while in New York (not COVID-19) that kept me down a few days.

But every day that I hiked I had some kind of support. I never had to hike out and back to my car for lack of a person to spot me. Someone hiked with me for 169 of the days.  

There are obvious parallels with “real” life here. And that’s my point. Whether it’s a trail or a work-related goal or a lifestyle change, it’s got to be one step at a time, with support from willing helpers, ever looking to the true source of amazement. 

Given my size, and increasing the steps per mile due to uneven terrain, I may have walked 14.5 million steps. Never look at that number before you start–just take that one step and get going. 

What happened on the final day at Timber Creek?  About 10 people came out to hike the last section with me, and a total of about 25 celebrated my completion. Some were friends I’ve known for 50 years. Others were brand new acquaintances who had been following the hike on my blog. Bruce Micinski, president of the Lake County Historical Society, presented me with the first ever Andy Horujko award. Andy was a man from Lake County who walked from Alaska to the tip of South America in the 1970s. Chris Loudenslager, superintendent of the NCT for the National Park Service was there. After some sharing and introductions, the party moved to a location where a meal was provided by the Spirit of the Woods Chapter of the NCTA.

It was a wonderful conclusion to the 18 months and 18 days of following my dream. 

“May the quiet fire of God’s love arise within you. May its flames of joy and peace enlighten your steps in this world, and may you be like the burning bush, the presence of God for each other, that holy healing light of love, the breath of God made manifest in you.”

– Bob Holmes, the Contemplative Monk.

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This story is copyrighted © 2023, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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