GTPulse: Walk 100 Miles in the Year of Nothing To Do

Every few days, I convince myself that I’ve gotten sick. Allergy season amid a pandemic has added stress to my average springtime symptoms. Was that sneeze because I opened the window or because I’ve caught coronavirus? How close was that woman who was coughing at the gas station to me? The paranoia is annoying and real. Mostly, I keep it in check, but when it gets to a point where it feels unbearable I know that I need to get out of the house. Getting outside has been one of the few comforts I’ve taken solace in throughout all of this. I’ve been going outside to familiar places and not so familiar places. Trails I’ve walked before, and ones I’ve never heard of. North Country Trail was, until recently, unfamiliar to me but on a running list of trails I want to explore. The North Country Trail Association created a 100 Mile Challenge to inspire novice and experienced hikers to spend some quality time on the Trail.

Marketing and Communications Coordinator of the North Country Trail Association Kate Lemon educated me on all things NCT.

I once dated a guy who was obsessed with hiking the entirety of the Pacific Coast Trail. He was like the girl in that book Wild, except instead of a divorce, he was reconciling with a bad restaurant job and picking a college major he ended up hating. Me being unfamiliar with any trail beyond a few unassuming, local trails, thought that to go on a truly long hike one would have to do the PCT. Go big or go home, right? Plus, what other huge Trail was that close to us here in Michigan? 

“The authorized route that the NCNST follows today differs significantly in many areas from some of the initial proposals,” Kate said. “Some of the early proposed route highlights and suggestions included transecting Ohio through Columbus to the Michigan/Indiana border, following the Lake Michigan shoreline, a large loop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and following the length of the Sheyenne River in North Dakota. The Trail’s current route was – and continues to be – the direct result of public input received during those early and subsequent public meetings. Today, uniting eight states, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont, the North Country Trail immerses the hiker in the best natural features and cultural heritage the North Country has to offer. It is over 4,600 miles long.”

The longest in the National Trails System, and we’re lucky enough to have some of it running through Grand Traverse and other surrounding counties. The local part of the NCT runs from Starvation Lake to Trail Access on Hodenpyl Dam Road southwest of Mesick, with an added 20-mile loop around Fife Lake. The NCTA and a volunteer group, The Grand Traverse Hiking Club Chapter, work in tandem to maintain the accessibility and beauty of the Trail for the public. 

“Michigan hosts the most miles of all eight states. The Trail crosses nearly the entire Upper Peninsula from east to west, allowing for almost 550 miles of trail use. The Trail then traverses the mighty Mackinac Bridge at the Straits of Mackinac and continues for another 600 miles, mostly south, to the Ohio state line.”

The 100 Mile Challenge is, of course, for anyone to participate in, but I found out about it through a local Facebook group of folks who are completing most, or all, of their miles here. It’s a free, annual program that’s used to promote getting people active and out on the Trail. Started in 2016, thousands have signed up and completed the challenge.

“The rules remain the same each year: Hike any 100 miles on the North Country National Scenic Trail between January 1 and December 31 to earn a limited edition patch and certificate. A new patch design is released each year. Pets can earn a collar tag too! While all mileage needs to be logged on the North Country Trail, the 100 miles don’t need to be unique. We want this to be as accessible a challenge as possible. Hike, walk, snowshoe, run, ski or backpack the same mile 100 times over if you’d like or explore 100 unique miles.”

One hundred miles may sound intimidating, but having a year to complete it takes some pressure off. And really, the point isn’t to be competitive; it’s to complete a challenge doing something fun and healthy. Some locals who are using the lower Michigan trail around Grand Traverse have already completed their 100 miles. Worry not about time, however. A summer filled with canceled events means plenty of time to walk, and who knows, you may find a new community of friends.

“The North Country Trail absolutely connects communities and individuals to one another, not only via its physical pathway but the sense of community it emits. A sense of kinship is formed when one Trail user meets another and realizes they’ve both adventured on the same Trail, even if their experiences were thousands of miles apart. Outdoor access is vital to our mental and physical wellbeing, and many people want to protect that. The North Country Trail community is a venue for them to come together and advocate for something deeply important.”

If you’re interested in starting your own 100 miles, signup is at northcountrytrail.org/hike-100-challenge. Participants are given access to exclusive resources, giveaways. The NCTA also encourages hikers to tag @northcountrytrail on Facebook and Instagram, and use hashtags #hike100nct and #northcountrytrail so the NCTA and community can see them. Who doesn’t want more sunshine and more connection these days? The NCTA is discouraging group gatherings from hiking but not from people using the Trail close to them in general. Kate noted that hikers should follow the Leave No Trace principles, as well as practice proper social distancing for short day trips. For activities outside of walking, running and biking, it’s best to consult the trail alerts.

“I love that I can enjoy the Trail during my lunch break from work, for an hour or two with my three-year-old son, or for multiple days while backpacking with my husband. It’s a unique trail that you can make your own adventure on. Whether you’re looking for an afternoon stroll, a relaxed day hike, a trail run, a backpacking trip or another a long-distance adventure.”

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Categories: GTPulse