The paradox of thru-hiking: I must keep walking to get anywhere, but sometimes I just don't want to leave.
I was back on the road before the sun came up after a night of quarreling with whatever sickness remained in me. I soon found myself walking over interesting ice formations that covered the trail heading out of Verona.
Brown, globby ice layers had formed after the previous day's rainfall and, in places, thin ice sheets broke through as I walked over them, sparking my interest. Trails and roads alternated but ice was rather persistent, keeping me very aware as to not bust my ass again.
Reading the introduction to Jack London's The Call of the Wild and White Fang left me feeling mournful; he committed suicide at the young age of 40 by an overdose of morphine, as if to make the pain of his life slip away.
As I neared Cross Plains, a white truck pulled to the side of the road ahead of me and two men hopped out and walked over. It was Tim and Luke from the Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA) saying how they figured they might see me walking this road one of these days.
They congradulated me on my progress, offered me a potential job as a trail ambassador after the hike, and even ordered some pizza to celebrate once I reached the office. Wow! They even jokingly offered me a ride, but alas, I must walk every step to be considered a thousand miler by the IATA, and they knew this as well as I.
As I walked the remaining three miles to the IATA's Headquarters, a few more people stopped to talk. The first, a kind elderly lady, congratulated me on my walk after offering me water, a ride, anything she could. I had everything I needed and carried on after thanking her.
The next person stopped their car at a side street stop sign and turned off the engine. She got out of her car and asked, "are you the thru-hiker?" She had been following my journey on social media and seemed glad to run into me. We chatted briefly and I invited her to the Headquarters for pizza before walking on, but never did see her again.
When I arrived at the large metal Mammoth outside the Headquarters, I hardly began to take a selfie before some employees rushed out to snap the shot for me.
I walked inside, greeting the various familiar faces I had seen at the Ice Age Trail Conference in Wisconsin last year or, even more recently, at the National Scenic Trails Workshop in Florida. How nice to see some of the most fun and interesting people in the trail community once again!
Not a minute later, Barry Adams and Amber Arnold from the Wisconsin State Journal walk through the door, right on time for the interview I had scheduled a week before. Before I knew it, I was exploding my pack and answering questions while getting photographed.
When the pizza arrived, the staff and I filled the conference room, talking freely as we all were interviewed by Barry, Amber snapping away behind her lens throughout. I hardly feel more contented than when gathered in a room with trail people, cracking jokes, telling stories, and chilling out. I could tell this was a special moment and I was very happy to share it with everyone.
I spent the rest of the evening chatting with Jo while petting her docile little dog, further discussing the proposed ambassadorship with Tim and Luke, and hearing more about Wisconsin's glaciation from Dave before he drove me the short distance to Jared's, a three-time Ice Age Trail thousand miler who offered to let me crash at his place in town.
After a wonderful breakfast at a restaurant the next morning, I mozied on over to the Headquarters to take advantage of the shower and laundry machines in their basement. I swept the floors of the tucked-away area while investigating the odds and ends that were lying around everywhere: relics from the past, interesting maps, books, VHS tapes, you name it.
Another interesting artifact seen in the IATA Headquarters basement.
After finishing chores and getting all packed up, I hit the trail in the afternoon, not really wanting to leave, but left with no more to do than keep walking.
The sections of trail I encountered that day were really peaceful and freshly covered with a thin layer of snow that had fallen the night before. On the long, intermittent road walks I dove deeper into The Call of the Wild.
I had planned to meet Todd, a section hiker and thousand miler, at a warming hut along the trail for an interview. As I walked on into the night, the trail took me into the hills behind Indian Lake and I enjoyed hiking through the darkness as the winds died and the moon shone.
In the warming hut Todd and I were getting smoked out by the wood stove so he invited me back to his place to stay the night and conduct the interview.
The next morning I enjoyed a bowl of cereal and made a sandwich for later in the day. After a quick picture, I continued my walk on roads and dove right back into The Call of the Wild , which I was beginning to fall in love with, it's fast paced storyline keeping me on edge yet remaining incredibly detailed throughout.
Soon I found myself at the Springfield Hill loop, which was quite lovely despite the brisk weather. I crossed paths with some folks halfway through, and arrived back at the start at the same time they did. A man in the group came over to talk to me, saying he had read about me in the paper.
Down the road I went, reading and walking, the wind smacking me in the face all the while. Last year, I had met Jacob Haag, and intern with the IATA, at the National Scenic Trails Workshop in Pensacola, FL. He mentioned his parents lived right on one of the connector routes and, although he would be in Asia at the time, told me I could stop by.
As I neared the Haag residence, I debated simply walking by, as I felt more than good enough to keep trucking. But, at least to take a break from the cold, I decided to knock on the door.
His father, Rich, greeted me at the door as if he had been expecting me, and invited me right on in. We shared pleasant conversation in their home and he offered me a few Izze sodas, which I could not refuse.
Outside their front window, a multitude of birds fluttered around the many feeders set out and I thought of how much more interesting it was to watch as opposed to the brain-numbing nonsense that plays on television. I was looking at the real world, real creatures that call it home, and marveled at the magnificence of that which just is.
After a short time, Jacob's mother, Terry, came home and was delighted to meet me as "Jacob talked about me all the time". She sent me off with candies as I continued down the trail. I would have loved to spend more time with them, but the Trail was calling and I had many more miles to go.
Eventually the roads led me to the Lodi Marsh segment, where I enjoyed vast prairies and large hills. As the sun set and I came upon "Dave's Overlook", I was treated to a firey sunset that I had to stand and watch for a few minutes as it changed and glowed over the hills in the distance. After a colorless day, I was blown away by the splendor of the fading light.
And, like always, I carried on, not really wanting to leave.
I soon found myself in Lodi, and a car pulled over next to me as I walked down the sidewalk. It was Joanna, the Lodi Valley chapter coordinator, who I had just seen back at the IATA Headquarters. She kindly offered to buy my dinner and recommended a restaurant in town. How nice! She handed me a $20 bill, wished me luck, and continued on her way.
So I ended up at One 11 Main and, since it was Friday, endulged in the fish fry which came with a bomb coleslaw that had raisins in it. I had arranged to stay with Tim Malzahn, the IATA's Director of Trail Operations, and after resupplying at a gas station, I headed over to his house.
He had given me instructions to let myself into the room above his garage, and I was pleasantly surprised by its cabin-like vibes. I spent some time noticing the artifacts around the room: a guitar amp, hand painted vinyl album covers, a pint glass with a picture of an old camera on it, a tall plant that looked like none I had seen before.
Not too much time passed before Tim came up to greet me and we chatted freely, his wife joining us a bit later. I learned much about Tim, like how he used to be a master printmaker for acclaimed photographers, and felt perfectly at home in a new place.
The next morning we again chatted over coffee and cereal before I took off down the road again. The day was beautiful, and I traveled into some fine segments of trail, some showing signs of having been recently traversed by only the animals of the wild.
At one point along one of the roadwalks, I noticed a car had been stopped for longer than normal at a stop sign. A woman emerged from the car who recognized me and was a Thousand Miler Wannabe (as we so affectionately refer to ourselves) like me, although she was section hiking the trail. We chatted excitedly for a minute and she got her picture taken with me before taking off. I got back to my book and the roads as they brought me to the next trailhead.
I came across some actual exposure and views at the rock out croppings of the Gibraltar segment. The way the land dropped away in front of me was reminiscent of my hiking past in the Pacific Northwest.
Quickly approaching was the Wisconsin River which, in the summer, has a ferry that takes cars and people across to Merrimac. Of course, with the river frozen over, it does not run in the winter, and I was faced with three options: walk 19.5 miles around the area on roads, hike across the train tracks that span the river, or simply walk across the frozen river.
I had received a report from Todd that the river was probably good to walk across, although there was no indisputable evidence. But rather than breaking the law and risking coming face-to-face with a train on the tracks, or walking or getting a ride around, I figured I'd give it a try.
It had been pretty warm recently, and this day was no exception. But as I approached the crossing, I saw someone walking with their dog over a section of ice near the shore and chatted with them about the crossing. They didn't really know wether it was doable, but mentioned that the main flow was near the other shore and that that would be the sketchiest part of the traverse.
So I started across, intimately aware of the sounds around me, listening and feeling for any movement or cracking as I nervously and ever-so-delicately glided across the snow covered surface.
I beelined to the other shore and soon enough found myself upon it, having had no issues at all. Piece of cake! To celebrate my not dying on the crossing, I stopped into a bar and got a root beer and french fries, and yes, I ate the half of a burger that the guy next to me didn't finish.
I filled my water and plugged in tunes as I walked down the road, denying a ride from a passerby. The rest of the day I hiked trails that led to Devils Lake, and I enjoyed plentiful views and scenic prairies before I reached the Lake as the last of the day's light glowed on the horizon.
I continued around Devil's Lake in the dark, and set up camp as my pace began to slow. The sky was clear and the moon was bright, waking me up here and there during the cold night.
I got packed up early the next day and kept a good pace for the few hours of trail before heading onto the roads yet again for the remainder of the day. I noticed an increased hunger and determined I had had less than 3,000 calories per day since Lodi, about half of what I should be eating. I was to see concrete evidence of this later as I stepped on a scale and registered only 151 lbs (I normally weigh near 170 lbs).
With a lack of sufficient calories for the remainder of their day, I stopped to cook a dinner in the warm mid-day sun. As I melted snow alongside the road, two people walked by, section hikers, and we chatted, mostly about my hike.
They went their way and I mine as I dove deeper into White Fang, having finished The Call of the Wild, the rice and beans rehydrating in my pack as my tummy rumbled. I read of times of famine and felt the words ring true in my gut.
As I finished scarfing the rice and beans, I was delighted when the section hikers, shuttling back to their car, offered me three nice trail bars. Sweet!
The roads offered plentiful views of the surrounding farmland and as the sunlight yellowed and shadows lengthened I came upon Aldo Leopold's shack, the mile-long side trip proving well worth it.
I walked on, away from the fading light, solidifying plans to be picked up by Michael, a thru-hiker who completed the trail this past summer with the Warrior Hike program. The final miles of the road walk began to wear on me, and I plugged in Meshuggah's The Violent Sleep of Reason to help get me into Portage.
I met Michael right on time and enjoyed our conversation as he drove me to his parents house in Baraboo, where he was visiting for the weekend. Soon I was stuffing myself with blueberry brats and delicious cheesy potatoes (and much more) while chatting with the whole family and watching Sunday Night Football.
Michael and I stayed up late talking gear and sharing pictures from trips past before heading to bed. As I went to write in my Rite in the Rain journal, I noticed my Rite in the Rain pen missing and determined it had been left unintentionally at my cowboy camp near Devil's Lake. Oh well.
Among the plentifully amazing food and good company, I decided to take an off day. I tagged along on a shopping trip to Wal-Mart making sure to get closer to 5,000 calories of food per day for the next stretch. I was able to get some much needed writing done after repackaging the next 6 days worth of food.
Michael's Mom offered to sew the holes in my gloves and proceeded to cook a wonderful pot roast dinner complete with salad, mashed potatoes, and homemade rolls. Yum! I felt blessed to share such a feast with such a warm and welcoming family.
The next morning I was treated to another great meal of fried mashed potatoes and eggs, bacon, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before being driven back to the trail by Michael. I was not particularly excited about the three-season temperatures and rain I was to encounter (or the 40 lb load I'd be hauling in my frameless Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus backpack), but was feeling more than refreshed and ready to continue the walk.
Because of the ice storm that had swept over the area the day before, the roads were a sheet of ice, and after falling on my butt right out of the gate, I strapped on the Pocket Cleats.
After a nice stretch of trail, it was all roads except for a two-mile loop around Muir Lake. With my pack loaded full of food, all my layers, and snowshoes, my back was aching something terrible. My left shoulder developed a sharp pain and I found myself taking many breaks in order to make it down the road.
I received an offer for a place to stay and although I felt rather fresh from having had an off day, the rain, warm temps, and heavy pack made it pretty hard to deny. I planned to meet Dan at a bar later that night.
As I circumnavigated the lake clockwise, I stopped to strap on the Pocket Cleats once again. As I continued down the trail I noticed the lake to my left now. But how? Was it another lake? No . . . Soon I came upon a bench I had just seen. Dang it! I had headed back the way I came. Things just weren't going my way.
But as I completed the loop, a car pulled up and out stepped Dan and his son to offer me hot cocoa and conversation. He was dropping his son off in Portage and we agreed he could pick me up from the roadwalk afterwards.
The minutes dragged on as darkness fell, and soon enough, Dan was there and I hopped in his car. Despite living 35 miles away, he was happy to help. He had section hiked the trail in large chunks in 2015 and felt he was paying it forward. He treated me to as much pizza as I could eat and I crashed happily in a comfy bed.
We woke early and, after a filling breakfast, headed back to the trail along roads that were absolutely disgusting, reducing the travel speed by half. Soon enough I was walking the gross roads, doing my best not to slip on the prevalent ice or walk in the middle of the road.
Made it to Packwaukee rather early and stopped into a bar for a drink and a smoke. Carried on down the road (passing a grocery store, 5 days of food in my pack, shoulders screaming at me) and stopped into a bar in Westfield for lunch. This was my last stop in town for a bit, so I took my time.
As I made it to a highway rest stop I got a chance to use my Northern Lites Backcountry snowshoes I had been carrying all this way! I even broke trail in 6"+ of snow before making it to a cowboy camp with the stars overhead and the cars and semis driving down the highway over yonder.
The next day I wore the Northern Lites snowshoes nearly all day until a rivit busted. I called Jim York from Northern Lites and he said he would drive a pair out to me. Sweet! So without worry I carried on, spotting a bald eagle soar overhead.
I also saw a tractor (that I later learned is called a "processor") that grabs a tree, chops it down, then moves it and slides it down, cutting it to length. This machine was doing its bidding right next to the trail and I held up for a second to avoid getting hit.
I took many breaks on the many benches along the trail and soaked in the woods around me for what seemed like the first time of my trip.
Rain overnight broke as I decided to get up and at 'em. I took my time packing up, enjoying a smoke and watching the forest before continuing onto a short stretch of trail, road, then back to trail with deep snow requiring snowshoes. I rigged the busted snowshoe into working order after a short initial struggle.
I enjoyed and loathed the toil of breaking trail, but supposed I ought to get used to it. I took full advantage of the benches along the trail and began to see the merit of taking breaks, taking a second to let the environment soak in; soon enough I was back on the road.
I got to roadwalking with a pep in my step and a sting in my left shoulder. The ice on the roads was manageable as I read White Fang , looking up to navigate the slick sections. Walked past a bar that existed when doing research last year but was no more. Some swiss roll cakes helped quell my remorse.
The ice became more and more prominent and I was forced to use my Pocket Cleats until the left one broke in half, so I limped on with semi-traction. I noticed I had crossed into Portage County and called up Natalie's (who had helped me out back near West Bend) mom, Tracy, who had offered her magic a while back.
Tracy agreed to pick me up after running her errands and I made it to a trail head to wait for the ride. Solidified plans with Jim York to drop the snowshoes off at their house early the next morning before getting picked up and helping navigate back to Tracy's house.
I was treated to a wonderous dinner after talking with Jay, Tracy's husband, about his cool unfinished project of a basement. Funny thing was Natalie and her boyfriend Eric who I stayed with just a few weeks back were to arrive any minute: they were staying the weekend for Jay's 60th birthday. We chose not to tell them I was there and I waited excitedly to surprise them.