Let the adventure begin. Unfortunately, the tales of me going on Survivor have been greatly exaggerated. I did an in-person audition to go on the show, they just never called me. The whole audition experience left me feeling like I’d never have a real shot at going onto Survivor, I’m just not that interesting of a person. All the other people auditioning had emotional stories, the kind of thing TV producers and the American public eat up. Ironically, the most interesting thing about is my inclination to go adventuring, and that is what Brianna and I are actually doing for the next two months, the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin!

Today was leg 1 of 2 travel days before we begin the hike on Tuesday, July 6th. We planned to load up and leave the farm by 0900 this morning and managed to actually be on the road by 1000, not bad for a party of six people in three vehicles; Penny & Curt, Brianna & Shauna, Rick & I. The drive up for me was very enjoyable, I pretty much slept until we arrived at the Rusty Spoke Brewery for lunch, then nodded off and on throughout the drive down US 2 to Escanaba.

We have two rustic sites at the Pioneer Trail Park in Escanaba tonight. It’s a huge homey feeling campground that has been surprisingly quiet.

IAT GEAR LIST – https://lighterpack.com/r/kka6yg


Late night 4th of July fireworks made sleep difficult for all of us, some more so than others. Rumblings from a pop-up thunderstorm woke us all up around 0530, but it only brought a light drizzle along with it, more bark than bite.

On the road by 0730, this time I was driving while Rick caught up on some sleep. Rick and I took off a little bit earlier than the rest of the crew, as we had a side mission to bury a resupply cache on the trail we’d be passing just 20 minutes north of. The cache has two days worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks. If things play out the way we hope, we will only be carrying four days worth of food on that stretch of the trail, rather than six. It might not seem like a big deal by the numbers, but it’s about a four pound difference over a 120 mile stretch.

After dropping the resupply cache at the secret location, we finished the drive to where we planned to stay the night, Big Butternut Campground. The problem with our original plan was that a guy in a camper had arrived before us and setup shop in our spot; a corner spot on a hill with shade. After we reported the problem to the campground and talked it out, the douchey dude ended up keeping our spot. The spot we were given in replacement was right next to our old spot, but no shade, between other people, not great, which is why the douchey dude stole ours to begin with. Long story short, we didn’t want to stay there next to them and try to make a square peg fit into a purple elephant.

Somethings work out just as they were meant to, they just take the long road to get there. Our new home for the week, Do Nothing Campground, has us in a rustic corner by ourselves with plenty of shade. The bathrooms are air conditioned and the showers are open 24 hours. There is even a bar here… need I say more? We have settled into our new area with brots to fill our bellies and beers to cool down the 90 degree night.

Tomorrow looks like rain. Cold rain lasting all day long. Who is up for a 8.9 mile warm up?

Day 1 – IAT Mile 0 to 8.9

Rain that was supposed to come early this morning didn’t arrive until much later.  Athena sleeps in her bed between Brianna & I in the tent and has been sleeping well when fireworks or are loud noises aren’t booming around.  Unfortunately for me, Athena’s internal clock has not adjusted to central time zone just yet, she woke me up with face kisses at 0500 and continued relentlessly until I submitted to taking her for a walk.  Athena will be heading back to the Farm in Michigan with Penny and Curt Saturday morning.  Being away from our pup for two months is not my favorite thing.

Day 1 of our 1,100+ mile hike started with a drive to the Ice Age Trail Western terminus in St. Croix Falls.  All six of us made the trip to the official plaque for pictures, only Rick, Curt, Brianna and I went onto the 8.9 miles of hiking.  Don’t get me wrong, the Ice Age Trail is what I thought it was… mostly, it’s just not exactly as I knew it would be.  What I mean is that I expected the trail to be a solid mix of trail walking and road walking, I just define road walking differently than the map makers.

Map makers think that if you’re on a sidewalk next to a road, that’s trail.  Only when you’re walking on a road itself do the map makers count that as road walking.  I’m not complaining, I enjoyed our tour through St. Croix, especially the part where I found a torn up $20 bill on the side of the road. It’s just humbling to have spent so much time pouring over maps and not catching something that is now so obvious.

Today’s trail was immaculate.  The trail maintenance for this first part of the IAT was on point, well marked with clear paths.  Rain was light all day, cooling us more than slowing us down.  We started at mile 0 around 0900 and were in the back seat of Shauna’s vehicle for our ride back to camp just a little after 1pm, an average mph of 2.2.  My calculations for how many miles we can do in a single day take into account multiple short chill breaks and a long as we want lunch break.  2.2 mph is pretty great, right where we need to be on day 1.

My favorite part of today’s hike was the many meadows we walked through in the drizzling rain.  The smell of rain on pasture land and meadows makes me happy.  There were many beautiful river views, sweeping landscapes, a few difficult climbs… but meadows and horses win today.  

After the trail, we are weathering a slightly harder rain at base camp.  Our replacement rustic campground does not have electricity readily available.  Curt, Rick & I have been spending some time at the campground bar with Old Milwaukee beers, charging our phones while we drink.  This should be the last day of rain, but the electricity problem remains.  I really do not want to use my charging battery until our support family leaves.  Charging batteries would take a lot of campground beers to fully charge back up :-/.

Day 2 – IAT Mile 8.9 to 24

Hiking with a family support team changes the game.  Brianna and I only have to carry as much weight as we want, Penny cooks breakfast and dinner, the day ends with a car ride back to base camp where our tent is setup and the beer is still cold.  What’s happening right now is more like glamping than it is camping.  Luckily our goal is about the hiking rather than the tent pitching.

There are downsides to a support team as well.  Brianna and I are at the whim of four other people and their needs to poop, prepare, do all of the their camp chores.  Managing a group of people just takes more time, a bit more love and care.

The pluses of having these friends around do outweigh the minuses.  Firstly, Penny’s blueberry pancakes.  Secondly, this is the group that got Brianna and I into hiking.  10 years ago this past July 4th, Penny, Curt, Brianna & I hiked Pike’s Peak together.  We carried way too weight much for that trip and had no idea what the F we were doing.  Frozen sloppy Joes to Barr camp?  Insanity.  Since then, we have done many successful hikes across many trails.  Being together on this culmination of adventure knowledge and preparation is fitting.  Experiences are really better when shared, hopefully more visitors make their way out in the next couple of months.

Our hike started with a 4 mile road walk today.  Brianna & I are aiming to hike the entire trail, which includes the trail miles and the connecting road routes, so we can’t skip any parts.  Everyone else unanimously decided to start hiking after the road walk, where the Gandy Dancer meets up with the IAT.  It worked well in that we met up later down the trail and hiked the remaining 9ish miles together.

From the Ice Age Trail guidebook:

“The crushed limestone–surfaced trail was converted from the abandoned Soo Line railway. The name “Gandy Dancer” was chosen to honor the men who built and maintained railroad tracks. “Gandy dancers” used tools manufactured by the Gandy Manufacturing Company and, while working, followed songlike calls and melodies that helped synchronize the swinging of tools and the movement of feet as they “danced” to the next rails. The GDST connects with the North Country National Scenic Trail south of the city of Superior.”

I wouldn’t normally do a copy and paste from the guidebook but it’s pretty interesting info that I wouldn’t be able to paraphrase nearly as well as they wrote it.  And also, the trail today was super flat and uneventful.  The Gandy Dancer part of the IAT is so flat and so well maintained that I didn’t have to look down at my feet while I walked.  I’ll post a picture at the bottom, it shows how the entire 10ish mile stretch looked today.  The Gandy Dancer is actually a hiking, biking, snowmobile trail.  We saw about a dozen bikers, zero other hikers.

I have my first blisters of the trail, one on each of my pinky toes.  Switching to my new Merrell MQM’s for tomorrow.  They are half a size up and ready to rock.  The shoes I have been wearing are the same MQM model, just a few years older with around 400 miles on them.

After the trail has helped show us the character of northwest Wisconsin.  Curt and I went to buy wood and ice for the camp, but quickly realized that we had bought more wood than we could carry.  The bartender, who we bought the wood from and had never met before, offered to let us drive her brand new Jeep back to our camp for transporting the wood.  Before we knew it, the bartender and a gentleman camper were arguing about who would get to help us.  Good times.

Tomorrow we hike to Straight Lake Dam!

Day 3 – IAT Mile 24 to 36.6

Curt officially broke the curse!  After today, he has successfully hiked three straight days with us on a long trail.  Well done, Curt!

Day 3 of IAT had a pretty good mix of landscapes for the viewing and terrain for the hiking.  We started our day finishing the last four miles of flatland that is the Gandy Dancer.  Curt, Brianna & I hit the trail while Shauna and Rick let their bodies have a day off.  As it turns out, Shauna wants to hike some normal days and camp in the forest with us after Penny and Curt head back to Michigan.

A Wisconsin Interagency truck was driving down the Gandy Dancer as we neared the end of that stretch.  The guy driving the truck stopped to say hello, explained that his job is to drive down the Gandy periodically and do trail maintenance on fallen trees or whatever else might pop up.  We explained our hiking plan, he wished us luck and we went back to the walking.

Trail after exiting the Gandy was back into the woods we are used to.  With the deep woods come the bugs, even on cool days like today.  2020 taught me to wear a buff around my neck for emergency face mask purposes.  Since then, I wear them for bug control when hiking and sun protection around my neck while doing yard work.  I had to pull my blue NCT buff around my face more than once to reduce the amount of exposed skin the flies would have to attack.

We walked by cornfields and ccc pine trees, by beautiful Straight Lake Dam and dozens of Garter snakes, up some steep inclines and over many marshy boardwalks.

IAT advertises June/July/August as the worst months to hike the trail.  Ticks, black flies, mosquitoes, the whole nine yards.  Brianna found a tick yesterday but our weather has been accommodating and we’ve got no complaints… yet.  All of the cracking black soil and man made board walks over dried up marshes reminded me of the perils related to hiking during the wet Spring and Fall seasons.  The trails were easy for us because they were dry, would cause soggy feet and a slower pace when wet.  So far so good for July on the IAT.

After the hike was not so serene.  Without going into too much detail, everyone was still here when I went to bed @ 9pm.  By midnight, Rick had packed up all of his things and his truck was gone.  Not my circus, not my elephants.

One last warm up day before we start hitting 20 milers.  12.4 miles tomorrow.  I’ll be giving myself a break and carrying the lightest weight I can in my pack.

Day 4 – IAT Mile 36.6 to 49.0

“Shauna, stop!” I yelled.

“Shauna!” Brianna echoed.

We hadn’t been hiking more than 5 minutes after finishing lunch before the meadows we had been walking through tunneled into a dark forest.  Shauna lead the way, Brianna took the middle while I trailed the pack.  As the only one of the three with their head up, it was my responsibility to notify the group that a large black bear mama and her two cubs were on the trail in front of us, about 20 yards away.

“Is there a tick on my butt?” Shauna asked as she finally looked up.

Mama bear looked in our direction and stood on her hind legs as the babies climbed up trees.  All of this is well and good.  Encountering a pissed off mama bear and scaring her cubs up a tree right next to the trail.  What could we do?  Make noise and not advance any further.  So we waited.  It was only a few minutes before the babies came down and ran off into the forest.  We breathed a sigh of relief, but were not out of the woods yet (get it? ha ha).

“Hey Bear, Bear!” we sang down the trail that seemed to be winding back down the direction they had all just run away to.  Sure enough, a fourth Bear popped up and climbed a tree further down the trail.  This bear was an adolescent, maybe just a year old, bigger than the cubs but significantly smaller than the mama.  It too would eventually climb down the tree and run away.

The other part of the story that has been left out up until this point is that we had a fourth member of our party, Curt.  He did not want to stop for lunch with us and carried on solo.  Curt had texted me about the bugs being bad but did not see the bears even though he had passed by this same spot just 15-20 minutes prior.  Go ahead and roll those possibilities around in your head for a while.

Today’s trail had a lot of extraordinary parts before the bears.  Milk weed pastures with monarch butterflies in flight. A chained gate that lead to three horses feeding next to an old barn house on a large chunk of pasture land.  We expected to see horses, but to be given permission to walk with them on the trail, that’s pretty cool.  All days have been good, this one leads the pack as best.  The hiking was so good, I don’t even mind the dozens of ticks we picked off ourselves.

Tomorrow, day 5, will be a longer mile day with a mostly full pack day.  We will be carrying all of our gear, just 1 day of food and 2 liters of water.  

Wish us luck in our first hike without the family.

Day 5 – IAT Mile 49.0 to 67.4

It was a morning of warm goodbyes with watery eyes to the people who did so much to help us survive.  Off after a face kiss, oh they will be missed.

We are eternally grateful for all of the support Penny, Curt, and Shauna have given to us.  They do so much and ask for nothing in return.  People love us and we love them <3.

A walk through the woods with a side of bugs, please.  Bugs flew into our eyes, we snorted bugs through our noses and spit them out our mouths.  At one point, Brianna was sneezing because bugs had flown up her nose and had gotten lodged there.  When she stopped to blow her nose, there were two bugs along with her snot.  This pretty much sums up our day.

Person reading this: Why didn’t you have your bug net on?

Me: I didn’t have it with me.

Person reading this: So it’s your fault.

Me: Yes.  That’s kind of a jerk thing to say, but I’m not surprised that it’s you who would say it.

Anyone can bullshit their way through a 10 – 12 mile hike.  Hike all morning, eat lunch, hike for a few more hours and done.  Things get a little bit more logistically challenging when you start going over 15 – 30 mile days.  We have to start earlier to beat the heat.  We have to start earlier to give ourselves time to take breaks in the middle of the day, take our shoes off every now and then and just say, “F it” for a while.  Our legs have adjusted to the hiking life well, it’s the feet that have to be babied along.

To hit our goal of a 20 mile average day, we have to hit an average of 2 mph.  Seems easy enough, just keep in mind that 2 mph includes all time on the trail, to include breaks.  If Brianna and I have a average walking speed of 3.11, then we’ve got 1.11 mph extra for use on all the breaks.  We have short infrequent breaks in the morning, long and very frequent breaks as the day and our feet get more hot, as the bugs chew down our will to live.

We met another hiker on the trail today, sort of.  I’m not sure what his name was, we never gave ours either, but he was driving around with his huge St. Bernard mix dog, “Lincoln”, scoping the different parking areas on the IAT.  He and his son are planning a 100 mile hike in August, pretty cool!  He wished us luck in a near Uper accent and we wished it back in our lower Michigan accent.

Tonight we are camped at the Timberland Hills West Ski parking area.  There is a loud road nearby, but this area is a gift.  All the other dispersed camping areas and parking lots we have seen did not have good camping options.  Shauna brought us cold pops and is camping with us tonight!

Oh and we saw 4 or 5 more bears today.  Yeah, I’m saying this all casually now that they are everywhere.  If I don’t have a story for every bear encounter, we are probably handling them correctly.

Day 6 – IAT Mile 67.4 to 86.6

Timberland Hills & Grassy Lake segments of the IAT are not my favorites.  Timberland Hills is a cross country skiing course the IAT also makes use of.  The track is wide with long grass that never dries out, has steep hills that are look pretty fun as a skier, not so much as a hiker.  Grassy lake is pretty similar, instead of ski tracks, we were on two tracks.  This section of the IAT goes through more wetlands than I have ever seen in my life, add that in with wet feet and more bugs than you can count and you have what we hiked today.

Interesting fact I have learned firsthand.  The IAT organization builds benches for people to sit on along the trail.  Most of these benches overlook swamps and other bodies of bug infested waters.  They are probably pretty cool places to stop in the winter, not once have I considered stopping for a sit during the summer.  The bench is a bug dinner plate and I am not putting myself directly on it.  If they want to eat me, they will have to keep working for it.

After yesterday’s lesson, we both applied bug cream and donned bug nets before starting the day.  I brought my head net and relied on my protected pants and long sleeve hoodie to keep my extremities protected.  Brianna wore shorts and a short sleeve shirt underneath a full bug suit.  Both of our approaches seemed to work well against the bugs, with some drawbacks.  My approach allowed me to take the head net off and put it back on quickly, but I did get bites on my shoulders.  Brianna didn’t get any bites, but taking the bug suit off quickly when it wasn’t needed for a while wasn’t possible and simple tasks like drinking water or eating snacks took a lot of effort.

Neither of us broke mentally today, at least not completely.  One saving grace we still have to help us in times of need is the Shauna.  Shauna let us dump most of our pack weight into her car.  She also picked up some gallons of water and met us around mile 13.5 for the day to help resupply us – there was only one water source today and it was around mile 3.5.  Funnily enough, as Shauna was resupplying our water, an old man who loves to hike the IAT & NCT stopped by the parking lot and asked us if we needed any water, soda, etc.  We were all set but it’s good to know these Trail Angels are out there.

Brianna & I were both exhausted by the end of the hiking day.  We started trying to hike a certain amount of time before breaks but never actually made it to the goals, even as we tried to make them shorter.  After our last break before making the final two mile push, Shauna had texted me about the campground she had found, Whitetail Ridge:  The campground has a bar and showers but both close at 6pm.

Brianna was in top speed mode and I knew she couldn’t go faster, so I withheld the new intel.  Her first sprint lasted about a mile before she started to slow.  Like a fox on a rabbit, that’s when I sprung, “I know you don’t need any more motivation but Shauna says the showers are only open until 6pm… it’s 4:45pm.  And boom, so began sprint #2.  With a shower on the mind, she was actually running.  I had to keep up with her while texting Shauna that she needed to be at the parking lot to pick us up ASAP.  Brianna moved her little feet so fast that we beat Shauna to the parking lot, from a campground that is only 3 miles away.

Did I withhold information?  Yes.

Did my plan work exactly as I thought it would? Yes.

We all got showers.

We are tucked away in the corner of Whitetail Ridge campground.  The rustic camping area is free of bugs and people.  Tomorrow will be the most miles we have ever hiked in a day AND the most road miles we have ever done in a day.  On the plus side, we road walk right by a Dairy Queen… kismet.

Day 7 – IAT Mile 86.6 to 108.7

Ladies and gentlemen, friends.  Someone must be held accountable for incorrect waypoints on the Apple Maps application.  When we arrived at the Dairy Queen address on Main St in Haugen, WI, it was a residential home.  Undeterred and hungry for what we had been craving all day, we knocked on the door and asked that the home owner give us ice cream in exchange for American currency; they refused.  After about an hour of arguing we recommended they either start serving ice cream as Apple Maps says they do or change their address.  I’ll monitor the situation and report back next year.

Today’s hike started at the Bear Lake Segment and on into Tuscobia.  Bear Lake was back to the single track hiking Brianna and I do so enjoy, at least for a bit.  Eventually, the trail melded into a Cub Scout camp where you could see cabins, practice shelter buildings, even an amphitheater.  The camp was deserted of cubs, but there were a group of kids swimming in the nearby lake, we exchanged a “hello” as we hiked by.

Over 5 miles of road walking separate Bear Lake and Tuscobia.  As you may have guessed, we did not get DQ as we had hoped.  We did stop in the Hausen Village Store where a kind old lady talked me into buying some Wisconsin cheese curds my Mountain Dew & Brianna’s Ruby Red Squirt.  The curds were pretty delicious.  She also asked me sign her guest book, so I put a little note in about the trail and signed Brianna & I’s name on it.

Tuscobia is another abandoned railroad turned recreational trail, like the Gandy Dance except better.  Unlike the Gandy, Tuscobia has softer dirt paths, easier on the knees.  Wide and well maintained trails led to less bugs, for the most part, until we got halfway through and hit a patch of wetlands on both sides of the trail.

It was a long day, but no day is truly long when Shauna is still here hanging with us.  Shauna got us another campground, this time in Birchwood, with a $.50 x7 minute shower.  We showered up and hit the local Bluegill Bar & Grill, which didn’t have Bluegill anywhere on the menu, but was still delicious.

There is something worth sharing about the city of Birchwood.  The city has country music playing throughout the entire downtown.  Downtown isn’t big, it was just a bit odd to drive down the street and hear Dolly Parton the entire time.

Hit 100 miles today.

🎶 My feet hurt, my knees hurt, and I don’t love Jesus 🎶 

-Brianna was singing this as we were laying in the tent getting ready for bed.

Day 8 – IAT Mile 108.7 to 128.6

Hiking sometimes feels like an endless game of ‘would you rather’.

Would you rather walk on hard pavement or on a slightly less hard gravel but slanted side road?

Would you rather walk with your face free and fight off flies and mosquitoes or put a bug net on and be hot?

The correct answer is, Jack Nicholson 1974.

Today was hot.  The high wasn’t too bad but it was in the 80s by 10-10:30am.  We started the day with a 2+ mile road walk before reaching the Hemlock Creek Segment, which was a mix of shade and open areas.  Our pace slowed considerably due to the heat, it was 30 mins of walking followed by 20 min breaks.  It was slow and brutal but a necessary approach.  We will need to start getting up earlier and taking advantage of prime temperatures as the summer days get even more hot.

Halfway through our day and right around lunch time, we came across an oasis of a park.   Murphy’s park has everything: toilets, water, a trash can, picnic tables in a roofed shelter.  We stayed in the park for at least an hour, eating lunch, resupplying water, laying on the ground and counting our lucky stars.  

The Blue Hills was our second and most challenging segment of the day.  Much of the IAT is multi purpose trail and the Bill Hills shares much of its length with two track ATV roads.  It lives up to its name, very hilly.  I bet ATV riders love all the ups and downs, all the random nearly impassable by foot boggy areas.  I’m really happy for them.

My favorite part of the Blue Hills Segment, oddly enough, was the swamps.  There were parts where the trail was below the water line, held up only by old beaver dams.  I’ll include a picture here so you can see one.  If Wisconsin doesn’t have the highest beaver population in the USA, I bet they are the happiest in the USA.  Those critters have HUGE homes in every swamp and the swamps are plentiful.  We had to walk over more than a couple beaver dams.  Again, the bugs are bad, but I’m grateful not to be hiking the trail during a wet season.  I imagine these beaver dams overflow and make a right mess of things.

Blister report:  5 blisters in total.  x1 on each of my pinky toes, x1 in between my big toes on each foot, x1 on the right side heel of my right foot.  I get this heel blister on every hike, I suspect it has to do with the fact that my right foot naturally angles in just a bit to the left when I walk.  Not sure why that is, but it’s been that way for a while.

Tonight has us at Rose’s Bay Resort.  That’s right, we are thru hiking and staying at a resort!  It’s actually an 80s style cabin with two bedrooms, a small kitchen and a pooper.  The bar is next door, so we grabbed a couple of pizzas and some Wisconsin beers for cultural indulgence purposes.  We are making campground and other reservations at the last minute so our options are what they are and we take them as they are available.  On one hand, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like once we are alone here.  On the other hand… let the times roll :-).