Day 50 – IAT Mile 982.8 to 1007.9

There comes a time in every adventure where the clock flips from counting up and begins to countdown.  The wonder and mystery of what might happen turns into a reflection of what was.  Have I learned something about myself through all of this or have I just proven things that I already knew to be true?  Does an adventure require meaning or is meaning found in the act of adventuring?  It is amusing to find that the questions at adventure’s end are the same life questions everyone has been asking for however many thousands of years. The journey explains itself better than I will ever be able to, but I’ll keep trying to write it down anyway.

There was a lot of road walking and a little bit of trail today.  Brianna and I thought we were going to hack the road miles down from 27 to 21, but that would have had me on a major roadway for over 10 miles.  We ended up finding a shorter route of 25 miles instead, a small victory but a victory none the less.

Storms were predicted to show up around 3pm, which was not ideal, but did keep cloud cover and a solid breeze blowing throughout the morning.  Black clouds rolled in from the north around noon, bringing a cold chill to the air that took me from sweating to wishing I had a sweatshirt in a matter of minutes.  

I could see Brianna parked next to a cornfield about .7 miles ahead, but the wheels on her Equinox didn’t even wiggle to pretend a movement as the wind gusted in my face and the rain began.  A dark cloud swirled down at me menacingly as I began to run the last half mile to safety.  My large hiker legs are powerful, though not made for running.  I must have looked like a little person hopping through a rubber tire obstacle course.  Garth Brooks “The Thunder Rolls” was playing when I jumped into the car.  Brianna was smiling and laughing as she said, “I would have recorded you running through the storm, but that would have stopped the music from playing.”  Thanks, Babe.

Our early storm raged on for about 3 hours.  The time away from trail let us kick off the shoes and close our eyes for a bit, a nice break during a long road stretch.  Storms left the evening mostly cool, so making up the miles was relatively easy.  Hiking to sunset got our day past the 25 mile mark AND rewarded me with a beautiful view :-).

Hit over 1,000 miles today! I can finally sing the full proclaimers song and mean it!

Day 51 – IAT Mile 1007.9 to 1033.0

Losing gear on the trail is never a good feeling.  You never want to leave trash for others to have to pick up and everything you’re carrying is something you need.  I didn’t lose any gear for the first 5 or 6 weeks of this hike.  Since Brianna’s injury, I have managed to lose almost all of my sun gear.  My Glacier gloves got left on the shelf of a bathroom, my Duluth wet towel untied itself and fell of my pack at some point in the last few days, AND today of all hot and sunny days, I left my sunglasses at a park across the street from an ice cream shop.  Yes, I got my ice cream, but not before the world took its latest pound of flesh.

When Brianna picked me up off the road at sunset last night, we drove down the same roads I would be walking the next day to get a feel for how much walking room I might have, what the hills would look like.  How exciting it was to drive by an ice cream shop just 4 miles down the road! Brianna promised to drive me back later in the day since it wouldn’t be opening until 0800 and I would be starting the trail nearer to 0600.

How did I lose my Oakley’s at an ice cream shop before it opened?  The ice cream shop has a nice little park across the street with a porta-pottie, picnic tables and a bench.  4 miles into my day seemed like a good time to stop for a quick break, so I did.  My sun glasses fell off my head and behind a bench as I was getting up to use the bathroom.  Instead of enduring the pain of bending over to fetch them, I went to use the bathroom instead, more than sure I’d remember to get them upon my return.  There is a phenomenon called the ‘doorway effect’ that says the human brain loses short term memory after walking through a doorway.  I did not remember my sunglasses were gone until after I had packed back up and walked several miles down the road.

Brianna was true to her word and picked me up around 10am for a drive back to the ice cream shop.  I wasn’t too concerned about forgetting my sunglasses, I knew we would be back and they were scratched all to hell.  Imagine my surprise when they were gone, just 2.5 hours after I had left them.  No one at the ice cream shop had seen my sun glasses.  They weren’t in the trash cans.  My sun glasses are gone.

The ice cream shop, Pine River Dairy, was a cool little stop.  My only recommendation to anyone who goes there is to get 5 or 6 scoops of ice cream.  They only charge .25¢ per scoop and the scoops are understandably small.  They also have over 250 types of cheese for sale… how people know enough about cheese to navigate that kind of selection blows my mind.  I felt silly buying string pepper jack cheese, but I did anyway, because local Wisconsin cheese is great stuff.

Our hike into Manitowoc and Three Rivers was quite the change in scenery.  Manitowoc had beautiful beaches on Lake Michigan, with no people.  Brianna and I had lunch on a picnic table right next to the lake and enjoyed the relative silence.  Three Rivers had beautiful beaches with hundreds of people.  I’m not sure why one is more popular than the other, I only went so far as to dip my feet in the water before deciding I would not be dunking my whole self in.

We are spending the night in our tent at Point Beach State Park, just north up the road from where we stopped for the day.  It’s a huge campground that took us 4 wrong turns down one way streets before finding our site.  Tomorrow starts with a walk on the beach!

Day 52 – IAT Mile 1033.0 to 1060.3

“Walk on the beach for 2.1 miles” was the sign that greeted Brianna and I first thing this morning.  Brianna wasn’t ready to hike a full day, was ready to jump on for a couple mile beach walk.  The IAT bought me this box of chocolates in the form of a beach after a fight we’ve been having that I thought might never end. This walk on the sands of Lake Michigan is a top 10 feature of the entire trail.

We did our best to wake up early and make it to the beach before sunrise and kinda sorta made it.  The sun was halfway up the horizon when we pulled in to Neshotah Park on Lake Michigan.  Most people reading this have seen the sun rise over the water and can appreciate the light show of deep oranges and hot pinks turned red.  We enjoyed what was left of the sun rise before heading over to the two mile beach walk we were so looking forward to.

Sand is not the easiest terrain to walk.  We were fortunate to have a low tide during our walk, which allowed us to walk on the harder packed part of the beach near the water rather than the loose sand above it.  Waves were washing up snails and seashells as we walked, we even saw a baby snapping turtle no bigger than my thumb.  Brianna turned back for the car about a mile in, it was good to walk together again, even if for only a few miles.

I started the day knowing that fast morning miles would make for a better day.  Uncle Tim and Aunt Susan flew into town and are staying with a good friend, Trisha, that used work with Tim in Colorado, and me as well for a time.  Whether we were to gather for a long lunch hang or do an evening hang out, I needed to get as many miles in as possible.  As it turns out, we were able to do both hang outs!  We met for lunch at a diner in the town of Denmark.  Trisha invited us to crash at her place for the evening, so I finished my final 8 miles for the day and drove into Green Bay for the night.

It didn’t matter that we haven’t seen Trisha in over 10 years, she treated us as old friends reunited.  Our year in Colorado was too short with memories that are mostly blurry.  I do remember spending a lot of time with her and family camping, barbecuing and meeting at random bars.  Having everyone together again 10 years later feels right.  Getting to see Uncle Tim and Aunt Susan at the end of my trip reminds me that they treat me better than I deserve.  Fortunately, Brianna is here and more than deserved the love and special treatment! 


Day 53 – IAT Mile 1060.3 to 1091.2

Hiking to exhaustion everyday sounds difficult because it is difficult.  I do so enjoy being purposefully tired.  Earned days off feel amazing.  Short days that leave me with gas still in the tank feel hollow.  Food tastes better when you are truly hungry. Water is sweet as wine when your throat is dry cracking from thirst.  When the Bible refers to the miracle of turning water into wine, I wonder if that wasn’t just Jesus depriving his followers of food and water for long periods of time.  Perhaps the real lesson is less about God having his son use parlor tricks to impress people and more about appreciating the necessary little things. A pretty big leap that doesn’t really work with the books, I know

The physical work of hiking for 12-15 hours a day is so different than my employed work life back home.  My job in IT often leaves me mentally exhausted with no satisfaction of the physical.  Hiking satisfies my physical need for work and leaves a little left over for the mental.  It’s hard to say if one is better than the other, mental exhaustion brings a level of satisfaction with it as well; using wits rather than brawn to bring change into the world.  I’m glad to have a farm to return to with much work to be done when this adventure ends.

Less than 75 miles of IAT trail remained when I started hiking this morning.  x3 25 mile days is easy enough, right? Brianna found a way to cut 3 road miles off today, too… so today was even better mileage than we had hoped!

The morning was overcast and cool after the violent storms raged through the area all last night.  I had been looking forward to the second Tisch Mills segment, starting the day off with trails is usually a nice way to ease into a mostly road walking day.  What I found in Tisch Mills made me thankful for the road walking that followed.  Storm water flooded the overgrown trail in every spot.  Long grass full of stinging plants, poison ivy and thorn bushes stung and racked my legs.  If I stopped to look before I stepped, a cloud bugs descended eagerly upon me.  Not my favorite segment.

Rain had been forecast to last all day today, though we only got a couple afternoon hours of it.  I attempted to use my sunbrella as an umbrella but quickly found out that mosquitoes will use the cover for shelter as they feed on my face, so I put it away and just accepted the damp day for what it was.

Today ended up being a great day for hiking with the Keewaunee River segment as my end of the day trail; a 2-track of hardened dirt that allowed for big afternoon miles.  Keewaunee is a flat walk with tunnels and bridge walks that more than made up for what happened at Tisch Mills.

40 miles remain.

Day 54 – IAT Mile 1091.2 to 1114.3

Last night was a blast!  Trisha and Zach took us out to a local restaurant for a traditional Wisconsin Friday fish fry and old fashioned dinner.  After dinner came the Colorado tradition of bar hopping around for shots and drinks, but I was far too tired for any of that and retreated back to our basement bed at Trisha’s for sleep.

Uncle Tim wanted to let Brianna sleep in and experience trail support for himself, so he and I hopped in the car around 0630 and headed for the trail.  It took a bit to figure out the logistics of how Tim would know where to meet me on the trail, he has a different cellular carrier and and Android with different apps than I’m used to.  It all eventually worked out and I was able to start hiking by 0800.

Tim got the chance to experience many different kinds of IAT parking lots while he waited on me to arrive.  My trail walk into Kewuanee ended on a quaint water town with a beautiful bay view.  From Kewaunee, I started the final final road walking miles of the IAT.  Tim met me about 3 miles in at a gravel parking lot, surrounded by weeds with no shade to be found before I started a 8.8 mile push into Algoma.  Hiking 8.8 road miles without a break is not something I’d normally do, but the roads were quiet and enjoyable; the walk took me less than 3 hours.

Algoma is another beautiful bit of this eastern IAT section.  The trail took me down a boardwalk over the sand and not far from the water.  I walked and watched Wisconsinites play beach games for about a mile. Tim walked the final stretch of the boardwalk with me before our lunch at a local bar.  We enjoyed cold beer and the second half of the Packers game. 

Finishing the final road miles of the IAT feels significant.  Should I have cried?  Half of me wanted to punch a fist in the air as if it were the end of The Breakfast Club movie while the other half of me wanted to look down at the paved ground and say, “you’re basic.”

A funny thing happened on my second to last meet up with Tim this afternoon.  It was lightly raining when I arrived at our designated spot, I saw our car, but Tim was nowhere to be found.  I didn’t start to get worried until 15 minutes had passed and he was still nowhere to be found, not answering texts or phone calls.  Unsure what to do, I picked my gear up off the wet ground and continued hiking.  He didn’t pass me on my way in, so the only reasonable conclusion was that Tim meant to hike in to meet me, he just didn’t choose the correct direction to do so.  My conclusion was confirmed when a dude on a dirt bike road by me and said there was in fact a Santa Claus beard looking guy down the trail.  I was 1.1 miles in before crossing Tim’s path, he going back to the car, me continuing the hike.

Our hiking day ended as many good days often do, with cold celebratory beers in hand.  We sat on large white parking lot rocks at the Forestville Dam County Park and chatted about life before the hour ride back to Green Bay.

Trisha and family have been beyond accommodating to us over these final days of our trip.  We have access to showers, laundry, a cool basement bed, food, beer, the works.  I didn’t know how things could get better, until they did, and the girls invited Tim and I to stop by a neighbor’s pool party for a BBQ dinner.  The hostess, Jen, brought me as much food as I could eat and then some.  As a marathon runner herself, Jen understood what I was feeling on an athletic level at day’s end.  Dipping my feet in a salt water pool while stuffing my face full of pasta salad was fabulous.

17.8 miles remain.

Day 55 – IAT Mile 1114.3 to 1132.1

IAT completed.

Everyone has been asking if I am/was excited for today.  There are a lot of feelings, to include excitement, for sure, it’s just so very complicated.  It feels good to have finished this hike across Wisconsin and to have done the things we have done.  More than anything, I feel relieved that I’m through the gauntlet.  My body could hike more, but I don’t want to, not in the way we have been these past few weeks.

With the help of Uncle Tim and Aunt Susan, today worked out perfectly.  Brianna hopped on the trail with me in the morning for the final 17.8 miles of hiking while Tim volunteered to run support and meet us throughout the day.  Brianna was feeling good enough to get her feet dirty again!

The trail day started with more dirt 2-track as we finished the final miles that Ice Age Trail shares with the multipurpose hike/bike/horse Ahnapee State Trail.  With beautiful weather and plenty of time to kill between meet-ups, uncle Tim hiked in with us for 2 miles before turning around and heading back to the car for our next scheduled rendezvous.  Having time on the trail with family and friends has been priceless, a rare opportunity to share our passion with the ones we love.  It’s also a lot of fun to give them a firsthand perspective of all the beautiful and tragic parts of life on the trail.

Tim has been so impressed with our journey that he made a point to stop and tell as many people as he can about it.  He interrupted a couple of lady bikers in mid-conservation to tell them our story, both of which responded positively and had many questions for us.  At another point in the day, he had a park full of people clapping for us as we walked into town for our planned lunch.  As a mostly stoic person, it’s often difficult for me to convey emotions –  Tim had no problem getting smiles and laughs out of me with his social graces.

We had hoped to see more hikers over these last 50 miles or so of trail.  It was the weekend with beautiful weather and the trails go through populated areas with beaches and waterfronts galore.  We saw a lot of people on beaches and at parks.  We did not see a single day hiker, section hiker or thru-hiker.  The eastern terminus is tucked away on a peninsula and far away from the rest of the trail, so I get it, I guess.  It boggles my mind that we ran into more hikers on the remote western section than the populated eastern that runs through and around large cities like Janesville and Madison.

Our lunch at the beachy Otumba Park left us with about 4.5 miles left of trail before the eastern terminus.  Aunt Susan agreed to drive our car up to the end point so that Tim could hike the final miles with Brianna & I.  Tim got a solid mix of sidewalks and dirt trails for his final experience, even some hills and stone stairs next to the bay water!  What a beautiful trail to end the adventure on, what a good group to finish the adventure with.

Susan and Trisha were at the end ringing little horse bells and yelling congratulations as we arrived.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a bit when we walked up to the final rock.  Sitting on top of the rock next with the eastern terminus sign did feel great, especially after I cracked the celebratory beer.  To accomplish what less than 200 people have done before me is humbling.  To have the support we did throughout this adventure, from both old and new friends, is humbling.  I am humbled.

Lessons learned:  

If I was to do this all over again, I’d take 10-12 weeks rather than the 8 weeks I just completed it in.  2-4 more weeks would have allowed me to take more planned days off in beautiful areas and given more buffer room for unplanned days off when storms or other unpredictable events occur.

I would look to average 12-20 mile days when possible.  Hiking 25-30 mile days is fun and sometimes necessary, depending on allowed camping areas and other variables, but should be kept to a minimum.

Wisconsin is a great state and more like Michigan than it’s not.

Thank you for coming on this adventure with me!  Until next time… 🙂

IAT Thru-Hike Certification Essay

My dream of completing an IAT thru-hike did not start when I was a child.  I did not grow up with a dream of hiking from the western side of Wisconsin over to the east side.  In all honesty, I did not even know the IAT existed until December of 2020 found me searching the Guthook app for trails that might be done in 2 months or less.  2 months was the maximum amount of time I could take off from work and still have a job upon my return.

It did not take much planning time to see that the IAT would be a logistically tricky beast to tame.  I made use of every IAT resource I could find, and there are a lot of them: IAT atlas, IAT guidebook, IAT interactive resource map/website, Thousand-Miler-WannaBe FaceBook group, camping/mileage spreadsheets, books written by previous thru-hikers.  As with most hiking trips, planning for the IAT was more about understanding where to find information and help than it was about making an itinerary.  

IAT Step 1: Create a plan.

IAT Step 2: Get punched in the face.

IAT Step 3: Find a new plan.

IAT Step 4: Repeat.

My favorite memories of the IAT are of the people we met along the way, the random acts of kindness that could not be planned for.   Strangers swooped in and turned terrible days into wonderful nights.  Some of our trail angels were official IAT coordinators while others had never heard of the IAT and were just happy to help people in need.  Trail angels gave us shelter during storms, rides into town, food and water, one even opened up her wellness center business to my wife when she hurt her back and had to jump off the trail.

Thoughts for future IAT hikers:

Take your time.  If I could do it all over again, I would take 12 weeks instead of 8.

Do not underestimate the IAT.  The trail miles are challenging and the road miles are grueling.

Reach out to the IAT community early and often.  The trail coordinators we met were happy to receive updates on their trail segments and hear from the hikers traveling on them. The people are amazing and the land is beautiful.

Certification of Thousand-Miler Status

Hi Martin,

Congratulations on your feat of hiking the entire Ice Age Trail! And thank you for sending in your “Thousand-Miler” application. The information you’ve included is helpful to our efforts to track long-distance hiking stats for the Ice Age Trail.

You are currently in the #289 position in our database out of 289 total certified Thousand-Miler treks. Our first Thousand-Miler finished on July 29, 1979. It took 35 years to reach our first 100 Thousand-Milers; in the past 7 years, an additional 189 have joined the ranks.

We typically honor our Thousand-Milers each April at our Annual Conference and again in the issue of our newsletter Mammoth Tales that follows the conference. We will be sending your Thousand-Miler certificate and patch to you by mail in the coming weeks, and have added you to the listing of Thousand-Milers on our website

Again, congratulations on your remarkable feat.