When thinking about long distance trails you wouldn't expect to find one that is based on something like the last ice age, but that is precisely what the Ice Age Trail focuses upon. If you look at a map of the trail, you can't help but wonder if they simply drew they longest possible path through the state of Wisconsin. With a little research though you quickly learn that it is a very close representation of the terminal edge of a giant ice sheet at the end of the last Ice Age.
This 1,100 mile journey immerses you in the heart of Wisconsin nature, culture, and generosity. Having never been to the Midwest before this was the perfect way to really get a feel for the heart of the people who live in this unique and chilly corner of the world.
Starting on the verge of Spring
With our car safely parked at a Trail Angel's house, and another Trail Angel escorting us to the Western Terminus of the Ice Age Trail, we began our journey on April 29th, 2015.
I knew that we would be experiencing the start of spring, but I was surprised at just how long winter lingered in Wisconsin. We were greeted by chilly nights and bare trees. The unfurling of spring's green growth felt glacially slow at first. Some of the most hardy early spring wildflowers brought life to the forest floor with little bursts of color.
With time the landscape took on more of a green hue, eventually enveloping us within a lush umbrella of foliage. It was magical to watch spring unfold on this level while being completely immersed in it. It made me notice little nuances that I would have missed were I not living in it each day.
A Few Challenges
Before we even arrived in Wisconsin several people warned us that we would be arriving just in time for tick season. I brushed it off as one of the typical warnings we get about some perceived challenge for our upcoming hike, knowing that they must simply be exaggerating. Well it only took a couple days for me to realize the severity of the tick problem in the North Woods of Wisconsin. We are not talking about a few ticks each day to brush off your pants, we are talking biblical plague type of numbers. We had several days that we picked over 300 ticks each off of our legs. This entails walking several hundred feet and then stopping to remove over 20 ticks, then repeating this process all day long.
The level of angst toward ticks might simply be smoldering annoyance if it were not for the constant worry of contracting Lyme's disease from one of these stealthy little bugs. This is where being a couple came in handy, we were able to do fully body checks on each other at the end of each day. And while we had relatively good luck with only being bitten a couple of times, it was the need to keep a constant vigilance for these little pests that wore at us most.
Beyond the ticks there were not too many challenges. There are a few things for the Ice Age Trail Alliance to address as the trail becomes more popular, the first being the need for practical answers to the long sections that go through private lands and currently have no legal camping options for thru hikers. This can easily be addressed by putting in dispersed camping spots, shelters, and other agreements with land owners.
Wisconsin: The Kindest State
We are blessed to meet kind people on all of the hikes that we take, but I have to say that Wisconsin is by far the kindest state we have ever been in. At every turn in our journey people went out of their way to shower us with kindness and make our adventure extra special.
There is a large network of Trail Angels along the Ice Age Trail. These are people who know what the trail is all about, and want to help others who are undertaking this 1,100 mile journey in any way they can. This might mean offering a place to stay for the night, providing shuttles to those who are completing the trail in sections or pieces, or any other number of creative services. We were blessed with some absolutely amazing Trail Angels who took care of us above and beyond anything we could have ever asked for.
But the people that just blew my mind were the complete strangers who welcomed us into their homes. Because of the long stretches of trail that went through private property, and the lack of trail angels along a few of these sections, we were forced to stretch our boundaries of comfort and approach peoples homes and ask if it would be alright to camp on their lawn. Almost every time, after we had a brief conversation with them we were invited to stay either in a guest room, or recreation room; and were showered with as many comforts as they could find to bestow upon us.
In one instance we watched as the sky grew to an ominous shade of black, it was clear that it was going to rain, but we were in the midst of a long road walk through private property so there was no option but to continue on. Eventually the skies opened up and poured out more water than the landscape could handle at that moment. The road turned to a shallow river and the idea of having to continue walking in these conditions became unpleasant to say the least. Finally after passing several houses I said "I have had enough of this!" and I turned in the driveway of the next farm house we came to. We knocked on the door, briefly startling the kind woman inside (who wouldn't be taken slightly by surprise to see two half drowned hikers standing on their front porch?). When she answered the door I introduced us, and explained what we were doing asking if we could simply sit out the storm on her dry front porch. Without hesitation she invited us inside to remove our overly soaked clothes which she tossed in the dryer after we had changed into our own dry layers. Shortly there after we were sitting at her dining room table, warming up with hot chocolate and having a lovely conversation for several hours as the storm pressed on outside. When the rain finally subsided and we were changed back into our now dry hiking clothes, she blessed us with warm wishes as we departed her love filled home and continued down the road. I will always carry her kindness within my heart!
The Wonder of a New Landscape
Since this was our first time in the Midwest we both enjoyed the experience of getting to know a new landscape and the people who call it home. Each part of the state had its own unique charm, and little treasures to discover along the way.
Always Entranced by the Fauna
As always I spent a significant amount of my time stopping to admire any animals we crossed paths with, often assessing if it was safe for me to pick the animal up or touch it. I find that when I approach animals from a space of awareness, and great respect they often will interact with me very willingly. Like the little snake in the above picture, I very gently approached and simply laid my finger down in front of her, after a few moments of smelling me she simply slid over my finger as she moved on to her next destination. It is these brief encounters that warm and excite my soul! I always assess if it is an interaction that the other animal is open to experiencing, and by using this inner awareness of body language I have had only good experiences.
Follow the Ice Age Through the State of Warmth
If you have been wanting to explore the Midwest in more detail, are looking for a lesser known long distance trail, or simply want to see what Wisconsin has to offer; then give the Ice Age Trail a go! The terrain is easy, the remnant signs of the last Ice Age fascinating, and the people are kinder than any you will meet.
Follow along as I share highlights of the adventures that bring me such joy in life, and the wisdom they have imbued into my being.
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