It’s a dark 3:30 a.m., and we are heading down the road toward a designated Ice Age Trail (IAT) segment, one of 37 such trips. For four-plus hours, filling our senses with staticky radio noise, speeding traffic, and rushing sights and sounds. Later, ten minutes into the woods, we encounter another world entirely, one of blissful natural marvels, soft hums and twitters, and being on nature’s relaxed timeline.
Pinch us and say it’s real. It was a wonder to hear birds continuously sing, and for animals to give us a glimpse of their daily activity. Trumpeter swans, what a treasure to witness the successful reintroduction of this once extinct bird to our state. Osprey, with nests on highline poles, soar high displaying their majestic manner. Loons so serene, coveys of partridges drumming and thrusting forward in surprise, turkeys strutting while taking their sweet ole time. Woodpeckers that drummed incredible holes into trees, leaving wood chips piled high on the ground. Frogs croaking their mating calls. Fat toads, feasting on the gazillion mosquitoes, while almost being trodden on. Even a baby mink that Jane nearly stepped on. When David arrived, the mother was on standby, ready to pounce and protect her charge from “imminent danger.” The bear we startled while breaking the crest of a knoll; that burly animal was enormous. Thankfully, we must have looked pretty scary too, as it quickly lumbered away. We spotted fox, coyote, wolf, fleeting deer, and beavers enjoying ownership of small lakes.
We began our IAT hike April 4th, 2015, on a connector road from the Lodi Marsh Segment; and ended July 4th, 2017, at the Eastern Terminus. (At one point, Lyme disease appeared, and we needed to pause our travels for eight months.) We essentially moved west to east, in all seasons. During the winter months, we hiked only connector roads. We didn’t trust ourselves to always find the path with snow and ice, concerned the intermittent yellow rectangles, serving as beacons to guide us would be obscured. During this time, we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and 75th birthdays.
Our purpose hiking the IAT was to be self-sufficient section hikers. We primarily used two cars. We carried a Wisconsin map, the IAT Guidebook and Atlas, to locate specifically the daily beginning and ending locations for parking. We used no GPS device or phone and used a compass once. We carried the Guidebook along with copies of the needed Atlas pages, camera, Fitbit, pen and paper, and a daypack of trail-mix, water, Band-Aids, rain gear, and a mosquito net. We wanted to “keep it simple,” relying on ourselves and working together to determine solutions to problems we encountered. We averaged approximately 17+ mile days, spending 8-10 hours each day together, sometimes sharing our humor, reminiscing, or expressing consternation about where did the trail go, conditions, and whether a particular segment would ever end. Each time prior to hiking, we were renewed with anticipation, eagerness to explore, and also some reservations.
We grew up in and are lifelong residents of Wisconsin. We thought we knew a lot about our state, but this adventure provided a wealth of new information. Having traversed a U-shaped terrain over 1,200 miles, we were astounded by the variety of topography under our feet…hills, more hills, and deep valleys, referenced in the IAT vernacular as hummocky with swales, moraines, vernal ponds, kettles, kames, drumlins, erratic’s, and much more. Also, trees presented themselves in all forms and sizes; spectacular native white pines and oaks, along the way, are treasures. We marveled at amazing wetlands, riparian areas, and pristine streams and ponds (many without names), ferns, ground cover, beautiful unfolding flowers.
The IAT had its challenges, as it should. Traveling northeast in the Kettle Moraine segments appeared to be a rollercoaster hike…valleys got deeper and deeper, and hills became steeper and steeper. Hiking east from the Western Terminus to Antigo, we discovered the IAT Guidebook words “hummocky” and “beaver” to perhaps be euphemisms for “prepare yourself for a challenge.”
The Mondeaux Esker Segment proved the most difficult. The west side, where it parallels the flowage, was wonderful. However, the east side is another story altogether with its overgrown bushes; large rocks we stumbled over, as they were not visible; roots, and mud (Jane stepped in what she thought was a safe place, and instantly sunk literally to mid-thigh in mud…a scary time). Another unfavorable segment was Clover Valley where the mosquitoes were having a reunion and we provided their food/drink. Lucky for us, this was a short segment.
We also marveled at the kindness of people, who answered our questions, and offered suggestions and encouragement. A remarkable example of this was Ruby Jaecks, IAT volunteer, and Northwoods Chapter Coordinator, who left a note at the entrance to the Averill-Kelly Creek Wilderness Segment saying the trail was closed due to high water in the New Wood River. As we read the note, Ruby appeared, wet up to her waist, saying she had just tried to cross the river and it was still not accessible. As a result, we waited two weeks, called Ruby, and made another trip based on her good information!
WOW…what a trip! Our adventure of hiking, stumbling, wading, mud wrestling with the trail, and barefooting through tall wet grasses. We ended on July 4th at the Eastern Terminus marker in Potawatomi State Park, Door County, with our son Darren joining to celebrate and mark the occasion. Hiking the IAT has been a meaningful milestone, full of challenges, excitement, exhilaration, exhaustion, and in the end, a feeling of accomplishment. We concluded how much we loved each other’s companionship and renewed our ongoing relationship every step of the way.
High appreciation to the dreamers and founders of the IAT. Thank you to all staff and volunteers working to sustain and upgrade the Trail. You helped make our IAT adventure “come to life”. Our lives are a little fuller, having added to our memorable experiences, and strengthened the attributes contributing to our resilience. A thank you to private land owners permitting passage across their land (sometimes posting humorous signs, or even making a corn maze for hikers to enjoy), donors to the Ice Age Trail Alliance, and to Wisconsin for proudly hosting a National Scenic Trail (all within one state) as part of the National Park System.
Ice Age Guidebook Miles: 1,109.6
Fitbit Miles: 1,230.43
Mile Average per Day: 17.57
Full Days (Greater than 4:30 hrs): 63
Half Days (Equal or Less than 4:30): 7
Car Trips from Home to IA Trail: 37
Ice Age Trail Memories: Many
Article by Jane and David LeCount, Thousand-Milers