By Whitney Meckikalski, guest writer and new member
Growing up and into my twenties, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail periodically made fleeting appearances on the periphery of my awareness. It was something I heard other people talk about – people who walked in different circles than me. They were people I didn’t understand or connect with, being outdoorsy, fit, and adventurous. They were the crunchy granola-types who made homemade deodorant. They seemed to have a crystal-clear idea about Life’s meaning.
In contrast, my identity was a vague thing about which I made broad generalizations. I knew I liked reading books for countless hours, felt incredibly uncomfortable in most social settings, and was hopelessly awkward. I knew I was capable of a lot but lacked inspiration and focus. I floundered my way through my late twenties and early thirties. Hindsight has given me the wisdom to understand that I had no idea who my “true self” was.
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, I struggled to adapt and thrive along with the rest of the world. I also faced the deterioration and failure of my marriage. Navigating that loss felt like death; though I’ve always self-identified as an extreme introvert, the loneliness I felt threatened to overwhelm me. It was during this isolated period that I “discovered” the Ice Age Trail.
Having a young, energetic pup forced me to seek out exercise opportunities. My pooch – named The Worst Dog Ever! – and I would find a segment and spend hours thinking about nothing but the next step. The next bend. The next gorgeous vista. The next yellow blaze.
To accommodate the Trail better, I purchased new hiking shoes – complete with a proper fitting. I bought a pack and trained The Worst Dog Ever! to carry it filled with our snacks, water, and first aid kit. I energetically embraced 50-hour workweeks because I was heading towards another Ice Age Trail therapy session.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel guilty about devoting time to ME. I was blessedly selfish. I felt the most powerful form of peace from being alone. I discovered how hard it is to focus on negative thoughts when a new heel blister, inevitably developing after mile ten, had my attention. I purged my feelings of personal failures and self-doubt. I healed.
I would find a segment and spend hours thinking about nothing but the next step. The next bend. The next gorgeous vista. The next yellow blaze.
As Wisconsinites, we are so fortunate to have this free resource at our disposal. What I have gained from the Trail is invaluable, and this is what motivated me to join the Ice Age Trail Alliance as a member. I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back by donating funds and my volunteer time.
Though I feel like these contributions are small compared to what the Ice Age Trail has given me, I realize that many small gestures add up. I look forward to all the adventures The Worst Dog Ever! and I have in store!
About the Author
Whitney Meckikalski is an Ice Age Trail Alliance member and guest writer. After finding a space to think, reflect, and heal on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, she was motivated to support the Ice Age Trail Alliance as a member and volunteer. She and The Worst Dog Ever! look forward to their future Ice Age Trail adventures.