By Dad & Daughter Duo, Mike & Emily Hoffmann
“Do you want to keep hiking, tomorrow?” I asked my dad.
At first, we weren’t even sure that we would make it the whole 1,200 miles. Each evening, for the first few weeks, with sore muscles and tight tendons, one of us would ask the other about getting back on the Ice Age Trail the next day. Luckily, the answer was always “yes,” and after a while, the questioning faded, and to hike onwards became our unwavering mission. Our determination to walk the Trail together led us to make many great memories.
As a dad and daughter duo, we started at Potawatomi State Park on March 31, 2019. There were many icy lengths on the trail that day and we both fell on the ice our first day of hiking. The first night, we failed to put our water bottles in our sleeping bags and they froze solid, but as we were falling asleep, we were amazed at the sounds of wildlife around us.
Along the way, we encountered hikers and townspeople. We met volunteers who were out doing trail maintenance, like Ruby, Northwoods Chapter Coordinator, who later in the day texted us the status of the New Wood River ford. High Point Chapter Co-Coordinators, Buzz and Butch, were out with their yellow labs on a scouting mission to assess a beaver dam and make trail maintenance plans. We were offered ice cream on a hot day, and a place to spend the night indoors on a stormy night. It was nice to chat with a corn farmer next to his seeding machine, and learn about him and his profession. The same goes for a bear hunter who was out on a practice run with a truckload of his dogs. The people we met were all warm and generous, as we knew they would be in our great state of Wisconsin.
As our time on the Ice Age Trail progressed, we came together as a team. I, Mike, quickly came to realize that my daughter was a skilled, competent, and organized outdoorswoman. Emily was the cook stove master and I was the sous chef. Emily showed me how to filter water and I showed her good places to set up camp.
We developed a dad-daughter connection that kept us going.
We encouraged each other during times that were difficult. Wet feet. Blisters. Mosquitos. Heat rash. My dad-knees. Climbing over innumerable trees that had fallen across the path after the biggest storm of the summer. Ticks. Mud. Flooding. When one of us was struggling, the other would take the lead. We developed a dad/daughter connection that kept us going.
We shared the appreciation of the beautiful scenery: we stopped at a winery; took off our boots and socks to wade streams; rode a ferry across the Wisconsin River; and sat on many benches to admire lakes, rivers, and streams. Discovering signs of wildlife together, such as beaver cuttings or bear scat, reinforced the fact that we were in backcountry. Emily saw a snowshoe hare. We identified three red-headed woodpeckers. We flushed grouse and turkeys and spooked innumerable deer. We spotted a beaver near the beaver dam on the Camp 27 segment. We watched two black bears cross a road. As we hiked through the East Lake segment, we were lucky enough to see a wolf cross the trail. It paused in the woods to watch us pass and we stopped to get a good look.
We shared the appreciation of the beautiful scenery: we stopped at a winery; took off our boots and socks to wade streams; rode a ferry across the Wisconsin River; and sat on many benches to admire lakes, rivers, and streams.
Sometimes hiking with my dad all day every day led to long silences, so we found ways to laugh and have fun. Playing “Blaze” was fun, and sometimes necessary to ensure we didn’t accidentally stray from the trail. We would see who could spot the next yellow trail marker first and yell, “blaze!” with a sense of triumph, and sometimes a sense of relief, especially in the Kettlebowl. I know my dad loved it when I sang Mr. Rogers’ song “It’s a Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood” as we walked. We enjoyed stopping at bars and restaurants along the way to refuel our extensive appetites. More than once, my dad ordered multiple entrees. We both agreed, beer never tasted better than it did after (or in the middle of) a long day’s hike.
We had a lot of good times, but things weren’t always easy. On a particularly difficult day, it took a lot of extra time and effort to pick our way through long sections of muddy, rugged trail. We struggled to keep our balance with loaded backpacks and tired feet. Finally, when we reached the Mondeaux Flowage, we enjoyed the delicious, cold, clear drinking water from the glacial springs. But to get there, we hiked farther than we had planned. We had to backtrack to a picnic area to make dinner, realized we forgot the stove in the car, and only brought dinner for one night. Having missed our intended campsite miles back, we had to sleep right off the trail on a steep slope. It was impossible to find a flat spot for a tent without a widow-maker above it. Even after a day when it felt like everything went wrong, we hit the trail hard the next morning.
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Emily, this is the best day of my entire life.”
For me, Emily, my favorite memory from my time on the Ice Age Trail came a few miles from the terminus, after many months and miles of good conversation, endless silences, snow, rain, wind, sweat, and clouds of mosquitoes. As my dad and I sat on a bench together, taking in the view from under a big, shady tree overlooking a prairie, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Emily, this is the best day of my entire life.” We both held back tears.
As we neared the terminus, the magnitude of what we were about to accomplish started sinking in. We had done something so big, but it also felt like we had done little to get where we were. All it took was to put one foot in front of the other. At times, this simple task was excruciating, and immensely difficult, but looking back, it’s easy to forget those difficult times. When it comes down to it, we just kept walking and that’s not so hard, especially when you have a great partner walking alongside you.
About the Authors
Emily Hoffmann grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and graduated in 2015 from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. While in school, she met her husband Josh, and they moved west after graduating. They lived in Eugene, Oregon for three years where Emily worked on an organic farm. In 2018, they moved back to Wisconsin to be near family, giving Emily the opportunity to hike the Ice Age Trail with her dad. She now lives in Nelsonville and works at Ruby Coffee Roasters.
Mike Hoffmann is 59 years old. He is married to Chris, his wife of 33 years. They have two daughters, Jessica and Emily. He is a retired Zookeeper from the Milwaukee County Zoo. He worked there for 31 years, primarily taking care of large mammals. He enjoys fishing, hunting, gardening, and woodworking. He feels very blessed in his life.