The Trail was Calling: Ernie Ruiz’s Thru-Hike Journey

Ruiz posing in front of the Visitors Center in the Antigo/Langlade County trail community. Photo by Ernie Ruiz.
Ruiz posing in front of the Visitors Center in the Antigo/Langlade County trail community. Photo by Ernie Ruiz.

Most thru-hikers who have visited us at the Alliance have thoroughly and painstakingly researched the Ice Age Trail (IAT). However, Ernesto “Burn” Ruiz (or Ernie) is an exception. He didn’t plan his Ice Age Trail thru-hike. He simply got “the itch” and felt the need to get on the Trail.

Ruiz, a Milwaukee native, only learned about the Ice Age Trail a year and a half ago. He previously thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT), but similar to his approach to the IAT, he did it without previously hiking any segments of it.

He considers himself an “adventurer,” and having served in the Navy, this self-proclaimed title seems fitting. Ruiz’s time in the Navy introduced him to the outdoors. It also got him used to being outside for long periods of time, and he humorously adds, “being smelly.”

Ruiz at the Milton Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Photo by Ernie Ruiz.
Ruiz at the Milton Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Photo by Ernie Ruiz.

Ruiz’s experience on the IAT has varied from his thru-hike of the AT. First, the AT is more populated with other hikers. “You can go days without seeing people on the IAT,” he says. The isolation was difficult, at times, for Ernie who was used to meeting “bubbles of people” to hike with on the AT for weeks at a time.

Another challenge of the IAT is the road walks. “They were really beating me up,” he says. Being exposed to the weather all day without any cover made it difficult for Ruiz to sometimes stay motivated. He nearly “threw in the towel” before the bifurcation. A common challenge of the IAT is finding a place to camp, which Ruiz has experienced.

However, other hikers and IAT enthusiasts have helped him out along the way. For example, volunteers at the recent Trailbuilding event in Iola invited Ruiz to camp with them. Also, a hiker in the Madison-area offered Ruiz a place to stay, which was especially generous considering he thinks he might’ve fractured his fibula right before the Devils Lake segment (information he shared very nonchalantly). Another hiker near Cornell gave Ruiz her phone number and kept in touch with him. She even made sure he was doing okay after a bad storm.

A unique aspect of thru-hiking is food. Many thru-hikers have unusual meals while on the Trail. Ruiz shared what his typical trail diet looks like: for breakfast, he usually has Poptarts or Breakfast Essentials; for lunch, he’ll have PB + Js, tortilla rollups with PB and a Snickers bar, or tuna packets; and for dinner, like several other thru-hikers, Ruiz has come to appreciate a ramen bomb.

“A Kwik Trip hotdog is worth a night hike.”

For those who aren’t familiar with a ramen bomb, it consists of a ramen noodle packet, ramen seasoning, and instant mashed potatoes cooked together in boiling water (or cold water for the hot summer months). Ruiz’s pro-tip: enhance the ramen bomb experience by adding a little hot sauce and a tablespoon of PB to get a Pad Thai flavor.

Ruiz’s guilty pleasure while on the Trail has been Kwik Trip hotdogs. He says, “A Kwik Trip hotdog is worth a night hike.”

As he continues his thru-hiking journey, Ruiz plans to take a break at home in Milwaukee once he hits Waukesha County. He’s invited friends to join him for a few hours on the trail, but no bites. He says he’s actually the only one in his family and friend group who “does this sort of stuff.” Ruiz joked his family and friends ask him, “You work and pay how much to be homeless?”

There’s no deadline for Ruiz’s thru-hike. He’s enjoying his time on the Trail and its views. If he “finishes faster, then I have to go home sooner, which I don’t want to do,” says Ruiz. “I would rather be out there [on the Trail].”

Despite the road walks, Ruiz hasn’t lost “the itch” to be out hiking on a trail. After completing the IAT, Ruiz has his sties set on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). How much he’ll plan for this hike remains unknown. But knowing Ruiz, he’ll likely prepare for the PCT as much as he plans for anything… meaning he’ll just get out there and let his inner-adventurer guide him.

Happy Hiking, Ernie!


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