Beth Hays, at the age of 63, completed her goal. Hiking 4-15 miles each time she set off, in spring, summer, fall, and winter, her wool socks and Columbia hiking boots logged an astounding 1238 miles and she completed the entire Ice Age Trail. It took some convincing, but I was finally able to convince her to let me tell you about her experiences.
As many of you know, the IAT is an enchanting footpath that runs through some of the most gorgeous glaciated scenery throughout Wisconsin. The website, bit.ly/42lCOzA, states that more than 2.3 million people use the Ice Age Trail each year to hike and snowshoe, backpack, and disconnect and reconnect. Beth soaked in the incredible beauty of Wisconsin, the fascinating glacier formations, and especially loved the long, winding ridges called eskers.
Beth’s appreciation of history (she was a librarian and now works part-time at Baraboo’s Van Orden Mansion) combines with her deep faith and her love of nature. She carried her phone in case of an emergency but had the volume off so she could contemplate and listen to the birds, wind, and burbling water.
Beth had to squeeze her hikes into her schedule, so she often hiked alone, using her bike as her shuttle service. At times, her husband would join her for a camping adventure or she’d hike with the friend who helped inspire the goal. Facebook and the “Thousand Miler WannaBes” group, https://bit.ly/42uZf5d, helped motivate her.
She had scary moments when she miscalculated a meeting time and location for pickup. She also encountered bears on two occasions. Once, the bear was right ahead of her on the trail and it felt like they had a half-minute stare-down before it took off. Her adrenaline kicked in, and she had to wait several minutes before continuing on. The other time she spotted three bears in the woods. She also had close-ups with a porcupine, otters, a beaver, snakes, birds, and deer. She never encountered any scary humans, but she spotted some creepy trailers in the woods.
Beth kept a journal of her 128 outings. She recorded the maps and miles covered, the weather, transportation details, whether she had traveling companions, and her feelings or stories about the trail, including her final hike on May 20th.
Her husband, friends, and supportive family traveled from as far away as Texas and Colorado to join her on a perfect weather day for that final hike, the St. Croix Falls segment. They held up congratulations signs and wore huge smiles. Beth wrote an essay describing how hiking the IAT deepened her appreciation for the beauty of Wisconsin and the trail “angels” who freely gave of their time to maintain it and help hikers. She also writes about loving the time with God in his world.
If you enjoy reading stories about hiking adventures, check out Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. Bryson hiked the Appalachian Trail to reacquaint himself with his native land. Author Cheryl Strayed (her book is titled Wild) trekked long distances to work through problems. I often lace up my hiking boots to unwind or think something through. Hiking is not only good for the body, but it’s good for the soul.
Beth’s advice for IAT wannabes is to carry a compass, download trail apps for maps, or copy parts of the IAT guidebook. Use mosquito spray, wear good shoes, comfortable loose clothing, and layer. She’d also advise us to bring along a sense of wonder and, she concludes, prepare to be enchanted.
I’m lacing up my hiking boots right now, Beth. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story.
May we all find enchantment as we head out and explore this gorgeous state.