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“No matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, the outdoors is for you. And I think everybody should be able to enjoy it.”Emily Ford, Duluth News Tribune
We had the privilege of witnessing Emily Ford and Diggins the sled dog make history this weekend by reaching the Western Terminus of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail! Together, they backpacked 1,136 miles in 69 days, in temperatures that dropped as low as -37 degrees. Emily, is the first woman and only the second person to ever complete a winter thru-hike of the trail. Diggins probably set the dog record too! Woo hoo! Emily and Diggins, we celebrate with you!
I started following Emily and Diggins’ journey back in January right as they set out on the trail. Friends and family would send me links to stories “Have you seen this?”, knowing that I would be interested. I, along with many others, started following along through her instagram account @emilyontrail . Even after many challenging days, her updates ended with an encouraging smile and a “woo hoo!”. Her strength and positive energy carrying her though to the end.
Her trek included a few warmer days, but also a two week stretch of record breaking sub zero temps that kept most winter enthusiasts hunkered inside and stretched all the way down to Texas. I remember thinking of them on a few of those really cold nights and wondering what decisions she would have to make. Emily wisely accepted the kindness of strangers on the trail, sheltered, rested and took the care she needed in order to complete her goal. There’s a real lesson there.
Through updates on frozen socks, broken poles, lost (and found!) glasses, frosty pup whiskers and an ENORMOUS 60 lb backpack….Emily welcomed and invited us along on her journey…eventually letting us know she was coming near the end.
Interstate Park is part of the larger North Country Trail and is where the Ice Age Trail ends. Its also a special place for our family, spending many weekends there in our early days and being the first park our kids camped at when they were tiny. My friend Pam and I had become pretty big fans of Emily and Diggins and jumped at the opportunity to see her reach the end at a park we both love.
We parked near the entrance of the park and hiked in to the terminus, along icy trails. We were thankful for our trekking poles and foot traction and wondered how much ice Emily and Diggins had dealt with ice that day. We reached the Pothole Trail and descended to the scenic overlook of the St Croix River. A flood of good memories of playing in potholes and clutching our little boys came back on those cliffs. It felt good to be back. Sitting in the warm sun, we tried to imagine what their journey was like, trying to figure out how many miles a day they had walked (about 17 miles on average). As her arrival time approached, we walked back over to the terminus and grabbed a spot away from people and leaving space for their family and friends to greet them.
Maybe it was a combination of sunshine, spring fever, being in one of my favorite parks… or all of the above! But, hearing the crowds off in the distance, knowing that Emily and Diggins were making their way to the end… filled my heart with joy! I jumped up on the rock I was stationed on and whooped, hollered and cheered the pair on as they descended down to the terminus. So many thoughts racing though my mind as she took off her huge pack and hugged the friends and family waiting for her.
- What did she think about everyday alone on the trail?
- Did she ever want to end it early?
- What would it be like to come back home?
- How did she feel about all of this publicity?
- Was she ever scared?
- How do campsites work on the IAT?
- How did she carry a 60 lb backpack every day?
- Did she add or ditch any gear?
- What would it feel like to say goodbye to Diggins?
- What’s next?
Emily and Diggins were met by family, friends, film crews, reporters, representatives from the trail and even the local mayor. None of this seemed to shake Emily, as she arrived. No grande announcement, no formal speech…she just simply and humbly stated that the outdoors are for everyone, and that she wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it.
I love that.
I reflected on her arrival being at the end of Black History month, and the beginning of Women’s History month… and how much there is to be remembered and celebrated alongside this inspiring, welcoming and resilient woman.
“If you’ve ever dreamt of doing something and there is no one who looks like you doing it, do it and make those steps with us,” she says. “You don’t have to be a certain way to do the thing.”Emily Ford, Backpacker Magazine
If you would like to read more about the Ice Age Trail and Emily and Diggins’ epic journey, here are more resources to check out. I think we’ll be hearing more from Emily, and I can’t wait!