Monday, November 8, 2021

Recap: Mammoth Hike Challenge on the Ice Age Trail

After I broke my ankle and foot in July and was sidelined from running and racing, I considered what I could do while I healed. As time went on, I was able to slowly increase walking and hiking. Optimistically, I signed up for the Mammoth Hike Challenge, sponsored by the Ice Age Trail Alliance

The Mammoth Hike Challenge required participants to complete 41 miles during the month of October, all on the IAT. The only other requirement was to visit 3 Ice Age Trail Communities. There are 15 official Ice Age Trail Communities, towns that have chosen to support the IAT and welcome visitors from the IAT.

Normally when I am running, 41 miles would not be a difficult challenge for me. Could I do 41 hiking miles in one month? The other concern for me was that I don't live in Wisconsin, so participating in this challenge would require that I journey up north most, if not all the weekends in October, and hike distances that I hadn't seen in months. We have a lake house near Lodi and I planned on doing most of my hikes on the segments in that area. I vowed not to hike the same segment more than once for the challenge.

I decided to give it go, to give myself a goal to keep moving on my way back to running. I'm recapping my experience for other hikers to read as well as a way to remind myself that I can do hard things!

THE HIKES

Gibraltar Segment, Lodi, 9 miles

I kicked off the challenge by hiking up to Gibraltar Rock and then completing the entire Gibraltar segment, including the connecting road, where I actually picked up the pace and did some running. I had the trail mostly to myself, except at the top, where I encountered 2 women taking in the vista. I asked them to take a photo and they obliged. I'm always amazed by this segment, where a giant rock sits, 1200 feet above sea level, in the middle of farmland. Walking along the backside of the rock was amazing. This segment is overall very hilly. It is also very popular. I recommend going there early in the day.

Whitewater Lake Segment/Blackhawk Segment, Whitewater, 12 miles

Excited to explore a new-to-me segment, I got up early and drove 90 minutes to Whitewater for this hike. This area has several segments of IAT and they are all connected. The Ice Age Trail race is held on this segment! I made the decision to do the Whitewater Lake segment, as it was 9 miles out and back. It is also part of the National Kettle Moraine Forest and there are a lot of piney sections. I loved running/hiking on the needle-strewn trails and listening to the whispering of the trees. It was very pretty. It was also very hilly, with many steep, rocky climbs. Much to my disappointment, this segment does not take hikers to the lake, but there is a view of it from one of the peaks. When I got back to the car, I decided get a few more miles and venture onto the Blackhawk Segment. This trail started off in a dead forest, then eventually wound around to Lake Lagrange, a beautiful quiet lake. I wanted to keep going but my legs were protesting, so I called it a day.


Sauk Point Segment/Devil's Lake State Park, 12 miles

To access this segment from Lodi, I had to take the Merrimac Ferry across the Wisconsin River. From there, it was a short drive to Parfrey's Glen and the trailhead for the Sauk Point Segment. I had hiked part of the Sauk Point segment before and I thought it was just another woodsy, hilly climb. However, once I finished the climb to the top, I was rewarded with some beautiful views. I also encountered a through hiker, a young man named Dustin, who chatted with me for a few minutes before I moved on. I wonder if he finished the entire 1200 miles of the trail. As I began my descent, the trail was very rocky. It was as if someone threw a bunch of boulders on the hill--they were strewn everywhere and made for a challenging hike! It was amazingly beautiful. I crossed a road into Devil's Lake State Park and followed the yellow blazes to ensure I was still on the IAT. At one point, I got a little turned around. I used my hiking app to get myself reoriented and turned around at 6 miles to head back the way I came. 

Lodi Marsh Segment, 8.75 miles

I was thrilled to finish off the challenge by hiking the Lodi Marsh Segment. I love this segment, which is accessible right outside the city limits. It was a cool, windy morning, and I was wearing my blaze orange to avoid being a target for hunters. The trail is also public hunting grounds and I did encounter some hunters on my hike. The fall colors were at their peak and even though they weren't as colorful as in previous years, there was still so much beauty on the trail. There are plenty of climbs on this segment too! The marsh was not too marshy, which I appreciated. I also climbed down a steep pseudo-staircase to the wetland lake. It's just all so beautiful. 

THE COMMUNITIES

Lodi

Having spent many years in the area, I am very familiar with this cute little community. Built along Spring Creek, the small downtown is charming. Over the past couple of years, newer businesses have popped up along Main Street, including a bakery, a few restaurants, and some gift shops. There's a meat market, which has been around for years and has THE BEST bacon you can buy. 

Whitewater

Whitewater is an old railroad town and the old downtown is well preserved. It is also the home to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. After my hike, I stopped at Second Salem, a local craft brewery where I sampled a hazy IPA and had a flatbread. The beer was great, the flatbread not so much. 

Milton

While I didn't hike the segment of the IAT that runs through this community, we did take a ride through just to check it out. Milton is another little railroad town and is home to the Milton House, which was part of the Underground Railroad in the 1840s. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

When I finished my last hike, I sat in my car to soak in my experience before heading home. I was surprisingly more emotional than I expected I would be! While I was able to stay active as I recovered from my injury, not being able to run really took a toll on me, both physically and mentally. The Mammoth Hike Challenge gave me a chance to continue to expand my love for the trails, especially the IAT, and to push myself as I recovered. In order to accumulate the miles I needed to complete the challenge, I had to go farther than I normally would on a hike in the woods. I used many of the same strategies we use on long runs--that experience really helped me a great deal. 


Following the advice of many hikers, I downloaded the Guthook app (now FarOut), which is an app used for hiking many long-distance trails. The app is a topographic trail map, compass, and guidebook all in one. Just be forewarned, you have to purchase the map for the trail you want. I took advantage of a special deal for the IAT maps during the month of October. When using the app, you can enable GPS, which was really helpful in getting me reoriented when I got turned around in Devil's Lake State Park. 


Would I do anything differently? I am considering buying trekking poles, especially for some of the more technical climbs and passages. I rolled my ankle multiple times on the Whitewater Lake segment where it was steep and rocky. Fortunately, nothing bad happened but having something to give me a little more stability would have been helpful. I also wish I had completed the entire circle on the trail I was following in Devil's Lake State Park. It would only have been one more mile, but not knowing where I was made me a little nervous. Note to self: the fun of hiking is exploring and can you ever really be lost? 


What's next? The Lodi Chapter of the IAT has a 50 mile hiking challenge, the Glacial Drifters Hiking Challenge. It can be done at your own pace, which is appealing to me. What isn't appealing to me is that there are a few long connecting roads that are part of the challenge. Interestingly, I've already done most of the segments this year! This might be something for me to work on in 2022. Many of the chapters of the IAT have similar challenges. I really want to branch out to other segments across the state--I'm especially interested in the segments by Eau Clare and the Western Terminus. There are 1200 miles to explore and after finishing this challenge, I can really see myself eventually transitioning from running to hiking as I get older.

Finally, hikers earn patches, not medals. I'm anxiously awaiting my first challenge patch but I hope it's not my last! Stay tuned.

Have you ever done a distance challenge before? 

I'm linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics, with the Runners' Roundup: DebbieDeborahJenLaura, and Lisa.

 

36 comments :

  1. Congratulations on completing the challenge! You sure had tons of beautiful views. My eldest son and his wife do tons of hiking and they pretty much always bring trekking poles!

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  2. A great recap of the Mammoth Hike Challenge, Wendy!
    Hiking 41 miles in one month with the commute and all - well done!
    I have never done a distance challenge like this before, but I love it, especially that you get to do it in such spectacular countryside.
    I would definitely do the 50 mile challenge for 2022.

    I especially like that you don't hesitate to do this alone. I know some who would be too fearful, but we can't let fear stop us, can we?

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    1. I love being outside by myself in the woods. It’s just so peaceful and calming!

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  3. Sounds like a great challenge! I did a similar challenge, almost a year ago, and it was a great distraction from the jack of running (because all my walking miles counted, and some of my elliptical “miles” did, too). Thankfully I could do all of my miles anywhere, so that really made it doable. Congrats!

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  4. Love this!! I did one with hiking different ones in the Adirondacks (chester Challenge) but not as massive or as pretty as yours.

    So happy that your injuries did not prevent you from finishing.

    I always bring poles just in case although often they are not necessary.

    Can't wait to follow you on the next one.

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  5. Congratulations on doing the challenge. I have never done a challenge like this and I am sure that I will never live a similar experience. Now I have to deal with my body and my age.
    Glad that you succeeded in finishing this "ordeal" despite the injures. Brava!
    The landscape is wonderful.

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    1. I love the pace of hiking--it's definitely a great alternative to trail running. Slowing down makes you see more, that's for sure!

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  6. This is AWESOME! There's more to running than just the physical act of it- there's the planning, finding new challenges, pushing yourself, being out in nature... you found a way to do all of those while you couldn't run. Instead of just spending those weeks inside the gym on a bike (which I've done) you did something amazing.
    I'm very intrigued by these trails! My sister still lives near Chicago- I'm hatching a plan to go visit at some point and explore.
    Congratulations!!!

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  7. Amazing way to continue your recovery! I've never done a distance challenge. I got trekking poles last year when we went to the Grand Canyon and they made a huge difference! They'll be going with us in a couple weeks to Yosemite.

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    1. I definitely want a pair, especially for the steeper segments. They'll probably be helpful in the winter too!

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  8. As you know, I do love to hike, but since I hike with Mr. Judy & Bandit, I generally have to be careful of the hikes I pick. Plus yes, you really can be lost! Take it from me!

    I have a walking stick I absolutely have not been able to find. Mr. Judy also has one which he often takes, and we sometimes pass it back & forth between us when it's steep and/or slippery.

    These look like beautiful hikes. Hopefully you'll never have to choose between hiking & running & can continue with both! Great job Wendy, congrats.

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    1. I hope I can continue with both, but I sure am grateful to have found something that will keep me outdoors and moving.

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  9. It's so awesome that you were able to do this even when you weren't really running! All the views look amazing and I bet it was a great way to get outside and explore.

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    1. I am so grateful for these trails! They have made my life so much richer.

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  10. I really love that you took this on! it was really a great challenge for you right when you needed it most. What beautiful trails you had to explore. Congratulations on completing this challenge well done! You may have found another hobby that you love

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    1. I definitely have! It makes not being able to run much less painful.

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  11. I love hiking. That Ice Age Trail is on my hiking bucket list. Strong work Wendy!

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    1. Thanks Denise! If you ever want to hike some of it with me, let me know!

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  12. This sounds like such a fun challenge, and how amazing that you were able to log those miles while exploring beautiful trails in the process!

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  13. Congrats, Wendy, on completing the challenge. It looks like a beautiful trail. The Lodi Marsh segment looks particularly pretty.

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  14. This sounds like an amazing challenge. Congrats on completing it! Those trails are just beautiful! This was such a great way to stay active during your recovery.

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    1. Thank you Michelle! The timing of the challenge was perfect for my recovery. I absolutely loved this.

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  15. What a great challenge. The scenery is stunning. I love that it gave you a goal to chase after when you were recovering. Trekking poles would be a great addition to your athletic equipment.

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    1. I'm looking forward to more adventures on these trails, but I definitely need some poles!

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  16. I just love how you put all of this together! I was particularly drawn to your description of Lodi - it reminds me of a place called Clarens in South Africa. Well done Wendy for completing this challenge against all odds - you never let setbacks hold you back, you just keep at it and I really admire that.

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    1. Awww, thanks Shathiso! I didn't want to just let all my fitness dwindle and I was very lucky to have this opportunity fall into my lap.

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  17. Congrats on completing the challenge! Those trails are so beautiful! And yes, trekking poles are amazing for hiking!

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    1. I plan on getting a pair of poles--there's a lot more exploring to do!

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  18. This was such an incredible challenge and I am so proud of you for making it happen. Coming back from injury can be daunting, but you are totally crushing the comeback!

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    1. Thanks so much! I'm grateful for so many alternative activities to keep me active while I healed.

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