Boy Scouts brave another expedition on the Ice Age Trailby Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist
I have to admit that every time I saw the "Boat Show" signs leading to downtown Chippewa Falls last week, a chill went down my spine. Our Boy Scout troop had chosen the same weekend -- April 25-27 -- for our second semi-annual backpack trip. When I saw those signs, my mind was flooded with memories of miserably cold rain and even snow on the last weekend in April for the past several years. Would our camping excursion meet the same fate?
Fortunately, God smiled mercifully on us in the weather department: it was one of the most beautiful weekends imaginable. The afternoons featured gentle warmth, balanced by nippy nights that made you want to cinch up your sleeping bag around your face. The mornings were cool enough to make you appreciate the radiant warmth of cooking breakfast over an open fire. And best of all, NO BUGS, even in the wilds of the Ice Age Trail!
Time seems to slow down when you're camping in the great outdoors, especially when doing something extra vigorous like backpacking. (My motto should be "So many stories to tell, so few column inches.") One vivid memory of our weekend, though, was when we were all lying around on the ground while taking a break late Saturday morning.
Sprawled out on a hillside overlooking a Girl Scout Camp just west of County E, we were feeling a little smug that the girls had a nice little camp there on the lake while we males were roughing it out on the trail. Our musings were interrupted by the sound of approaching voices. Since any sign of human life on the Ice Age Trail is a rarity, we were surprised to hear voices, especially female voices.
The voices were those of four ladies from Chetek: Sally Romanowski, Gwen Southworth, Judy Buffington, and Piper Beuthling. They stopped to chat when they reached us. They were on a day hike that made ours look like a crawl -- they were going FOURTEEN MILES on the Ice Age Trail! Worse yet (for the boys' egos), they said they had previously done up to TWENTY-THREE miles in one day. They take one day in the spring and one day in the fall, and hike parts of the trail. What a great tradition!
They told us to guess their age range. I learned long ago NEVER to guess a woman's age -- or weight, for that matter -- but thankfully they saved us before any of the boys ventured a guess. We were surprised to hear that they were from 32 to 60 years old. I hope I can walk half that far when I'm 60. Anyway, it was inspiring to the boys, most of whom were pretty tired after our five-mile unloaded day hike earlier in the month.
We knew we would not catch up to them, since we were laboring under the burden of full packs (sleeping bags, tents, food, clothes, cooking gear, ax, saw, etc.), so we took a picture of them to be included with the other 276 photos to commemorate our weekend odyssey on our troop web page (troop72.com).
The awesome weather must have attracted others, too, as we saw two more groups in our 42 hours on the trail. One was a young couple accompanied by a dog laden with saddle bags carrying their water. Now *that* is the way to travel!
The last people we came across were two retired guys. We actually saw them at two different spots, as they were driving their car on the dirt roads to the trail entrances. Their task for the day was putting up posts that contained trail maps and donation boxes. They were volunteers, doing this because they "believe in the Ice Age Trail." One of them, Tony Schuster, told us that he hiked all the way across Spain with his wife, Nancy -- 470 miles in 35 days!
This Ice Age Trail is really a hidden gem of Wisconsin, and I am grateful there are people who use their time and energy to help develop and maintain it. The grownups on our backbacking trip -- Mark Hedrington, James Sandomierski, Darin Thomas, and I -- are hoping to infuse the next generation with an appreciation of pristine wilderness areas like this.
As the popularity of this trail grows, there will need to be more camping spots set aside, and better maps of the trail in eastern Chippewa County. On our route last weekend, we had estimated an easy three mile day on Saturday, using only the grid lines on a county map. ("Don't bother eating lunch on the trail, we'll be at the campsite by noon," were my famous last words to the boys.) Apparently, however, the trail snakes around quite a bit more than you can see on the map: judging by the signs at the end of the trail, we figured we went SEVEN miles Saturday, not three.
Our ten-mile total for the weekend didn't quite measure up to the feat of the legendary Chetek ladies, but we prided ourselves in knowing we had hauled our bulging backpacks with us the whole way, and had more than doubled the distance of our first backpack trip last fall.
Oh, one more thing, for those who read the earlier column about that first trip -- this time, Adam brought some leather gloves. He needed no reminders; experience is a great teacher.
You can reach Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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