No catchy title, no thoughtful puns, no playing on words for this post. The title is simply us whispering lightly and tentatively the name of a mythical creature of incomprehensible length and ferocity, and yes when looked at close enough beauty. A beast that has no premeditation nor malevolence in its nature, but only indifference to the hiker that decides to take a peek into its open maw that swallows states like bit-sized Hershey Kisses. A beast that does not have to growl, nor screech, nor boisterously announce its presence, because it can be felt instead in every weighted breath that it is surrounding you completely. It not only eats your physical being, but also has the strength and size to eat the meta-physical, your mind and time itself. Months of thoughts and months of time. It does not chose to do this because it is evil, diabolical, or even thoughtless in its hunger. It just is indifferent. In our experience that is the scariest of all beasts, physically or spiritually. Indifference is the true loss of the essence and pureness of life. The loss of happiness, joy, pain, sorrow, anger, jealousy, inspiration, awe, disgust, grief, and every emotion that makes us feel, whether it is "good" or "bad", it still means we are feeling. Yet, indifference is the death of all things human. The only thing that remains when indifference is present, is true fear. So, as we whisper the North Country Trail's name, we do not fear the beast itself, because we know its source, know its shape, know its breath, know its heartbeat. No. What we fear, deeply fear, is the indifference in ourselves.
One more with feeling.
Wow, again not an opening paragraph that we had planned, but that is where our head and heart must be, so that is where we will explore. We had planned...again...to use this to purely state our intentions and our prep around the North Country Trail, but it seems we have stumbled onto a deep fear that trembles us to the very core. We will still get into the logistics as well as announcements but feel a little clarification is needed not only for you, but for ourselves.
Do we actually fear the North Country Trail? Well honestly, yes and no. We do not fear the trail itself. We do not fear the biting cold in fall along the plains of North Dakota, we do not fear the sweltering heat of the summer in the Upper Peninsula, we do not fear the mosquitoes nor black flies that are so thick they can pick you up, we do not fear the road walks as our shoes melt to the pavement. We do not fear the dehydration, we do not fear the deficiency as our bodies begin to waste away underneath the constant output that far exceeds the input, we do not fear the smell of ammonia as our muscles are repurposed for fuel for our burning bodies, we do not fear becoming a walking skeleton yet again. We do not fear the quiet, the deep reverberating quiet, of the woods, we do not fear the screech of brakes and the whistle of wind as trucks pass us at 70 MPH, we do not fear the quiet yet deafening loud place the mind finds deep in itself when walking for months on end. We do not fear the creature that disturbs our camp at 2 a.m. in the dark of the morning, animal nor human alike. We do not fear the pain that we will awaken to every morning, we do not fear the spasms and cramps that will cuddle us to sleep at night. We do not fear the million microscopic moments that go into a day of hiking all day for 30+ miles everyday for multiple months. We do not fear any of this, in fact we look forward to all of this, because this is what it means to thru-hike. Yet there is one singular thing we fear on this upcoming hike, and uniquely for this hike, for the North Country Trail. We have never tasted this inkling before. We fear it like a child fears the dark, like the prey fears the predator, like the heart can fear the mind. A primal fear, we fear ourselves, we fear the death of all things; indifference.
We will hold off on this one.
Instead, what do you see?
We have thru-hiked close to 20,000 miles now on more than 15 different long trails and never experienced this feeling. Yet it beckons the dark recesses of our mind, and calls us into its abyss with a siren call we cannot ignore. As we dip our toes into the darkness of our minds, we shake. We do not shake with the fear of a current feeling but instead we shake with the fear of, what if? That is where fear can grow and where fear has no bottom to its depth, when it has not yet taken a tangible shape. We are not currently feeling indifferent. In fact we are overjoyed and flowing with energy and pre-trail jitters. We are quite literally some days bouncing of the walls ready to begin this journey. We wake up every morning smiling knowing the trail is one day closer. We go to sleep every night embraced in the warmth that a trail provides. Yet, even with all the miles and trails underneath our feet, as we said in the beginning, the North Country Trail is a special type of beast. One that has very little mountains, small sections of true wilderness, long stretches of daily towns and longer times that there is "nothing" around you for not only days but months. Of course there is beauty in this "nothingness" and there is so much that can be seen and felt here, yet when you hike for so long and so far, you have to consciously chose some days to see this. This trail has so much but also so little and no breaks for months. That is the very reason it scares us to the essence of who we are. We fear indifference the most out of almost anything in this world. That is whether it is indifference seen and felt in others, indifference seen and felt in the natural world, indifference to the moment of each day. We say it again and again, but it truly is the death of everything it means to live. We have never experienced it, and that is what leaves us shaking. With a trail of this size, ~4600 miles, we deeply deeply fear we will begin at some point to feel indifferent to hiking, indifference to the moment, indifference in ourselves. Indifferent to the wind around us, indifferent to the pavement underneath our feet, indifferent to the sweat against our skin. Indifferent to the rumble of our stomach, indifferent to the crunch of leaves underneath our feet, indifferent to the breath of the trail. So, that is why we answer the question, of do we actually fear the North Country Trail, with a yes and no. No, we do not fear the trail itself and what it is. What we do fear, is what we will find in ourselves on this trail. We do not perceive this occurring, but nonetheless we fear it.
It seems to not only be our purest of fears, while searching for a quote on indifference it became a waterfall of the words and feelings of many, their deepest fear as well.
Okay that was a long digression, but a necessary one we feel. We began this post to describe to you the North Country Trail, not only the tangible facts around this trail system, but also the intangible facts of feelings around this trail. They are on in the same when you are preparing for a thru-hike no matter who you are, so it is fitting we told you of the thoughts around it. With that off our hearts and minds we can now get into the details, the updates, the trail descriptions, the mundane.
So, the North Country Trail. What is it? Well, for those of you who do not know, it is 1 of 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States. It is also the largest National Scenic Trail measuring in at about ~4600 miles long. It traverses the states of Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. If you would draw a straight line from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean across the United States, depending on your starting and stopping point you would only measure in anywhere from 3,000 - 4,000 miles. Yet, this trail is longer and yet it does not go from coast to coast. Why? Well, it does many many zig zags across each state, that is not the most direct route, but instead the route that the trail association designated when it was formed in 1980. Since then, it has grown, been re-routed, and continues to grow as more and more support and awareness are brought to it each year. Thru-hiking and long trails have not really been "main-stream" popular until the last few years and still we are hesitant to completely say main stream popular but they certainly have grown. Now the growth is exponential every year. Even though this has always been the nations longest National Scenic Trail, it has been also one of the most unknown. Even we did not know about it until AFTER completing the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. That's right you heard that correctly. We had been hiking for 3+ years, hiked over 7000 miles, and only then did we find out about this trail. Even how we heard of it was purely chance. We found a goal within these previous years of completing all 11 National Scenic Trails, and only in that research did we stumble onto this trail. There was never any talk about it around campfires, in trail towns, between other hikers, the largest NST instead laid patiently and silently in wait until we found it, instead of it finding us. Or is this also a chicken and egg scenario, was that its way of finding us? Who is to say...
*Does not show the extension into Vermont, but we will be doing this part of trail as well.
The North Country Trail will be our last sky in ElevenSkys. We have ten underneath our belt. More if you count trails outside of the National Scenic Trails. Yet, when this company was formed the name was derived from there being eleven National Scenic Trails in the country, hence ElevenSkys. The ten skies prior are; Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, Ice Age Trail, Arizona Trail, Natchez Trace Trail, Florida Trail, Potomac Heritage Trail, and the New England Trail. These are the trails that compose the National Scenic Trail system in the United States. Lastly of course, the North Country Trail. As our founder, Constantine, completes this trail, he will become either the 4th or 5th person in recorded history to have done so. Becoming by far the youngest, at the age of 27 (his 27th birthday will in fact be during this hike, on trail), and also becoming the first to do them all as thru-hikes. What was a adventure at first, then a passing goal years ago, became a dream, then became a company, and finally became a life. Constantine's partner, Magpie, will also find a huge accomplishment in this trail. Not only for the fact of its length, but she will become the 2nd woman to thru-hike the trail, the 1st Canadian woman, and the youngest woman in recorded history. She documents all her trails via very vivid writing, very vivid writing. Did we say it already? Extremely vivid writing! You can taste her words like sweet candy unlike that foul taste and screech in your ears that comes from ours.
Her blog can be found here: AdventurousMagpie
There is much in front of us on these next 4600 miles and much behind us, just continuing the best we can, one step at a time.
~18,000 miles in total for all 11 National Scenic Trails
We also are registered for a speed record, or Fastest Known Time along this trail. You can see our profile on our FKT Page. It is registered on this platform to make it official in the eyes of the outdoor world. We do not necessarily agree with having to do this since we already document via video and photos every day on trail, yet we registered regardless to conform to the industries standards, because it seems that was the only way to hold the official time. We also hold some gripes in reserve about the fact that the word of others nowadays has to be checked, re-checked, and cross-checked a thousand different ways and then tracked with a GPS. We are not frustrated at FKT or their policies because they have to do this, we are frustrated with this is how the world has become. It speaks to the pollution of character amongst others that this would even be a necessity. A word is a bond, a value, it should be treated as such, if not only for others, for yourself, for holding pride in truth and inner character. We digress and could digress longer and deeper but as we said it would be quick, so that being said, our pace that we will be shooting for is anywhere from 4-5 months. It is hard to directly say an exact amount of days, due to the trails length, yet we can confidently average out our pace over this time frame. We will averaging anywhere from 30-35 miles a day, everyday, for anywhere from 120-150 days. We will also be carrying a GPS that will ping our daily location as well as moving pace for this to be registered as official, and once we are live and running, the link will be included on all our social media pages.
Click the Picture to Go to Our FKT Profile
The best way to follow us as always is going to our 2021 Hiking Season page and then clicking the social links below and following us on each of those platforms. YouTube will have daily videos. Instagram will have daily pictures. Facebook will have daily stories.
We have also been coming out with pre-trail prep videos that show what go into a trail of the size. We have so far come out with (3) videos in the series. The first covering Maps & Data. The second covering Resupply & Food. The third covering Gear. There are many jokes but also information if you can survive the jokes long enough, that show how two experienced hikers logistically plan and navigate the prep-time before a long distance hike. Click any of the video links in this paragraph to go to the desired video, and make sure to follow along and Subscribe on the YouTube channel to continue the journey with us.
Click: HikingAmerica here and please subscribe and make it easier on both of us, so we do not have to link every future video while on trail. Easier for you, easier for us, more time to make jokes, a real win-win-win situation. Can you have three wins? We believe so.
Click the giant button to go to our channel, and subscribe now
Make it a win-win-win situation.
Well we think that is all the house cleaning we wanted to update you all on for the North Country Trail. We hoped to also touch on all the product updates that we have in-store for you with our gear at ElevenSkys. Yet, again just like our previous post, we have found ourselves down another line of thought, one that is necessary, yet one that was not expected. We promise that will be in our next post. We are beyond excited to announce the newest reveal in ElevenSkys but feel it is just too much for this post. We have been on a rollercoaster of emotion together already, and feel like hearts can only withstand so much. There is a lot to digest here. The last National Scenic Trail being completed out of all eleven, and giving the backstory to ElevenSkys' name itself. A long long long, did we say long trail and hike ahead of us. Many steps, many thoughts, many moments lay ahead. We hope to cry, fume, smile, and just feel along the way. No matter what we feel, we will know it is the light in the darkness of our mind keeping indifference at bay, and for us that is not only enough, but everything.
Not only the strongest but also the scariest.