More than twice the length of the better known Appalachian Trail, the North Country Trail rambles through seven states and rewards hikers with changing landscapes including heavily wooded and mountainous regions, as well as rural and urban environments.
The trail also offers plenty of hard miles for through-hikers like Jordan who started his trek in deep snow and managed only nine miles in snowshoes on his first outing. By the fifth day, he was blistered, sore and sunburned. Despite careful planning, he’d forgotten sunscreen and was frustrated by difficult trail conditions.
At age 23, Jordan was a seasoned hiker. As a boy, he became dedicated to hiking the Superior Hiking Trail, a “hidden gem” near his family’s cabin. During summers off from St. Cloud State University, he volunteered to build new trail sections between Duluth and Two Harbors. These experiences close to home inspired him to dream of a bigger undertaking.
Trekking the North Country Trail was supposed to be a grand quest, but the cold 2013 spring start was a grind.
“It’s really impossible to plan more than two days out,” Jordan said. “Plans can change drastically depending on the weather, your energy levels and other forces outside of your control.”
After weeks of wintery walking, Jordan was still short of the Minnesota border when he encountered a strong, freezing wind that made it impossible to pitch his tent. That night he slept, fitfully, in an unlocked restroom shelter. The next morning, he found his boots frozen next to him.
Daily hardship was not what he envisioned while planning the trip as he completed his bachelor’s degree in ecology and natural resources at St. Cloud State. Jordan had chosen the North Country Trail because of the biodiversity and beauty of the route.
“I have an adventurous spirit. After being tied to the books, classes and stresses of college for four years, I needed a chance to experience the world before settling into a career,” Jordan said.
Hoping to find the “big adventure” he’d mapped out for himself, Jordan put on his frozen boots and kept hiking, eventually crossing over state borders, time zones and seasons on his way to the trail’s eastern terminus in New York.
A buoyant outlook kept him going despite being cold, wet and exhausted for extended periods. “Like college, the trail was full of obstacles, many of which seemed impossible to overcome. When things got bad I held on to hope — hope that I would achieve my goal and finish hiking the trail if I just held on a little longer and didn’t give up,” Jordan said.
The 201-day hike was a lesson in extremes. When the spring snows finally melted into summer, he experienced heat exhaustion on sweltering days. And the mosquitoes in the Upper Peninsula!
Details of his ordeals can be found in Jordan’s online journal, a must-read for anyone contemplating a long-distance hike.
For 90 days, Jordan made daily journal posts to a website for friends, family and his growing public following. Equipped with a cell phone, iPod and digital camera, he documented his travels to encourage others to explore the North Country Trail.
His entries include frequent accounts of tough conditions and raw disappointments. These are outweighed by numerous examples of human kindness.
Jordan found “trail magic,” bags of food left trailside or hanging in trees, scattered along the trail. These donations from fellow hikers and well-wishers cut $1,000 from his planned expenditures.
While Jordan relished the “opportunity to see isolated places” and enjoyed discovering himself during solitary stretches, he also benefitted from a strong sense of community.
“When things got bad I held on to hope — hope that I would achieve my goal and finish hiking the trail if I just held on a little longer and didn’t give up.”
His online itinerary resulted in local media coverage and alerted area trail volunteers who often came to his aid. At times Jordan had support crews, hot meals and warm places to stay. On these days, he didn’t need to carry his usual 40-pounds of gear and could “slack pack” a greater hiking distance. By trip’s end, Jordan had averaged 24 miles a day, living up to his trail name, “Strider.”
Jordan is the 10th end-to-end hiker of the North Country Trail. In completing his solo trek, he met his goal of increasing awareness of the trail.
Despite 30 years of trail-building efforts, much of the trail remains hazardous and poorly marked. More volunteers are needed to improve trail conditions for future generations of hikers.
Jordan believes the best way to get young people involved is by sharing firsthand experiences. A frequent presenter at outdoor events and college campuses, he tells his story “hoping to inspire others to get out and try it.”
Audiences often want to know what he thought about as he hiked from North Dakota to New York.
“I spent the days occupied with my own thoughts, largely about long-term ways to improve the trail and draw in more people,” Jordan said.
Jordan recently moved to Fargo, where he accepted a temporary position with the National Park Service working on the North Country Trail in western Minnesota.