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Duluthian becomes first woman to thru-hike the Ice Age Trail in winter

Mar 19, 2021 07:32AM ● By Editor

Photo Credit: David Porter/KARE

By Sharon Yoo of KARE 11 News - March 18, 2021

There's something you should know about Duluthian Emily Ford.

"I've always loved the dirt," Ford said. "I've always loved being in the Earth."

She said she first fell in love with the outdoors when she was around 9 years old, on her first trip to the Boundary Waters. 

So it was only natural for her to choose to spend her winter outdoors this past year. In December of 2020, she packed up her things, and set out east to Wisconsin.

"I just finished the Ice Age Trail, which runs, east to west-ish in Wisconsin," Ford said. "But it takes a long detour south a bit and it comes back up and finishes out."

In the beginning of her trip, Ford said a temporary goodbye to her pup and borrowed a companion hiking dog named Diggins, knowing this trip was going to be long.

"The whole trail is 1,200 miles, and my total was 1,100 and some odd miles," she said. "There's some goofy stuff that goes on. I started December 28, 2020, and finished on March 6 of 2021."

The 1,136 mile hike made her the first woman to thru-hike the trail during winter. She said history was made, unintentionally.

"I still don't really understand what that means. A lot of people have been asking me what does it feel like to be the first?" she said. "And I'm like, well I don't know! I try to akin it to like, what's something you just like to do? Your passion projects or whatever, it's nostalgic. That's what this trip was, it was a passion project for the winter."

It was a journey along which she found many things.

"I think that's really good for us to come back to our own core beliefs, without being influenced by the outside world," she said. "And kind of having that quiet time with ourselves, because it's kind of rare these days to have that quiet time with ourselves. Unless you're really good at setting aside that time for yourself; which I am not."

Also along the way, during the coldest of nights, she found humanity by way of generosity from strangers.

"They would leave me stuff at the trail heads, if they won't meet me," Ford described. "We would stumble upon bags of goodies, food and water and socks."

"Some people on those really cold nights...some people let us stay in their house, and that was like, that is, that's so cool," she added.

She said she treasured each relationship she could run into on the trail.

"It's just so good to have those short term connections and sometimes those are the ones we remember the most, and has the most impact," she said.

And in terms of making an impact, the thesis of her trip, according to her, is encouragement.

"I want this to be in a way, if anybody chooses to follow this story, for people to know, this is a Black person, getting outside, especially up here it's very rare," Ford said.

Once a backpacker, always a backpacker. 

She said with more than a thousand miles behind her this year already, she's thinking about the next adventure.

You can follow Emily's Instagram here: @emilyontrail

To see the original report and see related articles, follow this link to the KARE 11 News website.  

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