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Duluth’s Emily Ford shares lessons from month-long BWCA ski endeavor

Apr 03, 2022 07:15AM ● By Editor
Duluth's Emily Ford shares lessons from month-long BWCA ski endeavor. Photo: KBJR-TV

Kendall Jarboe of KBJR-TV • April 2, 2022

A Duluth outdoor enthusiast is breaking barriers once again. Last year, Emily Ford became the first woman and person of color to hike the entire Ice Age Trail in the winter.

Ford, who is also the head gardener at Glensheen Mansion, completed the 1,200-mile journey through Wisconsin in 69 days. Ford’s canine partner Diggins accompanied her on the hike.

Diggins was a retired sled dog Ford borrowed for the endeavor and later adopted after the trip. This year, Ford and Diggins are back at it again. They recently completed another adventure in the middle of winter, and this time it was in the Boundary Waters.

“I realize now it is like a jump,” Ford said. “In the beginning, it didn’t seem like a jump until I started planning on it, and then I was like, ‘This is way more than it was going to be.’”

For Ford and Diggins, another winter means another adventure. “We skied across the Boundary Waters starting at Crane Lake out west, and then the plan was to ski to Lake Superior through the Grand Portage,” she said. On February 11, the team set out on the 210-mile journey across the BWCA.

“We would sleep on the ice, we would wake up on the ice, and then we would ski on the ice, and then we would do some crazy portages,” Ford said.

They did all that while pulling a 150-pound sled through snow sometimes taller than Diggins, and that was not even the most challenging part.

“I fell through the ice, which I think a lot of people heard about. It was right below Curtain Falls,” Ford said. “That was kind of miserable, but it kind of set a fire in my belly, I’m not going to lie, to be like, ‘We’re in this, we’re going to do this.’”

Ford embarked on this mission with the motivation of ensuring the wilderness is valued, protected, and accessible to everyone.

“Until you go and live in the Boundary Waters for a whole month, you don’t realize that literally all the water is connected in the Boundary Waters,” Ford said.

During this trip, she raised money to send kids on a summer program with Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

“How cool is that! If somebody told me I could go on a free canoe trip when I was in middle school I would’ve been like, ‘Okay.’ But that probably would’ve changed my entire life trajectory,” Ford said.

Pete Marshall is the communications director at Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

“She [Ford] definitely brings awareness to our program ‘No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters Program’ and has helped raise funds to send kids from largely underserved communities to these life-changing one-week trips to the Boundary Waters,” Marshall said.

Marshall said Ford is transforming lives by inspiring kids of color and different communities to get outdoors.

“Now they see her doing this really incredible trip, and it’s a lot easier for them to imagine themselves in the Boundary Waters or doing an impressive wilderness trip like that,” he said.

On March 11, Ford and Diggins’ trip came to an abrupt halt. They hit flowing water at mile 181, which was just short of Lake Superior.

Despite ending the trip early, they still completed the mission: to ski across the Boundary Waters and spread the message that the outdoors is for everyone, and it is the best place to be.

“That goes for every type of person of every ability of every shape, size, and color,” Ford said. “It doesn’t matter to the outdoors of who you are, but for you to experience that as a human I think that’s necessary, and I think it’s super normal and natural.”  Ford raised nearly $6,000 so far and is still accepting donations.

As for next winter, Ford said she wants to stay in Duluth and speak at schools and businesses to help inspire more people to get outdoors. Not to worry, Ford is already brainstorming an even bigger trip for the following winter, but she is keeping those ideas to herself for now.

You can follow Ford on her Instagram @EmilyOnTrail

To read the original version of this story and see related reporting, follow this link to the KBJR-TV website.

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