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Nimblewill Nomad (aka M.J. Eberhart) was headed through the Paul Bunyan Forest Wednesday on his cross country journey via the North Country Trail. His message to those considering embarking on a pedestrian expedition: Do it now; there may not be a later. (Submitted photo)

Nimblewill Nomad on hike along North Country National Scenic Trail

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Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Nimblewill Nomad, a 70-years-young long-distance hiker, arrived in Hubbard County Monday as part of his quest to hike the nation's longest hiking route, the North Country National Scenic Trail.

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M.J. Eberhart departed from Lake Sakakawea State Park in North Dakota March 23 - surviving two blizzards and frostbitten cheeks on the initial stage of his journey.

"But it didn't hurt my looks," the wizened hiker joked.

"I'm an outdoors person," he said of the 4,500-mile journey. "I enjoy the challenge."

His "odyssey" agenda calls for arrival at the NCNST trailhead - the shores of Lake Champlain in upstate New York - in late September.

Then he plans to return to North Dakota to walk about 200 miles of the trail that were inaccessible in March due to snow. (He walked the highways.)

Upon completion, he will join the ranks of less than a dozen who've accomplished the feat.

"It's a challenge," the retired optometrist admits. "But I've been blessed with health and stamina. I show my appreciation by using it.

"My granddaddy died in the woods hunting. My dad died cutting firewood and I'm hiking..." he reflected of mortality in the great outdoors.

Up until this week, Nimblewill had the aid of a support person who picked him up at day's end. They spent the night in a motel or the conversion van.

But now, he pitches a tent at day's end, pulls out a sleeping bag and snoozes under the stars. Total baggage weight is about 12 pounds. (The average backpacker hauls about 40 pounds of necessities.)

Wednesday, he made a stop in Walker where an Itasca Moraine chapter volunteer provided him with a shower and met him for lunch - aptly at the Outdoorsman.

"I had a double dose luncheon," Nimblewill Nomad reported. The waitress clearing his plate was astounded by his request for a second order of the lunch special.

"The 70-year-old can motor through the woods," observed Matt Davis, NCNST regional coordinator. "He's in great physical shape."

Nimblewill Nomad began long-distance hiking in 1998. His "10 Million Steps" journey on the Eastern Continental and Appalachian Trails spanned 5,000 miles over a year's period.

The hike began from deep in Florida's everglades and ended in Newfoundland, Canada.

Nimblewill Nomad has also walked cross-country from North Carolina to California. He's journeyed on the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail and traversed the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail - out to the Pacific Ocean and back again to St. Louis - arriving on the 200-year anniversary day of Lewis' and Clark's return.

This will be the seventh national scenic trail he's traveled, each one chronicled on his Web site, www.nimblewillnomad.com.

"I put my pack on, get my stick and I go," he said of his motivation. On an average day, he covers 24 miles.

After completing this year's hike, the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin is the only trail remaining of the eight original National Scenic Trails.

Or so he assumed.

Recent federal legislation is calling for the designation of three more national scenic trails.

Davis broke the news this week when he met him near Lake George.

"Oh, great!" was his not-so-joyous reply.

Even so, completing the eight trail hikes would make him only the third individual to accomplish the feat.

He jokes of people's questions on the perilous creatures - "snakes and bears" - lurking in the hinterlands.

He views them as the "beauty and joy of nature."

This week alone, he spotted huge wolf prints in the area where he camped.

Trumpeter swans were sighted. About 100 deer chose to make an appearance and turkey tracks were seen "everywhere."

Eagles in number soared overhead. "I've never seen so many."

Leaving Hubbard County, he headed into the Chippewa National Forest, bound for Remer and Grand Rapids. The Mesabi Trail will take him to Ely. His route will include the Kekekabic Trail, the Border Route through the Boundary Waters to Grand Portage. He'll follow the spectacularly scenic Superior Hiking Trail to Duluth.

He will have traveled 750 Minnesota miles when he crosses the Wisconsin border - about half the mileage he gets out of a pair of his tennis shoes.

"He's an amazing person," Davis said. Conversations with the hiker reveal he's a religious person who does soul searching as he moves through the woods, "finding peace with himself and facing his frailties."

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