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Hiking the NCT: Connecting foreigners to the trail

The Enterprise has a small following across the Atlantic in Berlin, Germany. A group of my family and friends who live there come to the states for a visit a few weeks during the summer every year and spend some time here in Park Rapids. They have been dutifully following the hiking adventures I have been chronicling every month and upon their arrival a hike on the NCT was among their list of things to do.

I’m more than a little ashamed to admit that my first thought was “Of all the things to do, why would they want to do something as mundane as hiking?”

To me, their lives in Berlin seem so glamorous. They get to travel to so many interesting and diverse places all over Germany as well as places such as Switzerland, France, Finland, Italy and Austria to name a few. Places that are far out of reach for me and simply a train ride away for them. But they knew about the challenge and they wanted to be a part of it.

While the North Country Trail practically runs through my backyard, and I absolutely take advantage of its close proximity, my friend Rebekka described hiking the NCT as a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” that she didn’t want to miss. So much so that she hiked four miles with the flu. We tried to discourage her, because I know what it feels like to be on the trail and not feeling well. But she refused to stay behind and she soldiered on and she never once uttered a single complaint.

My two best friends however seemed to tag along begrudgingly. They hail from the bustling metropolis of St. Paul and they are bona fide “city girls” afraid to get their shoes dirty and jumping at every rustle of brush exclaiming “what was that?!” then resuming their endless chatter completely oblivious to anything that could actually be lurking in the bushes.

There were a few members of the group who were late entries. My cousin Chad initially had no interest in going. But as the excitement mounted during preparations to hit the trail he feared that he might miss something exciting.

Between my immediate family and I we have an abundance of outdoor gear and apparel; we were able to accommodate everyone with extra packs, water bottles, hiking pants and hats. Needless to say, they were slightly unprepared for the journey and I couldn’t help but stifle a giggle as they stood in my driveway lined up with a variation of bright neon colored cross-trainers while I stood among them with my mud-crusted scuffed up hiking boots.

Since I grew up here, my time outdoors was never limited and my experience and comfort level being out in the middle of the woods is vast. It never even occurred to me that there would be others who don’t share my outlook of the wilderness.

My dad always says, “you’ve got to respect the bush.” Every time he says it I roll my eyes because it is possible that I’m a little too comfortable with my surroundings. But the foreigners hung on every word of advice he muttered since the majority of the group has never been exposed to the deep woods and they aren’t accustomed to being so far away from civilization therefore it both fascinates and terrifies them, but their biggest fear seemed to be the possibility of having an encounter with a bear, and there was a lot of smack talk about having to outrun each other as opposed to having to outrun a bear. The phrase “no man left behind” was tossed out the window and replaced with “only one man left behind” luckily the group was noisy enough with their chatter that anything within a 5-mile radius would have been scared off anyway.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and hot with minimal bugs and a nice breeze; making it the perfect day to take the rookies out (as though I’m a well-seasoned hiking veteran.) My mom led the way while I brought up the rear. The group consisted of all different fitness levels and experience from marathon runners to couch potatoes but that never seemed to be a factor; everyone moved at their own pace and there was no arguing.

There were a lot of initial anxieties but the group seemed to mellow out after a few miles when they found their groove and their fears seemed to fall away. They expressed how beautiful and quiet everything seemed so far out and their spirits seemed to lift as they enjoyed the untouched wilderness.

It was fun to introduce our visitors from a foreign country to our beloved trail and I hope that it was fun for them to be a part of it.

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