By Anna Erickson
Hiker Gail Lowe is on a mission to become the first woman to hike the entire North Country National Scenic Trail within a year.
Lowe stayed in Park Rapids Monday night with Bruce and Linda Johnson, who are avid hikers and promoters of the Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail.
The North Country Trail runs from New York to North Dakota, with Minnesota’s footpaths holding unimpeded travel for hikers, berry pickers, hunters, geocachers, cross country skiers and snowshoers.
The trail now runs from the southeast Juggler Lake Road in Becker County to the southeast edge of the Chippewa National Forest, 163 miles of forest and prairie, with rivers, lakes, wetlands and wildlife to view.
Lowe began hiking 23 years ago. She was an Intensive Care Unit nurse and worked with dying and maimed patients for years when she thought about what she wished she would have done if she died.
“I wanted to go on a nice, long walk,” she said.
Since then, she has hiked more than 10,000 miles. She has hiked the Appalachian Trail a couple of times and later tackled the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
The 64-year-old is now hooked.
Lowe lives in Lowell, Mich., which in the headquarters for the North Country Trail Association. The trail goes through Lowell and Michigan has 1,150 miles of the trail.
She began hiking the North Country Trail in Logan, Ohio on March 16. She’s been hiking for more than five months and has completed more than 2,200 miles of the trail. The entire length of the North Country Trail is 4,600 miles.
Once completed, she will be the first female through-hiker to accomplish the 4,600 mile hike within one year.
It hasn’t been easy so far and will continue to be difficult.
The first few months she was hiking in blizzards and freezing temperatures.
“The logistics have been a nightmare,” she said. “There were mosquitoes then the ticks and then the Minnesota mosquitoes, which are a different breed.”
Lowe has also had a lot of alone time.
“I like to be alone and with my thoughts,” she said. “It’s kind of a free flowing thing with memories that might come out from years ago.”
She is doing the walk in memory of her daughter who died of breast cancer.
“She didn’t want to be forgotten so I’m making sure that doesn’t happen.”
Trail angels, as Lowe calls them, have been plentiful along her journey. The Johnsons in Park Rapids are just some of the many people who have helped Lowe. She is able to run errands in town and shower on her visits.
“They are invaluable to me,” Lowe said.
She has stayed with 50 trail angels so far.
During the early part of her journey, Lowe was worried about the large number of miles she would have to hike.
“When you start thinking about this it’s just daunting. I just stopped worrying and decided to have fun,” she said.
From Park Rapids, Lowe is headed toward North Dakota.
Lowe has produced a three DVD series about backpacking called “Amateur to Ace.” She is hoping to turn others on to the simple pleasures that changed her life. Her website is http://www.backpackinghikingcamping.com/ or she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.