28-year-old woman hiking Ice Age Trail, set to make history

Emily Ford aims to be the first woman, and first black & gay woman, to finish the trail in winter
Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 11:26 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 21, 2021 at 6:35 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A 28-year-old Minnesotan is on her way to becoming the first woman to complete Wisconsin’s infamous Ice Age Trail in the winter.

Emily Ford is a professional gardener in Duluth, where she lives with her partner and dog. She set out on her journey just before the new year, aiming to complete the nearly 1,200 mile trek across the Badger State.

“I started on December 28th, which seems like eons ago,” says Ford. Along her side is a pup named Diggins, who she borrowed from a dog sled kennel in Minnesota to keep her company.

Ice Age Trail Map, National Parks Service
Ice Age Trail Map, National Parks Service(National Parks Service)

The duo has already put down more than 350 miles. Emily’s goal is to finish the trek during the first week of March. When she finishes, she will be the first woman to complete it in the Ice Age Trail in the wintertime.

“Many other people have completed this trail, but winter is the elusive season for most folks. So I’ll be the first woman, the first Black woman, and I’m sure the first Black gay woman. I’ll tack that one on there!”

She hopes to inspire more people in minority groups to get out and enjoy the outdoors. “The other reason why I’m out here is just to you know show people that if you look different or something is different about you, you can still do the thing that people don’t think you can do,” says Ford.

She says especially after the year our country just faced, she’d like to use her journey as a platform to promote equality. “2020 started happening and unfolding itself and with the murder of George Floyd over in Minnesota and other stuff happening in other states, I’m just like man there’s got to be a way that I also can get my voice out there too for people of color and just continue to equalize the boundaries,” says Ford.

Emily says people have left her notes, gifts and snacks at trail heads along the way, supporting her in any little way they can. Others have given her a warm place to stay for the night and a meal. “I’ve been meeting people left and right, all sorts of different kinds of people out on the trail. They’ve been super encouraging and lots of trail magic has been happening.”

Snacks left at trailhead for Emily & Diggins
Snacks left at trailhead for Emily & Diggins(Emily Ford)

She’s also met up with a few volunteers who keep up sections of the trail. “So they’ll hike with me for a couple of miles. Which makes the miles go by so fast, especially when you’ve been hiking alone for so many days.”

Coming across the border from her home state, Ford has been impressed with the Wisconsin scenery thus far. “It’s like in these dense cedar forests or hemlock forests and there’s like this perfect stream bubbling by you and there’s nobody else around and it’s just like, Wisconsin man you really stepped up to the plate!”

One of her favorite stretches has been the Northern and Southern Union of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. “I camped out in the state forest for 5 nights total and it was just like perfect. The snow was falling and I was just like, what is this a Hallmark film?! This is perfect, it’s awesome,” says Ford.

Diggins the Minnesotan sled dog hikes along a snowy road
Diggins the Minnesotan sled dog hikes along a snowy road(Emily Ford)

She says being out in nature for these extended periods of time brings her a peace that’s hard to match. “There’s just a connectiveness you find with what we’re supposed to be connected with. Our feet on the ground, our bodies moving, going to bed when it’s dark, waking up when it’s light, eating when you’re hungry.”

While many people save explorations of any kind for the summer months, Ford harped on the unique experience that winter hiking provides. “Don’t be afraid of the winter. There’s just really simple techniques to stay warm and it offers up something that every other season doesn’t. I can’t describe that to you, it’s something you have to find on your own.”

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