In about a week, a Massachusetts woman is expected to reach the eastern end of the Wisconsin Ice Age Trail, becoming the first hiker to complete all 11 U.S. National Scenic Trails.
Arlette Laan, whose trail name is “Apple Pie,” had about 200 miles remaining on the 1,200-mile trail last week. Once she reaches the eastern terminus of the trail at Sturgeon Bay, she will go down in history.
Laan said “a lot of stubbornness” helped her complete this journey, which began in 2003 when she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.
“You start it, so you want to finish it,” Laan said. “It’s kind of like, how bad do you want it? How bad do you hate it? There were times when I was miserable, but you’re like, ‘Well, this should get better. at one point.'”
In the early 2000s, she hiked eight of the National Scenic Trails, often hiking them with her husband Rich Gambale. She hadn’t planned to do the last three trails until she met MJ “Sunny” Eberhart, who goes by the trail name “Nimblewill Nomad”.
He is the oldest hiker to hike the Appalachian Trail and hiked all 11 National Scenic Trails. He encouraged Laan to be the first woman to do so.
“You’ve done so many already. Why don’t you do them all?” Laan said he told her. “He planted the seed, and I was like, ‘I guess I could do that.'”
Traveling the Ice Age Trail, Laan was surrounded by open fields of wildflowers, songbirds, and the occasional mosquito spot. She said seeing Devil’s Lake and having her husband and friends join her for sections of the trail were some of the highlights of the route.
Recently, Laan met some hikers who invited her to stay at their nearby homes, so she wouldn’t have to camp. Sometimes the hosts drive her through local towns, which Laan says she enjoys because it allows her to see more of the state.
The West Coast National Scenic Trails remain Laan’s favorites, however, due to the mountains and graded trails
“You can actually just walk around and enjoy the scenery without struggling too much,” Laan said with a laugh. “You have a lot more wildlife, especially like the Continental Divide Trail. We saw herds of elk, and it was so cool.”
Smartphones and GPS technology were non-existent when Laan did the Continental Divide Trail, so using paper maps and making mistakes felt like “one big adventure.”
Laan is also proof of the growing popularity of thru-hiking, which involves doing a long-distance course from start to finish.
Melissa Pierick, director of marketing and community relations for the Ice Age Trail Alliance, said 15 people have already attempted to hike the Ice Age Trail this year. Seven of those people are currently on the trail, including Laan.
“I think social media has a lot to do with this hiking occupation that has popped up,” Pierick said. “The Ice Age Trail Alliance headquarters is right on the trail, so we’re lucky to get hikers through.”
Driscoll first discovered Laan in a Facebook group for North Country Trail hikers. She found it interesting that Laan was walking alone in a lot of snow in quite remote areas. Driscoll continued to follow Laan’s journey when she announced that she would end with the Ice Age Trail. The two eventually met in person, even though it was unplanned.
“I was hiking in Taylor County,” Driscoll said. “I basically bumped into her. I knew she was around, and I completely forgot about her actually. And then when I was hiking, I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Arlette. “”
When Laan completes the Ice Age Trail on July 11, she said she will return to Massachusetts and her job as a hiking guide in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. She said she would probably do shorter hikes, but said she wanted to do the Arizona trail again eventually. It can also set its sights on trails in Europe.
His advice for other hikers is to start with a comfortable mileage goal and only increase the distance once you feel more confident. If you feel like you want to quit, Laan said, it’s best to take a day or two off and then reevaluate. Laan likes to say “prevent injuries and keep having fun”.
As for why her trail name is “Apple Pie,” Laan said it reminded her of Dutch apple pie and Holland, where she is from.
“I like to indulge myself,” Laan said. “The little motto is: Don’t miss life or the dessert platter.”