Hiking Trails

Arlette Laan’s 16,000 mile journey to hike all the National Scenic Trails

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Sixteen Thousand Miles: This is the distance Arlette “Apple Pie” Laan had to hike to become the first recorded woman to hike all 11 National Scenic Trails. Before Laan, 50, achieved the feat of completing the Ice Age Trail on July 11, only about 5 hikers had completed them.

His journey to join them will last almost 20 years. After Laan’s first hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2003, she was hooked. In 2004 she tackled the Continental Divide Trail, and in 2005 she hiked both the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and the Appalachian Trail. The Pacific Northwest Trail followed.

It wasn’t until 2018 that serial hiker MJ “Nimblewill Nomad” Eberhart planted the idea of ​​becoming the first woman to hike every national scenic trail in her head. Eberhart, himself, hit all 11 trails after 14 years when he summitted Grand Monadnock Mountain in New Hampshire in 2012, and he thought she should too.

laan says the Continental Divide Trail quickly became her favorite trail due to its ruggedness.

“It’s more like a wilderness experience, where you have elk herds, and it’s remote,” says Laan. “It was an adventure. It was the most important part for me. You are on this great adventure, and it was at the beginning when I didn’t have an app. We’ve been through these really minimalist GPS devices, and most of the time just stuck with a map and a compass.

She found the Florida Trail to be the most amazing of all the National Scenic Trails. The amount of road walking was a bad surprise. Just because a path is a National Scenic Trail, she says, doesn’t mean it’s always scenic. But the flora and fauna made up for some of the bland sections of the Florida Trail. She had never hiked in the south before her hike, and spotting alligators and armadillos was enough to pique her curiosity.

Before Laan’s journey came to an end, she had to tackle the very long North Country Trail (4,800 miles) and the lesser-known Ice Age Trail.

Arlette Laan on the IAT (Photo: Courtesy of Arlette Laan)

That’s how she found herself in Michigan on the North Country Trail last winter, hiking in temperatures as low as -10 Fahrenheit. Laan was no stranger to the cold: She’d hiked all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks before in the winter with her husband, and she knew snow made travel slow. But she was engaged. Strangers, friends and family members opened their homes and accompanied her on sections of her hike, letting her dry her gear overnight before she braved the freezing temperatures again.

It’s easy to imagine that a serial hiker like Laan would be completely in love with his travels all the time. But Laan will be the first to admit that it’s not all sunshine and roses:

“There is definitely misery. Last year I broke a trekking pole and pitched my tent with a trekking pole, so I had to find a tree to attach this guy line to,” Laan explains. “And it was raining. And oh my God, it sucked, and everything was soaked… You just have to laugh about it. Some days are good, others are not. »

During the off season, Laan works as a hiking guide in the White Mountains, and she also has an online doll business. Even with these sources of income, it can be difficult to make ends meet. Her sponsorship of Gossamer Gear helped her a lot in her quest. She also expressed her gratitude to her husband who she leaned on to support him on his final trails.

When asked if she thought hiking long trails changed her, Laan explained that they brought her back to herself rather than turning her into someone else.

“The best times are when I’m on top of a mountain, surrounded by mountains, [and] valleys, [with] no evidence of civilization,” she says. “Just pure nature. I breathe in the mountain air, having pushed my body upwards, feeling fully alive, absorbing everything.

After 35,000 miles over the past two decades, of which his quest for the National Scenic Trail was only about halfway, Laan is not done. In the future, she hopes to hike the Arizona Trail again, and she might also come back to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in a different way. At the moment, however, some of his biggest goals are closer to home.

“I want to hike all the trails in the White Mountains guidebook,” she says. “I’m about to be done with this.”