The week is over and my body is sore, cut and bruised. A thick callus covers my right heal, proof of every step of the 12 miles of trails I’d covered.
To some, 12 miles may sound like a lot, to veteran hikers and backpackers it may sound like a drop in the bucket. For me, it’s simply progress.
By the end of the summer, my goal is to cover at least 15 miles in a single six-hour stretch.
It’s a goal I came by after writing about a 12-year-old from West Salem, Wisconsin, who’d hiked nearly 1,200 miles with his dad — the entirety of the Ice Age Trail — over the course of a year.
On average he traversed 18 miles a day, laden with nearly 30 pounds of gear. If he could do that, I could at least hike 15 miles in six hours, and so, I had my goal.
Averaging just three miles an hour, I should be able to do just that, but there is a whole lot more to hiking that maintaining your pace for a set period of time.
North Mathy Tract
My week started last Sunday with a five-mile exploratory hike out to the Mississippi Valley Conservancy North Mathy Tract located about a mile past the La Crosse Weather Station.
I’d discovered it while searching for a place to go snowshoeing last January, but due to icy conditions all winter, I never got the chance to check it out.
Just past the parking lot, a narrow trail snuck down the hillside into an abandoned quarry.
The trail is popular with mountain bikers and I could see why. Apart from a few steep climbs, the trail was wide open and fairly flat.
By far, my favorite part of the hike was exploring the abandoned buildings along the trail. Many of them were covered in graffiti while others were in a state of ruin.
I ended up doing the North Mathy Tract backward, choosing to climb down the steepest section of the trail rather than climb up. For those interested in retracing my steps you can check out my route below.
Blowing off steam in the Hixon Forest
My second and longest hike of the week was on Thursday at the Hixon Forest in La Crosse. There, miles of trails snake up and down the bluff sides. The forest even offers a few opportunities for a little light rock climbing.
I hadn’t planned on going hiking, but with the sun shining and an invitation to join a colleague, I had few excuses. It had been a stressful week and hiking was just what I needed to blow off some steam.
We started our hike about 6 p.m. He introduced me to a new trail I’d yet to explore that climbed quite literally to the top of the bluff.
The final ascent was a scramble up the soft sandstone rock face, but the view from the top was well worth a banged knee.
After about three miles, we split up and I continued my hike while he got a run in. The total length of the hike was somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 miles. I can’t say for sure because the GPS got confused and thought I teleported a few times.
My Hike (Minus a few teleportations)
I’ll never share my secret of teleportation!
Back to Mathy
On Friday, I drove Niecie out to the North Mathy Tract so she could see my latest discovery. It ended up being a very short hike, only totaling about two miles. After two long hikes, this short trek seemed like a nice way to end the week.
Along the way, we had a run in with a tiny snake that had been sunbathing on the trail. It was the first snake I’d seen in all my years of hiking. Thankfully it wasn’t one of the many rattlesnakes that reside in the bluff lands.
The coolest part of the hike was discovering a hippo shaped rock that Niecie insisted on climbing aboard. No matter how many times you do a hike there is always something to be discovered.
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