At 69 and 72 years old, Dan and Ruth Dorrough both claim, “We represent the ‘if they can do it anybody can do it’ group.”
The Dorroughs have been hiking the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST) for 17 years and by the end of this summer they will have finished the entire 4,600 miles.
The couple’s hiking travels brought them to Minnesota recently. While in Hubbard County last week they stayed with local hiking enthusiasts and spent National Trails Day on Saturday hiking in Itasca State Park.
Their journey began back in New York while they were walking on the Finger Lakes Trail near their home.
Ruth did some research and discovered the trail ran all the way across New York and much further west beyond that; learning it was a part of the NCNST.
“We never even knew the North Country Trail existed before that,” Ruth said. “We saw the blazes along the trail and we’ve been following them ever since.”
At first they were only hiking on the weekends but three years ago when Ruth retired that is when they became more vigilant about planning.
They began leaving their home in April or May and wouldn’t return again until September or October.
Once they committed to hiking the NCNST in its entirety they soon determined section-hiking worked best for them.
According to the Dorroughs, the number of hikers who have completed all 4,600 miles is vague because there are different definitions of what completing it means.
“The number of thru- hikers is smaller than the number of people who have completed it,” Dan explained that there are different methods of hiking, but said it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 10.
The Dorroughs say section hiking is a much different experience than thru-hiking. Section-hikers get the chance to see all the communities off and around the trail but thru-hikers bypass those places and have an entirely different adventure.
“What is so cool about doing it this way is all these wonderful little towns; you get to see more doing it this way,” Ruth explained amused. “Otherwise we’d miss things like the pencil sharpener museum in Pennsylvania or the giant Paul Bunyan in Akeley and his girlfriend in Hackensack.”
They have made vast connections throughout what they call the “hiking bubble.” “Isn’t that what a trail does,” Ruth contemplated.
“People are generous,” Ruth explained. People along the way have invited them into their home and others hiked alongside them. “We started as novices and people shared their knowledge. We’re still learning things.
“And I’m so grateful for the incredible amount of work the volunteers around here do,” she said stating that they have been enjoying the Minnesota trail.
For them it has been a lifelong journey; they didn’t rush through the miles, they gained knowledge and a deeper familiarity for the individuals and places along the trail, spending nearly two decades doing so.
“My appreciation for the entire country is so much greater. Before you’d hear ‘Minnesota’ and it didn’t mean anything. I hear it now and all these places we’ve been and people we’ve met come to mind.”
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Dan said about overcoming the challenges they’ve faced.
“The things we feared the most are my favorite memories,” Ruth added.
The duo left their home in New York on May 1 for the last leg of their expedition and they say they do not miss it at all.
For them it has been very liberating to learn how little they need. They travel with their two vehicles, their gear, food and mattress.
“We’re happy for six months of the year,” Ruth said of traveling with so little. “It was weird to go home and have so much room.”
The Dorroughs’ children are grown with families of their own; they have no pets and nothing tying them down other than junk.
“Being in the outdoors is marvelous,” Ruth said. “When we went home last fall, it was October and cold; I didn’t want to come in. In the house I felt closed in.”
“I used to feel so guilty when we’d leave Saturday mornings. I’d think there’s laundry, weeding, the house hasn’t been cleaned,” Ruth said. “And now I look back and I say ‘Why? Whatever, that was crazy thinking.’”
“Do it, that’s all the advice you need,” Dan said as counsel to people contemplating the notion of hiking long distance. “Don’t worry about all the little things that may go wrong. They’re going to go wrong, no big deal. You figure it out, or you don’t that’s the other solution.”
“Hike your own hike, don’t think you’ve got to keep up with anybody,” Ruth said while talking about what she’s learned. “If all you can do is a mile, start there. Be curious. That’s what motivates me. I look at an area on the map and then it’s so fun to go there and see it come to life.”
The couple hikes an average of 10 miles in a day; sometimes more. They have now completed every section of the trail east of Itasca State Park and they plan to spend the summer working their way west.
Even though they will likely be done prior to September the Dorroughs will complete their last six miles on the trail by hiking the Ekre Grassland Preserve at the 2016 NCTA Annual Celebration in Fargo, North Dakota; they have invited their family and friends to help support them.
“We’re going to keep hiking; I don’t imagine we’ll quit hiking,” Dan said in response to what is next for them. “But I don’t really want to do the North Country Trail again. Been there. Done that.”
“I would want to do it again to put into practice the things we’ve learned,” Ruth interjected. “And I think it would be a totally different experience.
“We might just keep going; we’ll figure it out when we get there,” she said.
Ruth’s tradition at the end of each day hiking is to sit and reflect, “and take it all in.”