North St. Paul siblings Charlotte and Evan Gill complete 1,100-mile hike along Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail

On Aug. 12, North St. Paul siblings Evan, 16, and Charlotte Gill, 21, completed a 1,100-mile hike along the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
On Aug. 12, North St. Paul siblings Evan, 16, and Charlotte Gill, 21, completed a 1,100-mile hike along the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Evan Gill poses for a scenic photo on day 22 of the hike, when they covered 20 miles through the Devil’s Lake segment. (submitted photo)
Evan Gill poses for a scenic photo on day 22 of the hike, when they covered 20 miles through the Devil’s Lake segment. (submitted photo)
Evan and Charlotte Gill get ready to tackle the Scuppernong segment of the Ice Age Trail. (submitted photo)
Evan and Charlotte Gill get ready to tackle the Scuppernong segment of the Ice Age Trail. (submitted photo)
The Ice Age Trail winds through Wisconsin, covering more than 1,000 miles. Below, (courtesy GoogleMaps)
The Ice Age Trail winds through Wisconsin, covering more than 1,000 miles. Below, (courtesy GoogleMaps)

Today’s youth have grown up with smartphones that map their routes, video games that allow them to communicate with their friends remotely, and travel opportunities that enable them to expand their horizons overseas.

Amidst all these co-called luxuries, North St. Paul siblings Charlotte and Evan Gill — 21 and 16, respectively — decided to unplug in pursuit of a more rustic adventure just across the border in Wisconsin.

Equipped with little more than backpacks, a tent, hiking shoes, food supplies and maps, they hiked the 1,100-mile Ice Age Trail this summer. According to staff who maintain the trail, the duo are among the youngest to hike the trail in its entirety, and it’s an accomplishment that only about 20 hikers will achieve this season.

After recovering from 52 days on the trail, where they averaged 21 miles a day, they’re ready to tackle the upcoming demands of the school year — with dreams of the next big hike never far from thought. 

A knack for the outdoors

Growing up, Charlotte and Evan went on lots of family camping trips — the kind their dad, Bruce, refers to as “real camping” because they slept in a tent.

“I always loved camping,” Charlotte says, recalling numerous trips to state parks, including stops along the way to Yellowstone.

But the desire to plot out a hike that would consume much of her summer vacation exceeded any shared interest her 21-year-old brother Christopher and 18-year-old sister Marissa had in spending time outdoors.

Charlotte, a junior at St. Cloud State, first heard about the Ice Age Trail from some hikers she had met on the Superior Hiking Trail, where she first broke in her backpacking gear. Antsy to explore new terrain, she partnered up with her younger brother Evan, a junior at North High who had earned his Eagle Scout status this past winter.

Together, they collected whatever information they could find about the lesser-known Ice Age Trail, mapping out mileage for each segment and coordinating pick up locations to resupply on food.

With Cheryl Strayed’s book “Wild” in the back of her mind, Karen Gill, their mother, says she had some initial reservations. But she knew a hike in Wisconsin posed fewer risks than the desert and snow-capped terrain of the mountainous Pacific Crest Trail.

“I thought, ‘Well at least she’s within five hours,’” she says, adding it had the added appeal of keeping Evan off of his computer for the summer.

To further assuage any parental concerns, she and Bruce arranged to personally deliver new food supplies at five points along the trail.

“She was really spot on,” Bruce says of Charlotte’s mileage predictions. “It all added up.”

Churning out the miles

Before hitting the trail, Charlotte and Evan meticulously rationed out their oatmeal, tortillas, peanut butter, tuna, pasta and granola bars, balancing the need to stay energized with the need to keep their packs light.

Stocked up on food supplies and water, Charlotte says her pack weighed about 45 pounds.

“Evan carried more weight than I did, but he also packed himself extra food,” she says, shooting her brother a smile.

They set out on June 23 and completed the entire trail on Aug. 12, ending at Interstate State Park, along the St. Croix River — traversing all 1,100 miles in between.

The first few days were the most uncomfortable, they say, as their backs adjusted to the weight of their packs and the blisters on their feet turned to calluses. After that, one day bled into the next.

They were up by 5:30 a.m. to make sure they had enough time to break for lunch and still get to their next campsite before dark. After dinner, they’d play Rummy 500, or read magazines until going to bed by 8 or 9 p.m.

Evan credits his sister with keeping them on schedule.

“I think she’s better at being task-oriented than me,” he says, noting, left to his own devices, his lunch breaks would have been much longer.

Sometimes the route took them alongside paved roads that linked one trail segment to the next. Here, they were the recipients of more than one random act of kindness, like peaches from a passerby, and strange looks alike.

Some of their fondest memories were tied to the generosity of locals who allowed them to refill their water bottles or camp out in their backyard.

“Whenever we asked for water, people were nice about it,” Charlotte says, adding that one couple even invited them to a birthday party they were hosting in their garage.

On the trail, however, the two rarely encountered other hikers. They were alone with their thoughts and the sound of the rocks and sticks crunching beneath their shoes.

Wildlife, however, kept them on their toes.

With about five days left on the trail, she spotted what she thought was a dog just ahead. Then it reared up on its hind feet, she says, and she realized it was a bear cub at about the same time that its mother started running at her. She retreated around a bend in the trail and the mother bear backed off. The episode was over before Evan had even caught up to her.

“The night before, I had actually read a story in a magazine about a woman who barely survived a bear attack,” she recalls, shrugging off the close encounter. “I thought it was kind of funny that I ran into a bear the next day.”

In comparison, she and Evan agree, wild turkey and grouse they encountered along the trail got the best of their nerves.

“They would make my heart jump more because they’d be close to the trail and flutter so loudly to get away,” she says with a laugh.

Coming full-circle

With just two days of hiking left, they ran into a guy doing maintenance work on the trail. As they began talking, Charlotte realized he belonged to the group of hikers on the Superior Hiking Trail who had put the Ice Age Trail on Charlotte’s radar.

The two planned to meet up with the trail volunteer and a friend who lived nearby to complete the final 59 miles together.

“We got to finish the last segment with them,” Charlotte says. “That was really cool because if we hadn’t met them, we never would have heard about the Ice Age Trail. That was a really nice ending.”

In talking with their new hiking companions, Charlotte and Evan say they gained a deeper appreciation for the volunteer efforts of those who help maintain the trails.  Evan adds that he enjoyed escaping from his computer screen to recharge.

“It’s nice just being disconnected from the Internet and everything,” he says. “Even though I like it, it’s still nice to be away from it.”

The two had grown so comfortable with their hiking routine that Charlotte says she couldn’t fall asleep on her cushy bed her first night home.

“I moved to the ground and fell asleep right away,” she says, noting she’ll be dreaming up her next big hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.

For more information about the Ice Age Trail, visit www.iceagetrail.org.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.


Joining the ranks of the “thousand-milers”

The Ice Age Trail Alliance, which is broken into 21 volunteer chapters along the trail, does the bulk of the upkeep and community outreach — including keeping track of hikers who complete the trail in its entirety.

“Hiking the entire Ice Age Trail is a fairly new concept, in terms of a lot of people wanting to do it,” member and volunteer services coordinator Eric Sherman says. “The first person we know of to hike the whole trail did it in 1979. Between then and 2003, we averaged less than one ‘thousand-miler’ per year.”

Sherman says after publishing a whole-trail hiking guide in 2004, they’ve been recording about eight through hikers each season.

Apart from a Boy Scout troop that included a couple 13-year-olds and a 2-year-old who hitched a ride with her parents, Evan is one of the youngest to hike the trail from start to finish, he says.

 

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