By Howard Meyerson
John D Rockefeller, the American industrialist once said: “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.”
He might have been talking about 23-year-old Luke “Strider” Jordan, the good-natured Minnesota hiker now walking the entire 4,600 mile North Country National Scenic Trail.
Jordan set out from North Dakota in March and endured six-weeks of unseasonably deep snow, hiking on snowshoes. There were days he woke and found his tent, shoes, food and water frozen.
Jordan set off on his six-and-a-half month trek as a sort of personal pilgrimage, needing to clear his head after graduating college with a degree in ecology and natural resources.
He didn’t expect to suffer heat exhaustion in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or be ravaged by record-high mosquito populations in those north woods. He never figured to get lost in the Ottawa National Forest; or that swollen and miserable from countless mosquito bites, he would resort to barricading himself in an outhouse one day to have a peaceful meal rather than feed more bugs.
Tougher than anticipated
“I’ve found out I have a lot more perseverance than I thought I had” said Jordan on a blistering 95-degree day while stopping in Lowell where the North Country Trail Association national headquarters is located. He had walked 2,350 miles.
“I didn’t think I was strong enough to make it through the stuff I did. The mosquitos were worse than I expected and the record snows were deeper than I anticipated. But I also got more trail magic than I thought I would,” Jordan said with a smile
Trail magic is a term for the good countenance that people share along the route, things like a box of goodies left for him along the trail, or a ride to town from a stranger and an offer of a shower and a bed.
The North Country Trail is America’s longest footpath. It is part of the country’s National Trail System and runs through seven states including Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. Jordan considers it the crown jewel of the system which includes the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and others.
Jordan will be only the 4th to walk the entire trail from end to end in one continuous effort – assuming he does finish – an accomplishment I suspect he will achieve. His daily goal is to walk 25- to 30-miles, often on roads where the trail has not yet been built, carrying a 35-pound pack, eight pounds of which are water. He wants to finish in New York by early October before the snows come..
Being only the 4th to complete the thru-hike “would be just a bonus” he said. It’s not his goal.
“It was either doing it now or after I retire,” Jordan said during lunch at Lowell’s Flat River Grill. “I knew if I took a job right out college it would control my life.
“My passion is hiking. I first thought about walking the Appalachian Trail, but everyone does that. I wanted to do something different. On this trail there is a lot of solitude. My experience will be unique.”
In an era when many young adults are glued to their computers and social media, and published descriptions of the millennial generation are often unflattering, describing them as needing instant gratification, Luke Jordan is a refreshing change.
He worked a summer job to save the $5,000 he set aside for the trip. He budgeted for one hotel night and restaurant meal per week, mostly as a reprieve and to recover from the near-constant physical demands of his journey.
His angst, when things have gone very badly, is honest and real. It reads true and from the heart in his daily journals that can be found online at: stridernct.com/Journals.html.
Jordan is working on his second pair of hiking shoes. It took 10-days for his feet to “harden-up” again, he said. The blisters and callouses, the need to cut away dead skin, and the pain in his feet from walking so many miles are all part of the adventure, not pretty but real.
To give something back
Jordan hopes someday to have a job with a trail agency or a nonprofit organization dealing with trails, “to give something back” he said for all the pleasure long-distance trails have provided him. He grew up hiking Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail, the rugged, 296-mile foot path that follows the north shore of Lake Superior and is part of the NCT.
“We have a cabin on the north shore and that is my favorite place to hike, so naturally I was drawn to the North Country Trail,” Jordan said.
From Lowell, Jordan’s next goal was Cincinnati Ohio. The terrain between here and there is largely flat and easier going. He needed to make 25 miles each day to finish on time.
“I was hoping for 30-mile days once I got past the Manistee National Forest, but I couldn’t do 30 miles in this heat,” he said.
That’s not hard to understand, of course. Not many of us choose to walk 30-miles a day even on nice days. But Luke Jordan is among a special breed, young adventurous people who love to be out in the natural world, to take on a big challenge and persevere.
And persevere I hope he will.
This column appears on MLive Outdoors