The Final Hike: Centuria to the Western Terminus

Yesterday’s hike was a last minute decision. I was supposed to do a triathlon today in Belleville (southwest of Madison), but it was canceled on Wed last week because the Belleville dam was breached and half the town was flooded. I knew before I even messaged Jared about the tri being canceled that he would suggest we go to St Croix Falls to finish the Ice Age Trail. We were supposed to finish two weeks ago, but had to cancel due to my dad passing away. Penny would be coming with us, so we would have to take extra breaks. We needed to hike 15 miles and the high temp was forecasted to be in the low 80s. I usually don’t take Penny longer than a couple miles when it’s hot and her max mileage so far was around 13 in the spring.

Normally we would take the moped, but Jared asked if I wanted to bike the shuttle. I recently got a new hybrid bike, so I was excited to do the shuttle. St Croix Falls has quite a few bike trails, including the Gandy Dancer.

I dropped Jared and Penny off in Centuria (north of St Croix Falls) and drove to Interstate State Park. I biked through the park a bit, which was all up hill. It wasn’t easy hills either, I was huffing and puffing right away. Once out of the park, I took the Interlink Trail to the Gandy Dancer, which went all the way to Centuria. The Interlink Trail was also almost all up hill. It was a relief to get on the Gandy Dancer, which is a rail to trail, so it’s flat. The bike was around 7 miles.

Our hike started by heading south on the Gandy Dancer for a mile or so, and no surprise, but this section was called the Gandy Dancer Segment. We then took about a 4 mile road connector. At one point we noticed some large birds flying around in the distance and tried to decide what they were. As we got closer we noticed a carcas in the ditch and saw about 10 turkey vultures in a tree. As we continued walking, I realized there were turkey vultures in two trees and I counted 23 vultures!! I have never seen that many turkey vultures at one time.

We took a few short breaks for Penny and then finally got to the St Croix Segment and real trail. This section ran along the St Croix River and there were many little streams for Penny to play in. She had to try them all out. Along the trail was a paddling campsite, so we stopped there for lunch. The site also had a privy. It was just a large plastic box with a toilet seat on it. There weren’t any walls so you could watch the wildlife as you went to the bathroom. We stopped for at least half an hour and Penny had a nice break.

The trail took us to Lions Park in St Croix Falls, and from there we hiked through many of the trails around town. We crossed the street near the hospital and saw the helicopter had landed on top. The trail took us on top of an esker that overlooked the hospital. We took another break and watched them load the helicopter and then take off. It was really neat to see the helicopter take off.

After walking on the esker we walked on the sidewalk for awhile and then followed the trail into Interstate State Park. Before entering the park we stopped to buy some cold water. Penny really enjoyed the water and drank a lot of it in one drink. The trail travels through the park and passes the Ice Age Interpretive Center. We gave Penny another break while taking turns to go in. I bought a few things and looked at the displays. They had some small grinders about the size of softballs inside and large ones outside bigger than a basketball. Grinders are really neat, they’re perfectly round rocks that were formed inside of potholes. Read more about potholes here.

We traveled on the trail to the next parking lot and then started on the potholes trail which leads to the terminus. I felt slightly confused walking on this portion of the trail because there aren’t any blazes. If it weren’t for Jared I would have had to look at the app. There were a couple different ways to go and the trail is a loop, but only part of the loop is the Ice Age Trail. There’s also always extra trails that people make in state parks that go in the general direction but people want to look at other stuff. This was a rockier section because we were getting close to the river and the terminus is on an overlook above the river. There’s a rock at the end with a plaque explaining what it is. As we got closer I could see the rock and was excited to reach the end. I touched the rock and then turned around to smile at Jared. I am officially a Thousand Miler!!!

We took a bunch of pictures with the rock while Penny rested nearby. All the people walking by wanted to pet her. She did so well! Penny hiked 15 miles, which is a new record for her and I don’t think she will be breaking that record. I think Penny prefers a bit shorter and cooler weather.

I had carried a picture of Dad with me and I’m going to keep it in my pack. I thought about Dad a lot on the hike. He liked to be outside and I remember him saying he liked to see the animals and just sit outside and watch. One of the things I really like about hiking is seeing different animals. I’ll always remember hearing the trumpeter swans and wondering why someone was playing a trumpet until I saw them fly over and realized what the sound was. I also really like being in the middle of nowhere and hiking through the woods. Going out on backpacking trips where you have to bringing everything you need and being outside for long periods of time is really fun. I definitely got my love of the outdoors from Dad.

I hiked a lot with Jared, Penny, or groups of people. I also did some by myself. It is nice to hike with other people. It’s helpful to have more people looking for blazes. It’s nice to have someone to talk to and it can make the time go quicker if you’re tired. I like taking pictures along the trail, and a picture is more interesting with someone in it. Hiking alone has some benefits too. I really like doing a bike shuttle and being independent. It can be easier to see animals if there isn’t anyone talking. It’s nice to be outside alone in the quiet.

In the past when I went camping I would always hike on the park trails, but I never did anything longer than a mile or two. I had thought about doing longer distances, but didn’t know how far I could go. When I was a kid my family went out to Montana to visit my aunt Cheri and we went to Yellowstone. It was so neat to be at a national park and see the mountains. I thought it would be fun to go backpacking in the mountains. I had wanted to try backpacking for a long time, but didn’t know anything about it and didn’t know where to start. When I lived in Oconomowoc I learned about the Ice Age Trail and about the program to walk all the miles in the county to earn a patch. I have always liked earning things and this seemed really fun. I bought the trail maps so that I could do the Waukesha County sections and thought that someday I would do Dane County once I moved to Madison. I did a few other sections in the Southern Kettle Moraine, but I never got around to doing more. There has been a lot of things leading up to this two year hike. Hiking has become one of my favorite things to do, I feel like it’s a new adventure every time I go.

I wouldn’t have completed the entire trail without Jared. He got me started, but I kept myself going. He took me on my first 15 mile hike and I wasn’t sure I could go that far. Cheri told me that I could do it because I had already done triathlons and half marathons. (Thanks Cheri, and thanks for living in Montana!) The first summer that Jared and I went hiking, I would come home and want to plan the next hike. It was so much fun. I like goals and once I started marking my map, I just wanted to keep going and doing more. Thanks Jared, I’m really glad you took me hiking! I told you it wouldn’t take me 10 years!

Even though I finished the trail, I’m not done. I’ll keep hiking it and someday I’d like to do a thru-hike. Jared has started to do trail maintenance and I’d like to do that too. The trail isn’t complete and the alliance is always building new trail, so I’ll have to go do those sections!

Long distance hiking has found a special place in my list of hobbies and things I like to do!

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