Our Stories

Jim and Nancy Dornbush: NCNST Long Distance Hikers

Categories: Hiking Stories


Jim + Nancy Dornbush

Grandville, Mich.
Central patch + Michigan, 1,000-Mile, and Mackinac Bridge rockers

Jim + Nancy Dornbush

This little adventure began as a small hike along the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST) to look for a couple of geocaches near Big Star lake. The signage at the parking area intrigued Jim to check out this “North Country Trail.” After browsing the website, the desire was clear: a 20-year objective to hike this trail! Now, Jim’s only question was how to get Nancy to go along with this.  

Friday, August 26, 2016: Enough talk and let’s hike. What better place to start hiking than the NCTA headquarters in Lowell, Michigan? So, with a printed map and bikes strapped on the car, we headed up to tackle a little over seven miles. We spotted the car and biked into Lowell. We stopped at HQ, bought a book and apparel, confirmed with the staff where the trailheads were north along the streets, and headed on our way. We learned that we were older than when in college, and we wouldn’t easily make 15-mile hikes, especially after biking several miles to the start of the hike. We both made it, and after the initial pain subsided, we decide we would continue the hiking outings.

We soon heard of the Hike 100 Challenge. We weren’t sure we could achieve that in our first year, since we’d started at the end of August, but we did it, covering about 120 miles of the Trail – almost all of it with day hikes that were less than a one-hour drive from home. Before the end of the year, we also began RV camping adventures with the purchase of a 1981 Toyota Dolphin camper, which allowed for extended weekends.

In the spring of 2017, we added two electric bikes. This opened up the opportunities to spot a car and get to the trailhead without being worn out already. Other improvements were better record-keeping, and getting better at pre-planning. With the full year of hiking, we easily achieved the Hike 100 Challenge; we added 227 miles of Trail to our total. We did have a setback when we lost use of the RV after the head gasket blew.

In 2018, we found a 1984 Toyota Sunrader; we were back into RV camping. The summer plans involved getting the RV into the UP of Michigan, and leaving it stored there between hikes. We made a total of seven trips to the UP that summer, completing 237 consecutive miles. At the end of our final UP trip of the summer, we were able to walk the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day. In addition to those trips, we covered other segments in both upper and lower Michigan to reach our current record of 353 miles in a calendar year. 

We had high hopes that 2019 would complete Michigan, but Nancy had a routine checkup in late 2018 which resulted in a major setback. The cancer diagnosis was not part of our plan, but apparently God had put hiking into our plan. The doctors and surgeons noted that Nancy’s health and healing were likely improved from all the hiking we had done. When she proceeded to walk one mile around the halls of the hospital one day after surgery, I had to agree. We were able to get on the Trail the first time with the NCTA Celebration in Bellaire, Mich. two days after her last chemo treatment. That four-mile hike was more than enough, but felt great. We worked our way back to hiking and pressed on through the Hike 100 Challenge, hitting 114 miles for the calendar year.

After 2019, we hoped to get back to normal hiking, but of course then there was Covid. Early spring was during lockdown, so we stayed near home. But we didn’t stop making plans. Camping reservations for continuing the hike in the UP were made and in place. June 11, 2020, just days after National Park camping opened up again, we were able to keep and use that first reservation weekend.

A full week in Marquette, Mich. was nice. We kept hiking and chipping away at miles all summer. The final trip involved nights at the Mouth of the Two Hearted River Campground; it was in this area where we met Denali, a long-distance hiker who had been on the Trail for several weeks. Over the course of the next five days, we met Denali several times as she hiked eastward while we were covering sections westward. We even camped with Denali at the Tahquamenon Falls River Mouth Campground for our final two nights. It was very motivating to talk with her.

For 2021 and 2022, we covered about 100 miles of Wisconsin near the Chequamegon National Forest. When compared to Michigan’s 1,160 miles, we found it fun to realize we covered nearly half of the state with our 100 miles.

Nancy started having neuropathy in her feet and legs, making the hiking much more difficult. As a result, during our fall 2021 trip in Minnesota, Nancy was in more of a support role as I covered many miles of road walking in our week. This transition involved more thorough research on hikes Nancy joins in on; specifically selecting routes that are more downhill than up – a distinct advantage for us doing this as section hikes, since we can choose which direction to hike each day. Fall 2021 also was the planned trip to hike the Kekekabic Trail [in Minnesota]. With the neuropathy affecting hiking, Nancy was transportation support, camping near Finland, Minn., shuttling me and our son and daughter-in-law to and from trailheads as we hiked the Kek. Finally in 2022, we focused on Michigan together. Our final segment of Trail was from Highbanks Rollway over the Manistee River over to 19 Mile Road. We both agreed that this was a wonderful way to finish up the state.

Remembering and living the words “hike your own hike” have become important to us. We don’t hike as fast or as far each day as many do; usually not as far as what we wish we could do. But we are getting out and doing this, seeing so much of God’s creation, and even in very hard sections (like in the Trap Hills), we are building wonderful memories as we continue on this adventure.

Learn more about long distance hiker recognition at explorenct.info/NoCoLo/index.htm.