Our Stories

Rennae Gruchalla: NCT Long Distance Hiker

Categories: Hiking Stories


Rennae Gruchalla

Fargo, ND
Central patch + North Dakota and 1,000-Mile rocker
Compiled by Joan Young

By Gail Rogne

It was a beautiful, warm March day. The sky was a brilliant azure blue. I decided to get some miles in for the Hike 100 Challenge, so I drove out to the trailhead near Colfax, ND. Being alone, I planned to hike out about three miles and back. It was early in the morning, and on the Trail out, there was a deep dip that was covered with ice. I easily walked over it. I meandered on for another two miles before turning back. I soon came to the same icy area. I didn’t think about the fact that it was now much warmer. The ice still looked solid. But as I got to the middle, I heard “crack, crack, crack,” and down I went. Water covered me up to my waist. I had no idea it would be so deep. My car fob and cell phone happened to be in the front pocket of my windbreaker. Soaked to the brim, I waddled out of the water, and trudged the 1.5 miles back to my car. I was very concerned that my fob was ruined and would not open or start my car, and that my cell phone wouldn’t work, so I wouldn’t be able to call for help. As I walked, frozen to the core, I held the cell out in one hand and the fob in the other. I held them up in the air, while balancing my poles (what a sight that must have been), hoping the breeze would dry them before I reached the car. Whew! By the time I got to the car, they both worked, so I took off my sopping wet boots and drove the 25 miles home. Needless to say, my husband was not very happy with me hiking alone – again!

An excerpt from this essay ran in the Spring 2021 issue (40.2) of our quarterly membership magazine, the North Star.

In 2012, a program was developed to provide a modest award and incentive to people who hike a large number of unique miles on the North Country Trail. Many hikers love patches, so a central patch and rockers were designed to give to those people who hike either [at least] one complete NCT state or 1,000 unique miles. In addition, those who complete the entire NCT under muscle power are given a certificate, and an outer rocker. Those who hike (including snowshoeing or skiing) the entire Trail are said to complete an end-to-end (E2E) hike. If some portions are bicycled, an end-to-end trip rocker is awarded.

To date (Spring 2021) 53 people have been recognized as NCT Long Distance Hikers. We know there are other people who qualify for these patches, but have not applied for them. There are currently 19 known E2E hikers. Two people have completed E2E trips.

To see the complete list of NCT Long Distance Hikers and find out how to apply for recognition, visit explorenct.info/NoCoLo. There are also links to known essays, journals, and more by these hikers.