Our Stories

Shari Sanderson: NCT Long Distance Hiker

Categories: Hiking Stories


Shari Sanderson

Harbor Springs, Mich.
Central patch + Michigan, Mackinac Bridge, and 1,000-Mile rockers
Compiled by Joan Young

by Judy Conrad

People hike for many different reasons. Some people like to do outside activities and enjoy nature. Others are hiking to “heal themselves,” whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually. And some people are trying to “find themselves,” discover who they are, and what they want out of life. For me, I enjoy being outside, enjoying nature and challenging myself both physically and mentally. You can find beauty in everything if you have the right attitude.

My dad instilled the love of hiking in me. (My mom refers to it as an obsession!) Every trip to visit Mom and Dad in their winter home in Arizona included a few hikes while on vacation. My dad made several hiking sticks and I was lucky enough to inherit the one he used when he hiked. I take his hiking stick on all my hikes, and I feel he is hiking right alongside me.

I first discovered the North Country Trail while hiking along a two-track near my house, behind Nubs Nob ski hill in Harbor Springs, Michigan. My friend and I decided to follow this trail to see where it led us. We ended up at a dirt road, exhausted after walking several miles, and we had no idea where we were. I called my daughter for a rescue (the first of many) and tried to describe the area with the hope that she could find us. We walked for about half a mile south and came to Hathaway Road. My daughter picked us up, and we decided we would consult some maps before blindly following a trail again when we had no idea where it led.

The next time my friend and I attempted a hike on this trail (we did get a map this time) we were following the blue blazes when we came across a tree with two blue blazes on it. We happened to be in an area where the Trail split. We stood there for a few minutes trying to decide what to do when my friend said, “Let me look at that map.” Looking at the map on both sides we discovered that two blazes indicated the direction in which you should turn. Another lesson learned on the trail.

Months later, I was visiting my brother on Lake Gogebic in Michigan’s upper peninsula, and went to the Porcupine Mountains to do some hiking with my kids. We made one more stop to see some waterfalls before returning to my brother’s house. As I was hiking alongside the river, I saw a blue blaze and a North Country Trail sign. I thought at the time, what kind of trail is this that reaches all the way up here? Time to investigate.

Several months went by and I was riding my bike with a friend along the marina at Petoskey’s (Mich.) waterfront on what was (and still is) apparently National Trails Day, and we came across a tent hosted jointly by the NCTA Harbor Springs Chapter and Jordan Valley 45° Chapter. Since I live in Harbor Springs, I got information from them on the Chapter and an upcoming hike. I joined the hike and attended their October meeting, where they elected me to be the new Secretary!

It was January 2016 when I heard about the Hike 100 Challenge that the NCTA offered to any hiker: Hike 100 miles on the NCT to earn a patch; hike 100 unique miles or the same one mile 100 times, as long as it was all on the NCT. I started day hiking with my friend who also decided to hike the entire Harbor Springs Chapter section with me. We started with Section #1 from Kipp Road to Brutus Road on January 20 in knee-deep fresh powder snow. It was beautiful and we found many snow sculptures along the way – we found an elephant and a penguin. It was like finding shapes in the clouds, but in the snow instead. 

The NCT in Michigan is beautiful. You will find rugged trails and many challenges along the way. It is also a very rewarding journey in many ways. I have never felt stronger physically, mentally and spiritually while hiking this trail. I have grown as a person, finding strength in myself I didn’t know was possible.

An excerpt from this essay ran in the Summer 2021 issue (40.3) 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 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.