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Merri Carol Wozniak: NCT Long Distance Hiker
Categories: Hiking Stories
Merri Carol Wozniak
Sault Ste. Marie, MI
Central patch + Wisconsin, 1,000-Mile, and Mackinac Bridge rockers
Compiled by Joan Young
I have always loved being in the woods. I grew up out in the country in a small neighborhood with lots of wooded areas to roam. Between then and now, I was a rural mother and wife. Every Mother’s Day we went for a hike. In December 2015, I had an emotional breakdown. Mainly, I was just too busy with everything else but not taking care of me. January 1, 2016, I started hiking with the local NCTA Chapter, Hiawatha Shore-to-Shore. My new NCT family was patient with me, answering my many questions: What shoes to wear, why not to wear jeans, about backpacks and hiking poles. And they listened to me chatter as we hiked the Trail. I was in my second year with the NCT when I decided on the goal of hiking my Chapter’s trail [segment], one section at a time. There are 138 miles from the south end of the Mighty Mac to the beach of the Two Hearted River on the shores of Lake Superior. I got a couple of NCTA Celebrations under my belt when the thought came into my head like a light bulb: Hike the whole Trail. 4,600 miles. My heart lit up with joy. With that said, I had never hiked long distances. I had never spent the night alone in the woods. I had much to learn.
When I officially retired, my sister asked, “What do you want to do?” My reply: “Hike the NCT.” Along the way I met Cathy Lloyd-Langley on the NCTA Community Facebook page. We realized that we both were planning to hike the lower peninsula of Michigan. Cathy made a six-month schedule, hiking in 10-mile increments. We love the mile markers and Avenza Map system! And we were off. I had set a monthly goal of 25 new miles. Most of the time, I hiked 25 miles in a weekend. I really enjoyed hiking southern Michigan. Yes, lots of road walks. Lots of farms, with lots of cows and horses and barns. Very interesting.
Over the first three years, I traveled below the Bridge quite often. 2020 brought us to the Ohio border. Longer drives to reach the Trail. Ohio: the Wabash Cannonball Trail, a rail-to-trail path, taking us right into the Oak Openings Preserve Metropark to the Buckeye Trail. Just before Covid-19, on March 7, I reached my 1,000 miles. But the last 15 miles…
Cathy called me late Thursday night. She had been in a car accident and wouldn’t be able to come. My last 15 miles! I was determined to go, determined to hike 1,000 miles. I prayed. “Lord, you inspired me to hike. You inspired me to make 4,600 my goal. I agreed to do this only with your help. That you would open doors and I would walk through them. In the past year and a half you had always provided a way. Provided a place for me to stay. Energy when I didn’t have it. Step by step you led me.”
Perhaps He was closing this door. I prayed, “Let Your will be done, Abba God.” I placed a message on the NCTA Facebook page that I was in need of a trail angel, a shuttle ride. None came forward. Late Friday afternoon, Tina messaged me that she would hike with me. That evening, Cathy texted me that if she didn’t have a headache in the morning that she would be there. And she was.
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.