Four Hikers Attempt the 900-Mile Idaho Centennial Trail 

The lost trail spans the length of the state

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Having no idea what she was in for, Bussard, 25, decided to make the trek, regardless of trail conditions and regardless of the fact she and Jacobson had only started dating for about five months. What's more, she had never spent a day in her life backpacking.

"I had never even heard of thru-hiking," Bussard said. "I didn't even know that's a thing people do. It was just one of those moments in your life when you feel like you meet the right person to do something like that with."

From the start, it was clear Jacobson was the right person for the undertaking. Referred to by some of his fellow hikers as the "stoner Confucius," he wears a scraggly beard and draws on a reservoir of patience and encouragement. He thinks any problem can be solved if you just keep walking.

Bussard felt a strong pull to take up the challenge for her own reasons. In April 2014, she went to the emergency room with what she thought was appendicitis. The doctors took out her appendix, but a week later, she got a phone call from the hospital.

"My doctor sat me down and told me it was cancer," she said.

Shocking, because Bussard was healthy. She's slender and smiles all the time. Cancer would be the last thing she expected to interrupt her young college life. Her final surgery was in June 2014—one year before her meltdown in the Idaho desert.

"Things like that make you realize how precious life experiences are," she said. On a whim, she was in.

The couple started training in the spring, getting accustomed to increasing distances and elevation gains. They plotted towns they could send supplies to and mailed themselves packages of dehydrated meals, granola bars and pizza-flavored goldfish crackers to be picked up along the trail.

Each person tagging along with Jacobson had his or her own reason. Lindquist, 26, recently graduated from Northwest Nazarene University and figured this was his last chance to do something crazy before starting a career in business administration.

Malloy, 38, spent enough time riding the bus up to Bogus Basin with Jacobson, hearing stories about the Pacific Crest Trail, that it sparked his interest in the undertaking. Most of his hiking had been done in the military, so he was interested in taking a hike for fun. Walking the Idaho Centennial Trail became a goal he wanted to reach out before he turns 40.

"Growing up in Idaho, it would be cool to say I've walked all the way across," Malloy said. "It's going to be soul searching for me."

On Trail

After that hellish day in the desert, Bussard went home and thought hard about whether she wanted to follow Jacobson anymore. She felt panicky about getting back on the trail and spent a lot of time talking it over with him.

Then, she took everything nonessential out of her pack and they started again, this time skipping the desert due to the summer heatwave.

The quartet regrouped in Mountain Home and started toward Highway 20. Conditions were measurably better. A car stopped and gave them free beer on the first day. They made the hard climb up Ross Peak—elevation 9,773 feet—and looked across the valley where the Sawtooth mountains begin. Their exhaustion was replaced by a sense of accomplishment. They started to understand why they picked this challenge to consume the next two months of their lives.

Then, at the summit, Lindquist sneezed and blood poured out of his nose and all over his shirt.

"Yep," Jacobson said. "That's what victory looks like."

click to enlarge Clay Jacobson decided to trek all 900 miles of the Idaho Centennial Trail five years ago. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Clay Jacobson decided to trek all 900 miles of the Idaho Centennial Trail five years ago.

After six days of hiking, the group dropped into Atlanta during the Mountain Music Festival. They spent a day listening to live music, diving into the all-you-can-eat taco bar, and soaking in hot springs and intermittent rainstorms.

Lindquist got to see his girlfriend and ate seven hot dogs. A few of Bussard's friends met up with her in a happy reunion. They found a friend with a cabin and took showers and slept in beds. Bussard's friends decided to join on the backpacking trip for a few days, as did Malloy's girlfriend. They all felt pretty good.

The next day, the larger group left again with 60 miles to their next resupply point in Stanley. They'd make it there in four days.

It drizzled throughout the day as they walked on a steady incline along a side of the Sawtooth mountains that most people never see. They waded through creeks and regularly climbed over fallen trees taller than their waists.

"Any other day, it would be easy—maybe even kind of fun—to hop over them," Lindquist said. "But wearing a 35-pound pack on your back makes you realize how awkward and cumbersome you are."

For that reason, Lindquist and the others kept their pack around 20 pounds. They accumulated scratches and bruises as the day wore on.

Partway through the afternoon, the expedition came to a halt. Jacobson looked over an avalanche field about 100 yards across. The snow had long since melted, leaving behind hundreds of fallen trees, brush and rocks, making the trail below invisible. It was not a happy sight.

They navigated slowly, picking their way through the debris. They had to laugh at the absurdity—the avalanche path being symbolic of the Idaho Centennial Trail, untouched by hikers and trail workers alike.

click to enlarge Clay Lindquist (left) and Clay Jacobson navigate through an avalanche debris field that completely hid the Idaho Centennial Trail. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Clay Lindquist (left) and Clay Jacobson navigate through an avalanche debris field that completely hid the Idaho Centennial Trail.
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