Four Hikers Attempt the 900-Mile Idaho Centennial Trail 

The lost trail spans the length of the state

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click to enlarge "'OK,' you tell yourself. 'I can go to bed and wake up and do that again tomorrow.'" - KELLY BUSSARD
  • Kelly Bussard
  • "'OK,' you tell yourself. 'I can go to bed and wake up and do that again tomorrow.'"

Bussard and Jacobson pitched their tiny tent. Her temper calmed and she settled into her favorite part of the trail.

"You get to eat your dinner and relax at the end of the day and at that point, everything you went through during the day is over and you're OK with it.," she said. "'OK,' you tell yourself. 'I can go to bed and wake up and do that again tomorrow.'"

Their socks hanging by the fire to dry, each hiker summed up the Idaho Centennial Trail in one word.

Jacobson called it "rugged."

Lindquist said it was a "battle."

Bussard said only "fuck."

When the sun rose on day No. 11, Jacobson took Bussard in his arms as they were shouldering their packs.

"Ready to go for a hike?" he said.

A Chance to Leave

Conditions on the trail change rapidly. When the sun comes out, it's easy forget that an hour before you were drenched with rain. One minute, it's a nightmare of unending uphill switchbacks; the next, it's a gentle downhill slope you could trot along all day. Your body feels strong and capable of carrying everything you need to survive, then a blister on your foot tears open and every other step is agony.

Day 11 took the hikers only eight miles before they reached the Sawtooth Lodge in Grand Jean. The trail wasn't difficult, but knees hurt, blisters needed nursing and morale dipped.

At the lodge, the hikers ordered reubens and BLT sandwiches with extra meat, potato salad, macaroni salad, milkshakes and beer.

Nearby campers took notice of Jacobson and his crew. When they found out about the 900-mile trek, they were awed. They offered words of encouragement and good luck. One woman handed out granola bars for everyone.

The people working the Sawtooth Lodge gave the hikers a discounted rate to use the hot springs and kept the kitchen open an hour and a half later so they could get their fill of real food. Jacobson told them they were trail angels.

A payphone on the porch gave everyone a chance to call their families, but it also offered temptation. Malloy sat on a knobby, wooden bench and watched other hikers who joined the trail for only a few days—including his girlfriend—call for rides home. Within an hour, they were picked up and heading back to the world of cellphone service and soft beds.

"There goes another way out," Jacobson said, watching cars roll away down the dirt road. "The more times you pass up the opportunity to quit, the easier it becomes to keep going. Once you go home, it's all over."

The following morning, Malloy made the decision to quit. His knees hurt and he suffered from severe shin splints. As the other hikers loaded into a suburban to get back to the trailhead, they gave him a final glance as he sat on the same knobby bench, waiting for his ride.

"I wanted to cry," Bussard said. "I wanted to go home with Nate so bad."

"I couldn't even watch it," said Lindquist.

He missed his girlfriend and worried constantly about his ankles rolling.

"Clay [Jacobson] will die before he doesn't finish this trail, though. He has more focus than anyone I have ever met," Lindquist said.

He was especially nervous to hike into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The trails are some of the most remote in the state and most haven't been maintained. Should he roll an ankle or suffer a serious injury, getting help would be extremely hard.

He stayed on for a few more days through the wilderness, then his girlfriend picked him up after he suffered from a stomach ulcer. Lindquist spent the rest of the summer off and on the trail, periodically meeting up with Jacobson until he let it go for good in mid-August.

Jacobson and Bussard trekked some of the best miles and some of the worst miles through the Frank Church. They met rafters on the Salmon River and scored a free ride several miles downstream. Bussard's purple Brooks trail runners fell apart and she had to sew them back together to keep going. They met some people running a Forest Service lookout and got drunk on Moscow mules. Bussard thinks she might have gotten giardia. Her trail name became "Bush Barbie."

click to enlarge Kelly Bussard sews her shoes back together after they tore open in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. - KELLY BUSSARD
  • Kelly Bussard
  • Kelly Bussard sews her shoes back together after they tore open in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

She made it 400 miles, then decided to head home when she and Jacobson hit U.S. Highway 12. Their families met them at a campground near the highway on Aug. 7.

Coming Home

"I cried when I saw my mom," Bussard said. "She was, like, gagging when she smelled our clothes. She threw away all my stuff instantly. I was kind of sad. I don't know why, but I wanted to keep my shoes. They were so gnarly."

The time since Bussard has gone off trail has been bittersweet. She went back to her waitressing job at O'Michael's Pub and Grill and started another semester at Boise State University. She finally has everything she wanted so badly on the trail—clean clothes, fresh food, all her friends, a shower, beer in the fridge. But it's not necessarily what she wants anymore.

"In the moment, I hated [the trail]," she said. "I tried to quit so many times. Like, every chance I had to get a way home, I was contemplating it. I was so mad at Clay because he wasn't being super supportive of me wanting to go home. He would say, 'You can do this. I think you should stay.' And I was like, 'No, look at how many other people are still here. No one.'"

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