Four Hikers Attempt the 900-Mile Idaho Centennial Trail 

The lost trail spans the length of the state

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Since leaving the trail, Bussard's attitude about the trek has softened.

"This is obviously a really hard thing and I didn't understand why he kept pushing me, but I'm so happy that he did," she said. "I have this incredible accomplishment that I wouldn't have had without Clay. He's the first person in my life who's ever given something like that to me. Looking back, I could do that again. I miss living outside. Coming home, I just want to take my sleeping bag and go sleep in my backyard."

Jacobson has already planted the seed in Bussard's mind to hike the Continental Divide Trail with him—a 3,100-mile primitive trail that runs from the Mexico border through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana to the Canadian border. She's also thinking about taking on the Appalachian Trail—2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine.

Even though Bussard walked 400 miles in 37 days, she feels slightly disappointed in herself. She tells people she "only" went 400 miles, while Jacobson is going almost 1,000. She wishes she would have kept going.

Now that she's back, she's getting used to people bombarding her with questions everywhere she goes. "How was the trip?" "What was the hardest part?" "We can't believe you did that." "What did you learn about yourself?"

They are questions she struggles to answer. The trip was good but it was hard. She did it by counting her steps along the way. She doesn't know yet how it might have changed her.

"I'm still processing what I've learned from the experience," she said. "I'm definitely not as afraid of things as I was before. After doing something like that, you're just like, 'Fuck it, I can take on the world. I can do anything. What's that weird noise in the dark? I don't give a fuck. I'll be OK.'

click to enlarge Kelly Bussard 9left) and her friend hike through the Sawtooth Wilderness, enjoying a brief moment of blue skies between rainstorms. - KELLY BUSSARD
  • Kelly Bussard
  • Kelly Bussard 9left) and her friend hike through the Sawtooth Wilderness, enjoying a brief moment of blue skies between rainstorms.

"I feel a disconnect from a lot of my friends," she added. "Everyone really wants to understand this experience and I want to help them understand what I went through all summer, but the reality is, you just have to go out and do it."

Lone Wolf

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Jacobson would finish the trail. He hiked on alone, determined to finish the last few hundred miles.

As the miles wore on, Jacobson's beard grew thicker and his cheeks more gaunt. Along the way, he saw wolves and moose, bear prints and bones. Without anyone tagging along, he easily tackled 35-mile days, hiking for 12 hours at a time and often into the night.

"There's no secret," he wrote via Facebook messenger. He can only check in with friends and family when he reaches a town and enjoys a brief moment of cell service. "It's hard. If you are setting out to hike a trail, you just have to accept that it will be hard, you will want to quit. Just don't. Before long, things will start falling into place. Your body will adjust. You will evolve into a backcountry ninja. You can't let the trail beat you up. Got to accept the challenge a trail presents and then pick it apart with your lean muscles flexing and your head held high."

Jacobson said there were times when he wanted to quit during his first long-distance thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. He started in leather work boots and heavy Carhartts. His feet were destroyed, everything he owned was rain soaked and he had less than $200 in his bank account.

"I was just a dumb-ass kid when I started hiking with no clue what I was doing," he said. "Everyone around me told me I could do it even when I was ready to quit. The only thing that turned me around was changing my mind: everyone is rad. I am rad. I can hike. Anyone can hike."

Jacobson hiked the last few hundred miles of the Idaho Centennial Trail during one of the worst fire seasons in the past 100 years. He was constantly rerouted, pushed off the trail and miles into Montana. Parts of the forest in Idaho's Panhandle were completely closed. He popped into town hall meetings on the fires and checked updates online when possible.

While he was supposed to finish around Aug. 20, he had to push the date back more than three weeks. Despite all that, he walked to almost the end of the trail on Sept. 12. The last seven miles of the trail were closed due to a fire and he tried to bushwhack along a hillside, but gave up­, covered in pine needles and spider webs.

He accepted the closure and walked along the road to the end. It was, in his words, "underwhelming."

His family and Bussard traveled to north Idaho to greet him with a feast. Bussard agreed to drive him back to Boise—so he doesn't have to walk— but Jacobson isn't through with the Idaho Centennial Trail. He still plans to hike the desert section so he can begin his guidebook.

"This trail does have a future," he said. "It totally can and should become a big part of the Idaho outdoor experience. There is a lot of work to do in order to bring this trail to life, but if it gets done, the ICT could become a premier way to experience Idaho's wilderness."

Jacobson doesn't recommend a thru-hike of the trail for most people, though. He said the trail lacks a support system for hikers. He wants to see someone step up and stay vigilant over the trail—update trail conditions and watch out for the wellbeing of prospective hikers.

"I would love to be that guy," he said. "I would love to see this trail grow and to be part of ICT's future. ... I have a bond that stretches across the state and is shared with all the people that I met and who joined me along the way."

click to enlarge The hike began on June 30. From left to right: Clay Lindquist, a friend, Clay Jacobson, Kelly Bussard, Nate Malloy and another friend. - KELLY BUSSARD
  • Kelly Bussard
  • The hike began on June 30. From left to right: Clay Lindquist, a friend, Clay Jacobson, Kelly Bussard, Nate Malloy and another friend.
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