You, too, can hike the entire ice age trail

This summer, Kris Van Handel of Madison completed her second segment-by-segment hike of the entire 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail across Wisconsin.
Kris Van Handle walking a trail
Photo courtesy of Kris Van Handel
Kris Van Handel, aka “Hair Tie,” wrote two books about the Ice Age Trail after twice hiking it segment by segment.

This summer, Kris Van Handel of Madison completed her second segment-by-segment hike of the entire 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail across Wisconsin. She wrote about her first experience finishing the trail in her book “Hiking With Hair Tie: Section Hiking the Ice Age Trail” released earlier this year. She also published a book of her photography titled “Ice Age Trail Through the Seasons.” Van Handel, a behavior therapist for the Wisconsin Early Autism Project, stopped for a moment to answer a few questions.

Why did you decide to hike the entire Ice Age Trail and had you previously embarked on a hiking goal such as this?
I met my partner, Jared Wildenradt, in 2016, and he told me that he was working on hiking the entire trail. He invited me along on a 13-mile hike in central Wisconsin near Coloma. This was the first time I had hiked that long of a distance, and I was a little nervous about it even though I had completed many sprint triathlons and a variety of different running race distances (5K, 20K and a half-marathon). My past hiking experience consisted of hiking at state parks where I probably hiked 3 miles max at a time. I really enjoyed that first hike and continued to hike with Jared on some future trips. I’m not sure at what point I decided I wanted to hike the entire trail, but it was sometime that summer. It was a new adventure each time I went out and I really enjoyed it. I love being outside and being active, so hiking was a good fit.

What has it been like hiking during a global health pandemic? Has it changed your approach at all or made you think about the project differently in any way?
Hiking during the pandemic has caused me to do a bit more planning. Initially I stayed closer to home and worked on segments that had a shorter drive. As time has progressed, we have traveled farther from home. Jared and I were planning to backpack on the Appalachian Trail for five days but had to cancel that trip due to the pandemic. Instead, we hiked the Ice Age Trail in northern Wisconsin and stayed at my family’s cottage. The northern section of the trail isn’t as well known, so it is common to hike all day and never see another person. While hiking up north, I saw fewer people the entire time than I would have had I gone to work.

Do you have favorite Ice Age Trail segments in Dane County?
Dane County has about 40 miles of trail segments, which gives hikers a nice variety of places to hike. The trail travels through a variety of terrain and shows off some of the glacial features. The Dane County volunteer chapter does a great job at maintaining the trail. Currently there are about 25 miles of road routes that connect up the trail segments. For anyone interested in hiking all of the trail within Dane County, there is a hiking award program offered by the Dane County volunteer chapter. For those who enjoy volunteering, there are also many opportunities to volunteer with the chapter. My favorite segment would probably be the Table Bluff Segment near Cross Plains. The trail travels through the forest and prairie with great views of the Driftless area. It’s a great segment to hike in any season. The last time I hiked that segment it had snowed the night before. It was so neat to see everything covered in fresh snow.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to do what you’re doing?
Anyone can hike the Ice Age Trail; it doesn’t matter your age or athletic ability. You just need to have the desire to get outside and give it a try. Some people start out by hiking shorter distances and work up to longer distances. You can hike by yourself or with others. The Ice Age Trail Alliance has a lot of great information on its website. They also offer resources to purchase, such as an atlas, guidebook, databook and even an app that has the entire map of the trail. There are groups on Facebook that you can join to meet others and ask questions. One group is the Thousand Miler WannaBes and the other is called simply Ice Age Trail. Hiking the trail provides a lot of benefits. Not only do you learn more about Wisconsin and discover new places, you also can get away from the stress of life and give yourself something fun to do.

Read more about hikes here.