How Emily Ford braved freezing temperatures on Wisconsin’s 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail and made history

Ama Nunoo March 30, 2021
Emily Ford is proof that being Black and a woman or gay should not stop anyone from facing their fears. Photo: Duluth News Tribune

Emily Ford has become the first known Black person and woman to complete the entire Wisconsin 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail during winter.

“Many other people have completed this trail, but winter is the elusive season for most folks. So I’ll be the first woman, the first Black woman, and I’m sure the first Black gay woman. I’ll tack that one on there,” Ford told reporters.

Ford is an avid outdoors lover and a gardener by profession who has off days during the winter. She decided to take on the thru-hike to challenge herself and in turn, she made history.

“I want to be known as a hiker,” Ford said. “But for the sake of the times we live in, people need to know that there are people of color and women who are thru-hikers. I’m willing to be on that bandwagon.”

Inspired by the crises that befell the world with the pandemic and the death of George Floyd, Ford decided to try something most Black people are groomed to be afraid of — to be outside alone in the dark.

She decided it was about time to rewrite the narrative and show everyone, especially the underrepresented community that they also have what it takes to do whatever it is they set their minds to.

“For our history—people of color—darkness was a scary time. We were pretty much hunted like animals, dragged out of our homes and dragged to this country,” she said. “If you ask most Black people, they will tell you bad things happen at nighttime.

“Even if they’ve never experienced the actual trauma and danger that our ancestors experienced, it is just passed down,” she told

So, on December 28, after months of preparations with her hike dog, the 28-year-old hiked from Eastern Terminus in Sturgeon Bay, Michigan, to the Western Terminus in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin through the rough terrain till she ended on March 6.

On average, the Duluth, Minnesota native walked 16.5 miles a day. According to her, the toughest part of the journey was the freezing temperatures that dropped to 37 degrees below freezing and concerns over fuel for cooking.

Other than that, Ford was bent on finishing her thru-hike no matter how long it took.

She decided to document her experiences on her Instagram account which got more than 100 percent follows. Her Facebook also saw a boost in followers who were all interested in her journey and rooting for her to complete it.

Ford had people coming along the trail to support her and some giving her snacks or as she calls it “trail magic” to make the journey bearable. She is ever grateful to everyone who came out to support her or did so through social media.

She refers to these helpers as her “trail angels” as some even opened their homes for her at night especially when she had sore knees and had to take a hiatus from trekking. Still, she was able to complete the Ice Age National Scenic trail in one piece.

“Woo hoo!” became her signature expression after completing each milestone on her trek.

Ford had initially challenged herself by completing Minnesota’s 300mile Superior Hiking Trail and now this historic moment makes her feel the needed representation is being achieved one hike at a time.

“I hope that this kind of breaks down the stereotype for a lot of people. Whatever color they are,” she said.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 30, 2021


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