Walking Distance #08 | Emily Ford

In this episode of Walking Distance presented by The Trek and hosted by Blissful Hiker (Alison Young), we are joined by Emily Ford, the first woman and person of color to thru-hike Wisconsin’s 1,200 mile Ice Age Trail in winter. Emily is from Duluth, and the head gardener at the historic Glensheen Mansion. She completed her Ice Age thru-hike with a dog she cherished, Alaskan husky Diggins.

Blissful Hiker covers the unique loneliness of solo backpacking, humanity’s relationship with wilderness, and Emily’s perspective on what her hike means for people of color. 


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Interview with Emily Ford

1:43 – Background on Emily Ford and the Ice Age trail

3:03 – This winter was mild for Wisconsin standards, but weather standards are different for normal activities and for hiking. How was it to hike in the Wisconsin winter?

4:12 – What did you pack? I read that you carried 60 pounds.

5:30 – Can you talk about your sleep system? What was the rating for your sleeping bag?

5:50 – What stayed the whole trip and what did you get rid of?

6:20 – You said there wasn’t much snow in the beginning, but I just imagine postholing. How did you stay upright in the snow?

7:14 – You mentioned that you cried. Do you want to share any reasons that happened?

8:58 – Can you introduce us to Diggins? She’s also at the forefront when you’ve talked about your thru-hike. Where did she come from and what was your relationship like?

10:32 – Was Diggins there to help you cut trail, or mostly for companionship?

11:34 – You got into backpacking more as an adult? How did you learn about the Ice Age trail and why did you choose it?

12:14 – More than half the trail is footpaths, and some are connected routes. How did you plan where to camp and how you were going to walk it?

13:38 – I heard you had great trail angels and trail magic along the way, what happened?

16:08 – This is the biggest trip Emily has taken, but choosing something that hasn’t been done before fits along with who Emily is.

18:15 – One of the reasons why Emily loves backpacking is the solo aspect of it, the opportunity to think alone and think a lot, to dig into deeper psyches. 

20:05 – I love that in one of your posts you quote some children you met, and one asked if you ever get bored. Did you?

21:30 – In one of your posts, you reacted to the wolf slaughter in Wisconsin where 216 wolves were killed in 3 days. You wrote about owning the wilderness as another way of privileging ourselves. How do you see yourself on the trail and in the wilderness?

23:22 – Right now as we’re speaking, it’s the first day of the trial for the police officer who killed George Floyd. You’ve done something amazing during the time of COVID, but for others, particularly people of color, it’s been really hard. What do you think your hike will mean for people of color?

24:45 – Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can see applying to your life as a gardener or just in general?

26:25 – What would you tell your younger self, or someone else just starting out? Would you change your training or attitude going in?

27:25 – Emily Ford is an inspiration to all of us planning a backpack trip. When we feel the itch to try something new, she seems to tell us that we should follow through. 

Mentioned in this episode:

Emily Ford in Backpacker Radio episode #101

Emily Ford Hiked 1,200 Miles in the Dead of Winter by Outside Magazine

Emily’s Instagram

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About Alison Young

Alison Young, aka Blissful Hiker, is a former host and producer at American Public Media and professional flutist. She’s thru-hiked New Zealand’s Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as long trails in South America, South Africa, Europe, Pakistan and all over the US. In her podcast Blissful Hiker, she shares personal essays from the trail along with collected sound. Her goal in life is to hike until she drops.

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Comments 1

  • Drew Boswell : Jun 10th

    This is by far the best interview with Emily Ford in any media form available, print, audio, video, anything. Kudos on the high quality in general of “Walking Distance” which has quickly become my favorite podcast.


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