Trailblazing at 75: Michigander's love for nature fuels her hike on the 4,800-mile North Country trail, twice

At 75 years old, author and hiker Joan Young is the first woman to complete the North Country trail twice.

Joan Young

Joan Young was eager to see if her childhood love for the outdoors would be rekindled when she caught sight of a large brown sign titled "North Country National Scenic Trail" on a Michigan highway in 1988.

Along with her best friend from Girl Scouts, Young set out to complete small segments of the 4,800-mile trail. The duo reached their first 100 miles six years later.

Now at 75, Young is the first woman to complete the North Country trail twice, having passed through eight states it stretches across — Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

Young became the first woman to hike the trail end-to-end in 2010, an effort spanned 20 years. This time just a couple of weeks ago, she completed it again in 18 months and 18 days, averaging roughly 13 miles per hiking day, which Young credited her mental discipline for.

"When you reach the 3,000-mile mark, which is an impressive total, you realize you still have 1,800 miles to go. This trail requires a hiker to dig deep and fight discouragement," said Young, a self-published author of the mystery series "Anastasia Raven Mysteries."

Young's first hike on the trail left her with unique experiences, sights of beautiful scenery, a fulfilled love of plants, and two books that captured her adventures — "North Country Cache" and "North Country Quest." The former scored an honorable mention in the Independent Publisher Book Awards or Ippy Awards' Best Regional Non-Fiction in 2006, according to the organization's site.

Joan Young and her husband at the Western Terminus of the North Country trail in Lake Sakakawea State Park, North Dakota. (Joan Young)

The diversity of nature along the trail urged Young to come back the second time even if it means taking off a year on her "author schedule" and setting aside writing duties. Young's constant hunt for new species fostered her connection with the trail, specifically on segments like North Dakota's that harbor plants and animals unfamiliar to the East Coast. This time, she recorded the journey in her daily blog.

"One of my primary goals was to increase the visibility and validity of the North Country trail. I wanted potential hikers to see that there is something of real interest to find every single day one might spend on the [trail]," Young said.

The North Country trail might have been a "long binge" for Young but she's far from being done with hiking. Young's next backpacking adventure awaits her in New York this fall, where she's close to completing all six branch trails of the Finger Lakes Trail.

A self-described "rather ordinary person" who has chores to get to, Young said she enjoys the return to her routine — including taking care of her "neglected" flower gardens.

"There are three books in active writing progress, and the house hasn’t yet cleaned itself," she said.

Contact Us