Gary Hegeman and his golden retrievers, Cheyenne and Lakota were joined by family members on their last leg of the Ice Age Trail Sunday.

East Troy man completes Ice Age Trail

By Vanessa Lenz

SLN Staff

Gary Hegeman achieved one of his major life goals when he completed hiking the Ice Age National Scenic Trail on Sunday.

Hegeman, a longtime Booth Lake resident, began walking the trail in sections after looking for optimal hiking locations for his dog Lakota in the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

After buying a set of maps and doing some research on the trail, the 61 year old set his sights on completing it one day.

“I thought, ‘Hey, I wonder what it’d be like to see the next part and the next part and it kind of grew from there,” Hegeman said.

The route, which runs across 30 counties in the state of Wisconsin, is more than 1,000 miles long.

Instead of tackling the pathway, which follows  a line created by glaciers more than 12,000 years ago, Hegeman took on the trail in parts, hiking a few hundred miles at a time.

He started his journey in May of 2007 near the Whitewater Lake segment with his golden retriever Lakota by his side.

“I then went toward the northeast piece by piece and got it done,” Hegeman said.

After retiring from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he was able to follow any schedule he wanted.

When he felt like going on a hike, Hegeman would go to the spot where he left off and continue his journey through the Ice Age wooded, rustic trails.

“Every year, I did more and more miles,” he said.

His 3-year-old golden retriever Cheyenne also joined in on the trek beginning in 2010, finishing the last 800 miles alongside Hegeman and  Lakota.

“Lots of people have done the trail, but not too many dogs have,” Hegeman said.

In addition to meeting his desire for a challenge, Hegeman said the five-and-a-half-year feat gave him opportunities aplenty to enjoy all that Wisconsin has to offer.

He kept a notebook detailing the top 25 sights along the federally designated National Scenic trail.

Hegeman said the segment near Devil’s Lake, which overlooks the 360-acre lake flanked by scenic bluffs, was his favorite.

Each portion varied depending on the time of year and the part of the state Hegeman was in.

Hegeman, who has always liked the outdoors, said getting through some sections were demanding workouts while others were more leisurely detours and some were just another day on the trail.

Gary Hegeman completed the entire thousand-plus-mile Ice Age Trail on Sunday in Medford.

In addition to liking segments in Door County and the eastern portion in Potawatomi State Park, Hegeman said he also favored a piece in the northwest part of Wisconsin near Mackenzie Creek.

“You can see glacial formation in a steep ravine. It’s quite beautiful,” he said.

Having hiked and seen most of Wisconsin on foot has made Hegeman love the Dairy State even more.

“I have developed a significantly deeper appreciation for the state than I have had in my whole life,” he said.

He said he would occasionally meet hunters, hikers or trappers along the way, but spent many hours alone with his two dogs.

Hegeman’s wife Sandy, who hiked some of the path with him, and his children showed up on Sunday in Medford to cheer him on as he finished his last leg of the trail.

Hegeman said his family has been his greatest support.

“They proved it yesterday in Medford, driving four and a half hours in the rain and hiking with me early to get back home for the Packers’ game,” he said.

They celebrated his accomplishment with champagne and balloons as he crossed the trail finish line.

“You can’t get better than that,” he said.

While he hasn’t set his sights on any other major journeys in the near future, Hegeman plans to relive his Ice Age Trail journey by putting together a photography book.

He hopes it will encourage others to hike the trail.

“The Ice Age Trail is such an incredible thing that Wisconsin has and I don’t know how many people know or appreciate it,” he said. “Once you start hiking it you want other people to enjoy it.”

Hegeman said the trail is constantly evolving with new segments being developed and current pathways being maintained.

The Ice Age Trail Alliance is a nonprofit that works to preserve the trail with chapters in various counties.

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