Making The Most of The Time We Have

Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.

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Just Say YES with Emily Ford

Just Say YES with Emily Ford

Emily Ford recently became the first woman to solo hike the entire Ice Age Trail in winter. Emily’s love of the outdoors, her incurable optimism, and SAY YES spirit will have you donning hiking boots and heading for a walk in the woods. Annmarie talks to Emily (and her trusty sidekick Diggins) about trail magic, the kindness of strangers, and how all of us are so much stronger than we realize.

*UPDATE: Since the recording of this episode, Emily has adopted Diggins! They are reunited and one big happy family!

Pictured here is Annmarie's marshmallow dog Higgins whose name rhymes with Diggins, but who Emily Ford was wise NOT to bring on her 1200-mile journey.

Link to the book Emily mentions:
The Wolf's Trail: An Ojibwe Story Told By Wolves
by Thomas D. Peacock

Link to a song by the group Emily mentions:
"Bust Your Knee Caps," by Pomplamoose
You can learn more about the Ice Age Trail here: https://www.iceagetrail.org/hiker-resources/

If you live in Annmarie's home town, you can find cool hikes near you here: https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/getmedia/c79b18b2-81a0-4d7e-b9d0-1370fb3671df/51655-Trail-Challenge_Hikes-Interactive-2021.pdf.ashx

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is brought to you in part by Lit Youngstown, a literary community proud to support beginning and experienced writers who seek to hone their craft, foster understanding, and share and publish their creative work.

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm Annmarie Kelly. Welcome to Wild Precious Life, a podcast about dreaming big and making real connections. In each episode, I talk to prizewinning writers, musicians and entrepreneurs who teach all of us how to make the most of the time we have. Our guest today, is Emily Ford; gardner, Duluth woman, Granite Gear groundskeeper, through hiker and goat enthusiast. Emily is someone who signs off her Instagram videos with, "Woo hoo!," and I love it because she means it. I would go, "Woo hoo!" back every time I watched. Emily, along with her trusty companion, Diggins, recently became the first woman to through hike the 1,200 mile Wisconsin Ice Age Trail in the winter. She spent more than two months hiking over hills and streams and snow. So much snow. I watched it. Every single day, I watched it fascinated, from the lazy, lazy comfort of my couch.

Annmarie Kelly:
Emily Ford, welcome to Wild Precious Life.

Emily Ford:
That's awesome. Thank you so much. I now sit on my lazy, lazy couch all the time and I eat lots of lazy, lazy foods. You should see how much ice cream I've consumed since I've been home.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah, that sounds good right now. It's probably frowned upon for podcasting and ice cream. But next time we're just going to bring cones and we'll do that.

Emily Ford:
Sounds great.

Annmarie Kelly:
I felt like there were so many themes alive in this hike that I was not taking, but you were kind enough to take me on. I mean, I was thinking about simplicity and steadfastness and beauty and this defense of solitude and slowing down. And the kindness of strangers and that rugged camping can do spirit. First, I just want to know what brings you here today and what makes you, you?

Emily Ford:
I feel like I'm in such a cool point of my life. How I got here is just by saying yes, ironically enough. I went to Gustavus because I threw for track and field. I threw shot hammer and disc in college for a little bit. Then I switched over to rugby because that was way more fun to tackle people than to throw metal objects across a field. Then I moved up to Duluth here by saying yes to my roommate that I was with in college. She's like, "You want to move to Duluth for fun?" I was like, "Cool, I don't have any plans." The way I got my job that I have now, as the head gardner, was another weird yes. A buddy of mine, she's like, "Hey, there's a gardening position open." I was like, "I don't know if I could do it professionally. I grew up gardening, but I have a geology degree." I applied and they hired me.

Emily Ford:
The same for the trip I just got back from. My buddy was like, "Hey, here's a trail." I was like, "Okay. Let's do it." That's the way I found Diggins too. A buddy of mine was like, "Hey, you should see if anybody has a dog you could borrow." I was like, "Okay." I was click, click, click on Facebook. I was like, "Hey, anybody have a dog?" Then someone was like, "Yes." I think I've gotten to where I am just by saying yes to very weird things that sound fun. I would say as a caveat for folks, it's not as a romantic life as maybe one would think because it does get you into trouble when you overextend yourself, I'd say.

Annmarie Kelly:
Did you grow up in a yes, hiking family? Do you think your childhood was a childhood of yes or a childhood of hiking and long walks?

Emily Ford:
I grew up in a household of my mom always encouraging the yes. I think that's really what has played a significant role, is that I would have these weird ideas. When I was a pre-teen or whatever, I asked my mom if I could walk the railroad tracks on a Saturday morning, as far as I could. She said, "Yeah, go for it." Just that mentality of my mom just always telling me to reach as far as I could into the weird unknown and into weird dreams. Her stipulation was always if you're not hurting yourself, and if you're not hurting someone else, yes, it's okay. That's how she decided to raise both my sister and myself. My sister is a super cool cop and I feel like I'm a super cool gardner. I think my mom did a pretty darn good job. But I didn't grow up in a hiking family. My family did more of the motorized sports, if anything.

Annmarie Kelly:
If you didn't get it from your parents, how did you get into hiking?

Emily Ford:
My first memory of doing anything outdoors like what I'm doing now, is when I was pretty young. My grandparents had a farm and I had one friend up there because that town was mostly old folks. Her parents took me to the Boundary Waters for the first time. We spent three nights up there, I think. I thought it was so cool. I had never been in a tent before like that. Her family I think really changed just my perspective [inaudible 00:05:29]. Then when I was in college, on our spring break trips for geology, the school didn't want to pay for lodging for us, so we would camp out. It's where I learned a little bit more from that.

Emily Ford:
Then when I moved to Duluth, it's Duluth. I made that choice that I wanted to try it, but I was a field biologist for the University of Minnesota Duluth for just a smidgen of a time. It was my dog and myself and we made our way down the Eastern half of the United States, picking prairie seeds, prairie grass and prairie flower seeds. Again, the university didn't want to pay for our lodging so we had to camp. A lot of trouble shooting on those trips. Lots and lots. But it was the coolest time of my life.

Emily Ford:
Then after that, with that same backpack, I just threw a bunch of stuff in it and I knew the Superior Hiking Trail was around here somewhere. I think I took a three day trip. My pack was so heavy. On this podcast, like you're saying, yes, you can do anything and whatever you set your mind to, but don't be discouraged by your first time. Because my pack on that trip was probably about as heavy as my pack was on the trip I just got back from. I had too much stuff, I had the wrong stuff, but I fell in love with it anyway. I just kept adding on miles and that's how I got to where I am right now.

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm really stuck on this and I'm loving it because I'm a mother of three. This idea that if you're not hurting yourself and if you're not hurting anybody else, then yes, go ahead. I think back on my own rebellious teenage years, and I have a teenage daughter now. But so many of the arguments you get in with the grownups in your life is because they're saying no to your yes. Some of your yes is crazy yes. It's like, "Can I go out with that 19 year old?," who you've never met, who rides a motorcycle. That's probably an okay one to say no to, but there's lots of yeses that parents, we default to no. I love that you're saying that.

Annmarie Kelly:
I should mention that we're not alone in this conversation. Actually, this is a double interview. Folks listening at home aren't just listening to Emily Ford, they're also listening to Diggins. Was Diggins the first dog to hike the Ice Age Trail in winter?

Emily Ford:
She was, yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Diggins, ah! She's here, so if you hear Diggins want to add her two cents.

Emily Ford:
She doesn't say too much. She's giving me a lot of looks right now of like, "Lady, get off this leash so I can run around your house and eat everything."

Annmarie Kelly:
Diggins had some of my favorite moments in your Instagram videos though, because she'd be singing Happy Birthday to Diggins and Diggins can't even. Like, "What? Just what?" It wasn't like Diggins turned around and smiled. Like, "What are you doing now?"

Emily Ford:
She's really good at side eye. She became my teenage daughter. I was that uncool mom embarrassing her in front of all the woodland creatures. Don't tell them that I'm three years old only. I want the boy wolves to like me. Like that. I'm going to embarrass you as much as I want to.

Annmarie Kelly:
As much as she side eyed you, do you feel like she was a necessary travel companion? Where halfway through, were you like, "Oh, Diggins"? Or were you like, "Oh, yeah. This is an important part of my journey to have Diggins with me."

Emily Ford:
Oh, no. The only time I was ever like, "Are we going to make it?," was in the beginning. She comes from a sled kennel which means that she doesn't go on walks, she doesn't walk on a sidewalk. She didn't know to walk around a drain grate so her foot got stuck in a drain grate. She just walked right on top of it. I looked at her, I'm like, "Dude." I'm like, "Are we really going to make it?" Because we had to walk through a bunch of towns and she was really skittish of cars in the beginning. I was like, "I'm not carrying you and this pack 1,200 miles because you are afraid to walk on the sidewalk." It was just in the beginning. But no, I am so glad that it was perfect timing [inaudible 00:09:30] along.

Annmarie Kelly:
Until I met you on Instagram, I had never heard of this trail before. I know about the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest. I don't know, this long winding trail through Wisconsin has my attention now and its sounds there should be mastodons and mammoths and saber tooth tigers. I'm just wondering for folks who've never heard of the Ice Age Trail, can you tell them about this trail and why you said yes to it?

Emily Ford:
Me choosing the Ice Age Trail, like I said, is really just another yes story. I was out playing bar league volleyball and I was talking to a buddy. I was like, "Man, I'm really itching to get back on the trail and I would love to be able to do 1,000 miles. I think I could do that in the winter while I'm laid off from work." She's like, "Well, how about the Glacier Trail?" I was like, "I don't know what that is." It turned out to be the Ice Age Trail. I looked it up while we were sitting there and I was like, "Ah, this sounds pretty cool." That was really the impetus of it, I guess.

Annmarie Kelly:
Tell us about the Ice Age Trail. What is this place and were there saber tooth tigers?

Emily Ford:
The name is for mostly geology nerds, I suppose and anybody interested in glaciers. It follows the terminal moraine of the last glaciation through Wisconsin. All's that means is that it follows the bottom of the last glacier that was in Wisconsin. It's where it meets what we call the Driftless Area, where there weren't any glaciers, well, for the time period that we're talking about. It's a funny trail because when I was telling people about hiking this trail, I was like, "Oh, I'm hiking across Wisconsin." They're like, "Cool. Isn't that 500 miles?" I'm like, "It's the longest way to get across Wisconsin. Don't tell me that it's easy."

Emily Ford:
In its entirety, including all the road walks, including all of the trails, it's just a hair under 1,200 miles. You go through a bunch of different counties and it's really neat. You see a lot of different terrain, you will see a bunch of flat areas. They have a really cool program called Rails to Trails over there. It's old railroad beds because a lot of these little towns they had this boom and bust thing. A lot of things would get shipped to them and then the town disappeared with that type of industry. There's a lot of that and then you'll get to these crazy rolling hills and these really steep hills for ages and ages. All they are, are different geological features, which is really cool. You wouldn't really know that, I guess, because you're just walking on hills, unless you are paying attention to the geology.

Emily Ford:
It's really fun in that sense and there are some spaces that you may not see very many people hiking on it. So if you're looking for an isolated trail, there's a couple good spots further in the Northern region where you won't see as many people hiking on it. Like I said, it is road walks and it's an incomplete trail so far. It'll be a while before they complete it, I believe.

Annmarie Kelly:
You mentioned you wouldn't see someone for a day or two or longer. I think until this past year, I'm not sure most of us have ever gone days at a time without seeing other human people. Up until this last year, I don't think I'd experienced the same kind of loneliness that a lot of us have experienced. I'm wondering when was your aloneness on the trail lonely? When, if ever, was it lonely? And when was your loneliness something else?

Emily Ford:
This trip became a weird sensation outside of what I was experiencing because I had my phone on airplane mode most of the time, which I adore. I love that mode. [crosstalk 00:13:00] person who ever made it, honestly. But I would see people because people would be looking for me, to see this crazy woman hiking this trail. So I would see people pretty often. The type of loneliness I experienced though, was the only thing that was consistent for myself and for Diggins, was each other. It became this emotional roller coaster. A little bit of not wanting to connect to people because you knew you'd never see them again, but really craving that connection because you're alone and you're like, "I haven't talked to somebody about anything deeper than how cold it is outside for a month now. I just want to have a good conversation."

Emily Ford:
That's the kind of loneliness and I've experienced that before on other trips. It's not as isolatory as people would think, but it's a different feeling of alone. But I got to work through a bunch of just internal junk that I felt like I really needed to work on. Just personal qualms I had with my past self and things like forgiveness to other people, forgiveness towards myself. Honestly, I would just talk to Diggins about it all day long and just be like, "This is what I experienced," and just whatever. It was just really good to have the silence all around me and have no one around me to really voice how I actually felt about things I hadn't really wanted myself to feel.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's amazing. I always wondered what was happening in the 23 hours and 57 minutes in between videos. Part of me wanted to see a bad day on the trail because you are this incurably optimistic, it's infectious, really. Again, [crosstalk 00:14:35].

Emily Ford:
I was oddly enthusiastic. Looking back on it, I was oddly enthusiastic. I felt like I was high the whole time, I think. I don't know what was going on, looking back on it. Here's the thing though, I was very happy. I can reanimate how our bad times were because anytime it was I was so tired mostly. It was rarely a Diggins thing. Our one argument that we had was it was after my knee felt so painful and she was pulling me into the ditch. I slipped on a piece of ice and I threw a fit like a child in the middle of a country road. I pounded my trekking poles on the asphalt and I said, "I just need a break!" I was like, "We're taking a zero day tomorrow, Diggins," and I threw my pack on the ground. I just sat there. She put her head on my knee like, "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to." I said, "It's okay. We just need a break." That's what it looked like, but it didn't happen very often.

Annmarie Kelly:
When you mentioned your knee, I did find myself wondering. Again, this is over two months. I'm not sure people really get what 1,200 miles is. There's that incessant song where the guy's like, "I would walk 500 miles." He's not even attempting to walk 1,200 miles. I was just trying to map it out. I'm in Cleveland right now so it'd be like if I wanted to walk to Disney World tomorrow. And Disney World is not even, that's probably more 1,000 miles. It is so far that you guys walked and I did find myself wondering did you hurt yourself? You described falling down a flight of stairs at one point and then you were walking. You weren't walking with a limp, there was no zombie dragging a foot behind you. I'm wondering what aches and pains did you have and how did you persist?

Emily Ford:
The first one was my knee and that one made me feel really sad because I was stupid and I didn't stretch enough. So I took a day off and I was encouraged by another friend of mine who's an ultra athlete and she's experienced pain like this before. I asked her, "What do I do?" And she said, "Get back on the horse tomorrow. You have to keep going." Every time I look at the video of me talking about me falling, I must have had a bad concussion because I was giggling. I could not stop laughing, I giggled myself to sleep that night. I'm pretty sure I had a pretty bad concussion. I hiked on adrenaline that day pretty much. I will never forget that moment in my life. It is still so funny to me. I literally just walked into darkness assuming that there was going to be something to catch me and I just fell down this stranger's flight of stairs into his basement.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, my gosh! Ah! That actually brings up something. You talk about trail magic, and for listeners who aren't hikers, tell us what trail magic is and what you mean by that phrase.

Emily Ford:
Yeah, trail magic is super rad. It can manifest in different ways. Basic trail magic is people leave you something at the trail head. You see this a lot on the bigger AT, PCT, and all the other acronyms for long trails. This trip though, they would leave bars, socks sometimes, treats for Diggins, just notes that were really encouraging. A lot of people, oddly enough, told me about their life in letter form. They would leave them for me at the trail head with another snack or something. That was really impactful for me. That was actually maybe even more magic to me than the food sometimes.

Emily Ford:
Trail magic can also look like there was several people who shuttled me from their house to a spot on the trail for several days. Hours of their day and fuel for their vehicles being used up and they're like, "Yeah, come in our house. We'll feed you, we'll whatever. Here's a sauna, here's my house. Do whatever you want. Oh, Diggins is a jerk, she's trying to bite everybody? Ah, that's totally fine. We'll let her stay in the house anyway." I was like, "This is amazing."

Emily Ford:
It also manifests on this trail where people with really deep snow, because I ditched my snowshoes actually in the beginning. They went ahead of me and they tramped down the snow in as many places as they could with snow shoes and that was awesome.

Annmarie Kelly:
That is amazing. Are you the kind of person who usually looks at strangers with openness and welcomes the strangers? Because I feel like a lot of us are taught to distrust strangers. Like stranger danger, I don't know. You're raised with this idea.

Emily Ford:
I have no stranger danger apparently. I came to the point where... Well, I came to two points. Number one: a lot of people asked me if I had any issues with feeling afraid of racism or any injustices like that on the trail. I came to the conclusion of anybody who's really against me hiking this in that way, I don't feel like hiking is really their schtick. I feel like they have different hobbies and they're not really out here looking for me and they're not really following my story. If they hear about me coming through their town, it's usually after because the newspaper usually promised to wait until I was out of their county before they would run anything.

Emily Ford:
Secondly, if anybody on this trip came within, I don't know, a few feet of me, Diggins would bite them 100%, every time.

Annmarie Kelly:
Were you conscious of being the first woman or the first person of color? Was that on your list? Like, "Oh, yes. I will do this because then I could be the..." Did you know that going in?

Emily Ford:
I didn't care. I just knew that Mike had done it before me. I didn't know Mike, I didn't call him just Mike back then. I was like, "Ah, this dude did it so I bet I could do it too." Look, I've been trying to explain to people I'm always late to the social party of understanding what's going around me. People are like, "This is so cool." And I'm like, "Yeah, I'm aggressively walking." They're like, "No, you're the first." I'm like, "Oh, okay. Cool." I had no idea.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, I felt like the message that was cutting across this story and why I kept coming back to it, is that yes, we do live in a divided country right now. Right? Almost any way you slice it. You've got political parties, you've got religions and cities and countries and race and gender and who you love. That is all real and that is all a lot. And yet when I was walking with you on my couch while you were walking, I kept coming back to this idea that nobody owns the air. Nobody owns the sky. Yes, some of these trails were owned, but nobody owns these trees. It belongs to all of us. And there was just something so gorgeous, especially now, about watching somebody. I thought what you were doing was just unifying because this is here for everyone.

Annmarie Kelly:
You also said something in a magazine or in an interview once that said, "You don't have to be a certain way to do a thing." The idea that anybody who wants to, can go and walk tomorrow with or without Diggins. It's there for you. I think there's a welcoming spirit that I thought was really great.

Annmarie Kelly:
I should also confess something. I have wilderness skills now, but I actually took my first job out of college, I had an English degree. It was one of those useless degrees where you can't get a job out of college. I wanted to teach but I didn't know if I could, I wanted to write, but I didn't know if anyone would read what I wanted to say. So I answered an ad, people were hiring wilderness counselors. They wanted me to hike and canoe and camp for a living. In the interview they ask you things like, "How do you feel about hiking and canoeing and camping?" Well, I had slept in a tent zero times. I had been in a camper trailer two times and never slept in it. So of course I answered, "I love those things. Those things are wonderful."

Annmarie Kelly:
I was speaking in the abstract. I was picturing S'mores. But the idea of camping was fine with me, but I had none of those skills. It turns out it didn't matter because they were willing to teach you those things. I hiked and camped for a living. Once I got through the uselessness of not being able to start a fire in the rain, I mean, you get to this place of true self-sufficiency. That you can do anything.

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm wondering, did you feel triumphant beforehand and you're just a triumphant person who does triumphant things? How do you feel about having done this thing?

Emily Ford:
I don't know, man. It feels pretty cool, I guess. I think it's finally setting in now because again, I just like backpacking. I've said it so many times to people. I just like doing this. Just like if somebody likes to knit and they make a really cool sweater, they still like knitting. I don't know how else to put it. I think I'm responding this way because I feel like there's so many internal things I haven't processed yet, that I don't know about. I'm answering skeptically, I guess. Like, "It's cool, man. That's fine."

Annmarie Kelly:
That's so interesting to hear you say that because I think when you were on the trail, what I saw again and again, was this empowerment. This like, "I can do anything. That thing broke. Oh, we'll just get another one or go without it. Oh, we are hungry. We will at the gas..." There is this can do spirit that permeates more than two months of videos, where I come away from that thinking, "We can do so much more than we think." I was just wondering what it feels like to be on the other side of that? If there's grief, if you feel like you lost this thing? I'm just wondering what it feels like to have gone through it and what you're left with afterwards.

Emily Ford:
The person you saw on the trail is the same person who lives in the real world. That's how I am all the time. I just feel like I can do anything. Again, I think that comes from my mom and my sister just encouraging me and being like, "Sure, that sounds weird but whatever." My mom encouraged me to try to dig the deepest hole in the yard. We had this sandbox. I'm like, "Mom, I'm going to dig this deep, gigantic hole and I'm going to see if I can find anything in it." I was so determined. She was like, "You do that. Yeah, you dig the deepest hole you possibly can. I'll call you when dinner's ready." I just went at it. I was like, "Mom, look at this deep hole I dug." And she's like, "I have a big hole in my yard now. That's okay."

Emily Ford:
All these people that influenced me growing up, they were just like, "Sure, that's weird but you're not hurting anybody." You have two options when you're on the trail. Actually, you have these two options outside of the trail too, but we're distracted by a lot of things out here. You can piss and moan about it or you can do something about it. Sometimes that doing something about it means taking a step back and assessing the situation. It doesn't always mean like, "Bam, bam, bam! We got to do it right now." But those are always the two options. When you're alone on the trail there's nobody else to do anything for you.

Emily Ford:
Diggins, she was worthless when it came to anything except for pulling and pulling, honestly. Her companionship was awesome, but she wasn't about to set up the tent. She wasn't going get me a new trekking pole. She wasn't going to go into Walgreens and grab me the fourth knee brace that I possibly could buy. It was just like, "I have to make it through. For some reason I feel like I have no choice and I'm really excited about that. We just got to do this." It was fun. There was so many points of excitement and joy in there. I'm like, "I just want more of that. It sounds pretty rad." But yes, this is how I am in real life all the time.

Annmarie Kelly:
When you say there were moments of excitement and joy, do you have a vista that has stuck with you or a moment?

Emily Ford:
Oh, yeah. Some of them have to do with some of the people I met, honestly. Just their kindness was like, "Ah, man." If trail magic just existed off the trail and people were nice to other people the way they were nice to me as a stranger, our world would be exhaustingly different. It would be so different you would get overwhelmed by looking at it. Just staying in some people's houses and just hearing the wind howl outside, knowing that the next morning I was going to wake up to negative 35 degrees, but I was indoors. That, to me, those moments are so nailed in my mind. Just saying goodbye, these tearful goodbyes to some of these strangers that let me stay in their house for several days and shuttled me back and forth.

Emily Ford:
There's moments like that and then there's these wicked quiet moments when it's just Diggins and myself. Hearing the wolves howl and just seeing these beautiful sunsets day after day and the silence of snow is awesome. There's just little film snips in my mind that I will probably, hopefully, never forget.

Annmarie Kelly:
I love that and I love that idea of the silence of snow. There's definitely a video where you're walking in the snow. I think it might have been on one of your zero days. I do think there's a lot to take from the trail to every day life. I've met people, I suspect you might be one of them. But I've met people who go through non-trail life and they are all about trail magic and they may never have hiked a day in their lives. You know how you meet people and they just look you in the eye a little different? Or you mention to them that you have a cold and so they show up at your house with homemade chicken noodle soup. I feel like there are people who exude trail magic and sometimes we're too busy. It's the busyness, isn't it? We got our things to do.

Annmarie Kelly:
But I think trail magic is there and one of the lessons I was taking away from your walking, was we just don't always look for it or we're not brave enough to offer it. I mean, throughout COVID I've seen people know. Hey, I know that you are immuno compromised. I'm going to the grocery store. Let me pick up some things. That is trail magic and we're doing it out of a sense of necessity now, but my hope is that we'll come out of this time and bring some trail magic with us.

Emily Ford:
I hope so too. I think you're right. I really think it is the seeing people as people especially. I know it's a very politically correct time where you always have to be very oddly politically correct and be professional with your language all the time and never make mistakes. But I think that sometimes taking the risk to help somebody else out is worth not being politically correct.

Annmarie Kelly:
I know that you slept in barns and strangers' homes, near staircases that we shouldn't trust. Were there any strange places you slept where you put a tent up next to a no camping sign? What were some of the strangest places you slept?

Emily Ford:
Night number one. I had planned on staying in a campground. All the campgrounds were closed and I should have seen that ahead of time, but I didn't. I just kept hiking and we stayed in a parking lot, tucked in the woods a little bit, behind a public bathroom. Also, my second to last night, I ended up staying next to a building in the middle of a town. I didn't realize that this building had security lights on the outside. I got in a little early and the lights weren't on yet. All the sudden, I'm cooking dinner and then like, "Poof!" The light turns on. I think I said this in one of my videos of just like, "I guess we have to sleep with our eyes closed." It was so bright, wasn't it? It was bright. Yeah, you remember.

Annmarie Kelly:
Diggins remembers.

Emily Ford:
She's like, "It was the worst. I was so tired and it was so bright."

Annmarie Kelly:
I thought that was so funny. I do remember that one. But again, when you're out in the elements, I remember camping. This is the Florida Trail, which is very flat, but it was November on the Florida Trail. Same thing, all those campgrounds and public spaces are closed. It was raining. It was raining like Florida rain. Because I guess I didn't have wilderness skills, I said, "Let's put our dry clothes on." I don't know, you seem like someone with a little bit more experience than I. What happens, for listeners at home, if it's raining and you put your dry clothes on, those clothes get wet too. Now you got two sets of wet clothes and someone in charge who shouldn't be. We came upon a state park probably, that was definitely closed. But our trail came through it and the bathrooms were open. It was raining and we slept in those bathrooms like they were a gift from the heavens. I curled up next to that urinal like it was my baby. It was wonderful. We took off all these wet clothes and hung them over.

Annmarie Kelly:
It's just amazing when you're out there, you make it work. I would never have thought of a public bathroom anywhere as a gift, but it was.

Emily Ford:
Dude, you got to get out a little bit more. Anytime I see a public bathroom I'm like, "Yes!"

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, not to sleep in.

Emily Ford:
Whatever. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Annmarie Kelly:
Absolutely.

Emily Ford:
Whatever.

Annmarie Kelly:
Absolutely. What creature comfort are you so glad to be back to and what's a camping comfort you miss?

Emily Ford:
Well, I really love not waking up to a frozen bed and frozen boots. The luxury of dry is nice and not frozen. I woke up many mornings and it was snowing on top of us because our breath made condensation and then it froze to the top of the tent. We would have our own weather system. The Diggins, Emily weather system coming to you live every morning on that trail, I tell you. It's either raining or snowing in our tent.

Emily Ford:
Something I miss conversely, oddly enough, is it is so amazing how much your roof blocks out the sunlight. I miss being in the sun all the time, even on a cloudy day. It really makes an impact, it makes a huge difference. The roof really blocks out the sun. Really, it's amazing. No rays of light get through. Even when you're in a tent, the sun can still come through. But in a house, doesn't.

Annmarie Kelly:
Is that totally true. I worked at that wilderness camp for two years and I remember I was the healthiest I've ever been. Maybe got a cold one time and some mosquito bites. The first few months that I wasn't working at that camp, yes, I was tired and yes, it was nice to sleep in a bed, but I remember getting sick all the time. And being freezing in air conditioning. Air conditioning in the summer made me crazy because I had gotten adjusted to being outside. Then I'm wearing a coat on an 80 degree day because the air conditioning is just so cold. There's something glorious about waking with the sun and feeling it on your face.

Emily Ford:
And the winter sun is such a different type versus our summer sun. The sun up here in the winter, it doesn't really go over. It really just goes across and so to feel the sun in the winter, it just feels so good because it's so rare. Any time the sun would come out, I'd just roll up my sleeves and take off my face mask and just try to soak it in as much as possible. I really got used to that. Since I was hiking into Spring, the sun hung around a lot more and I would get really excited about seeing our shadows. I would be like, "Diggins, I can see our shadows. That means the sun is out." The shadow would be the first indicator because I was so bundled up, I couldn't really feel the sun. So we'd get really excited about that.

Annmarie Kelly:
Did you run out of anything? I can't remember from the videos. Did you run out of anything that you planned for 18 days and I've eaten all the food at day 14.

Emily Ford:
No. Because I have done that multiple times before on trips, I really wanted to make sure. The way I did my food systems and everything like that, is I had nine people sign up to do different box drops for me along the way. Not a lot of post offices close to the trail so you either have to hitch hike into a town, which hitch hiking's really hard in the Midwest, or have somebody come and meet you. So I made sure that in every box I put a little bit of extra just in case anything would happen like that.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's smart. Yes, I definitely made some choices to jump in cars with hitch hikers when we ran out of things.

Emily Ford:
Whatever.

Annmarie Kelly:
It's frowned upon, I think, in the real world. But again, back to trail magic. It just always worked out fine.

Emily Ford:
Still seriously frown upon hitch hiking, I'm going to be honest. But that's just a personal feeling. Just be smart. This is the thing, just trust your gut. Trust your gut about people and if you can't trust your gut, find a dog and the dog will tell you all about that person. Honestly, if you feel goofy about somebody in any sort of way, just get out of there. If you feel decent enough, probably most of the times your right unless they're a psychopath and they can just hide all of their feelings. That's totally different.

Annmarie Kelly:
It turns out there are way fewer of those than television movies would lead us to believe. Most folks are good at heart and I really do believe that. Okay, because I don't get to talk to you forever, I have to wrap. I always do ice breakers at the end because I think ice breakers at the beginning are a little creepy because we don't know each other yet. But at the end you'll answer. I have just some multiple choice questions and you just select either this or that. A quick multiple choice for you. Dogs or cats?

Emily Ford:
Dogs.

Annmarie Kelly:
Coffee or tea?

Emily Ford:
Decaf of either.

Annmarie Kelly:
Mountains or beach?

Emily Ford:
Beach.

Annmarie Kelly:
Really? Is that where the next hike will be? Will you do a beach hike? Is there a beach trail anywhere?

Emily Ford:
There's a small section of the Superior Hiking Trail that goes on the lake here. It's the hardest part of the entire trip.

Annmarie Kelly:
Really?

Emily Ford:
Yes.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wow!

Emily Ford:
Those rocks are not friendly for hiking.

Annmarie Kelly:
No. Well, I've watched the eco challenge. I do most of my hiking from the couch. So when I've watched the eco challenge and things like that, whenever they're climbing over boulders where it's just uneven terrain, it's just killer. It's so hard. All right, back to either ors. Cake or pie?

Emily Ford:
Pie.

Annmarie Kelly:
Skittles or peanut butter pretzel bites?

Emily Ford:
Skittles.

Annmarie Kelly:
Early bird or night owl?

Emily Ford:
Mornings.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you a risk taker or the person who always knows where the bandaids are?

Emily Ford:
Risk taker.

Annmarie Kelly:
Did you bring bandaids with you?

Emily Ford:
Totally. We both had our own first aid kits.

Annmarie Kelly:
I saw Diggins' first aid kit, I do remember that, I think. Okay, now we're to the short answer part of the quiz. Who was one of your best teachers?

Emily Ford:
I can't choose one. My life has really been rounded out by a bunch of different people. Both my grandparents, they both taught me really rad skills and a lot of things I still carry till today. My grandpa taught me how to do woodworking, how to build, how to be thoughtful and methodical. He's an engineer. Then my grandma, she taught me how to quilt and how to mend my clothes and how to bake. There's a lot of just maybe skills that people think are maybe Amish that my grandparents taught me. I really am appreciative.

Annmarie Kelly:
When you get to a problem like in a puzzle, how do you solve it?

Emily Ford:
Research, look it up. Phone a friend. I love to live by mentors versus looking things up. But if I don't have somebody, look it up. We live in a really cool world where information is infinite and infinitely at your fingertips.

Annmarie Kelly:
What's one of your go to songs? Doesn't have to be your favorite song, a song that fluffs you up. What's a go to song?

Emily Ford:
Right now, man. A band that I'm listening to right now, is called Pamplemousse. They're super awesome. I don't even know how to describe their music. But they have French songs, they have English songs, they do covers, they do a lot of mash ups. They're just something you can work to. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I don't know. On the trail I had Britney's, Stronger stuck in my head and I just changed the lyrics. Instead of saying, "Now I'm stronger than I was yesterday," I just said, "Now I'm smaller than I was yesterday," because I just kept losing so much weight. I just kept singing that over and over to Diggins to the high heavens.

Annmarie Kelly:
What's a book you love?

Emily Ford:
A recent one that I also read on the trail, is called, A Wolf's Trail. It's an Ojibwe story told by wolves and it was just really impactful because it talked about the story of how Ojibwe people became how they were and then how they become how they are. But it was from the wolves' perspective because the wolves have been their companions for so long.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, my gosh. That sounds great.

Emily Ford:
Yeah, it made me cry a lot because it was Diggins' and my story, just I'm not Ojibwe.

Annmarie Kelly:
What's the title again?

Emily Ford:
A Wolf's Trail.

Annmarie Kelly:
All right, we'll be sure to put that on the show notes. That's so great. What's your favorite ice cream?

Emily Ford:
An ice cream that you can buy and get at any store is Talenti. It's the one with clear [crosstalk 00:39:42].

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, I'm very familiar.

Emily Ford:
Oh, yeah. I mean, this is the right one. Oh, yeah. Of course, it's the right one. I eat so much ice cream. Caramel Cookie Crunch is so good. But in town, in Duluth, we have a place called Love Creamery and it's handcrafted ice cream. There's some of their flavors are just stupid good. They had one called Tin Roof and it was chocolate and peanuts. It was perfect. I don't if there was caramel in there or not, but it was fantastic.

Annmarie Kelly:
And the last one. If we were to take a picture of you doing something you love, just really happy, what would we see you doing?

Emily Ford:
Two scenarios come to mind. Either playing in the dirt at work, I love that playing in the dirt is my job. My hands are so dirty right now and I love that. Or, being at the beach with my partner. We love going to the beach. Especially up here because we live on Lake Superior so the beach time on Lake Superior is pretty short. But there's other small lakes around we can hang out on and we're pretty blissfully happy when we go hang out at the beach together.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, I love that. Emily Ford, thank you. I'm going to do this closing, but that phrase blissfully happy is going to just be my wish for you and for anybody who's listening. I'm thankful that you were able to spend time with us today and everybody who's listening. I'm left with this idea that we are stronger than we realize. We are more capable than we realize. We are less alone than we think. If we keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep walking around the bend, keep looking for that journey you never knew you needed to take, but that's been looking for you all your days.

Annmarie Kelly:
My guest today has been Emily Ford, who is amazing. You can follow her videos on Instagram. I'll put the link in our page notes. And to Emily, I'm wishing you blissful happiness and love and light wherever the day takes you. Everyone, until next time, be good to yourself, be good to one another and we will see each other again on this wild precious journey.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers Gerardo Orlando and Micheal DeAloia, producer Sarah Willgrube and audio engineer, Eric Koltnow. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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