Bonding and Healing on the North Country National Scenic Trail

Trails not only bring families and friends together, they often give people the opportunity to prove to themselves and others they are capable of more than anyone thought. Experiences shared on the Trail transcend words, and for those who aren’t able to communicate with words, these shared experiences create special bonds.

Laurie Kass’ 27-year-old daughter, Andrea, has autism. Andrea is non-verbal and is unable to read or write. But Andrea loves to hike, especially through the woods. Hiking has become an activity that has bonded this mother and daughter together in a way that goes beyond words.

 Laurie and Andrea Kass at the finish of their Hike 100 Challenge in 2016

Laurie and Andrea Kass at the finish of their Hike 100 Challenge in 2016

Laurie says Andrea has great trail sense and knows how to read the blazes. In 2016, Laurie and Andrea accepted the North Country Trail Association’s Hike 100 Challenge to hike 100 miles on the North Country Trail to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial Anniversary.

Laurie told the NCTA, “We loved doing the Hike 100 Challenge together, as it was something we both enjoy and it gave both of us a great sense of working toward and accomplishing a goal. I planned it so our final miles were near Grand Marais, Michigan. We made a weekend outing out of it and completed our 100th mile at the ‘Log Slide’” (within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore).

When the NCTA repeated the Hike 100 Challenge in 2017, Laurie and Andrea decided to complete the Challenge together again. Laurie commented on the growth and progress Andrea has made over the past year of hiking during the challenge:

 Laurie and Andrea Kass finish their Hike 100 Challenge in 2017

Laurie and Andrea Kass finish their Hike 100 Challenge in 2017

“Hiking is one thing that we can really make a connection doing together. She has made great strides on the Trail this year in distance, endurance, adventure and initiative. Plus she has even been able to share her enthusiasm for the Trail with others. She doesn't read, write, or speak, but she enjoyed sharing her NCT book with Grandma and also took friends on the trail who had never been!”

Hiking has also bound Janeen Wardie to her son now that words are no longer available. In September, 2015, Janeen lost her son to suicide. Throughout 2016, Janeen completed the NCTA’s Hike 100 Challenge as a means to grieve and begin to heal.

 Janeen Wardie in the Jordan River Valley in 2016

Janeen Wardie in the Jordan River Valley in 2016

The first place Janeen hiked after her son’s death was in the Jordan River Valley in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. Janeen said, “On that hike a beautiful ray of light came through the trees and surrounded me while I was kneeling next to the river. My trail-sister was with me and experienced this special moment also. I believe that ray of light was my son telling me he was okay now. That spot will always be special to me!” Janeen also began seeing hearts all around her on the Trail, seeing them as reminders that she is loved and not alone.

“Hiking has become very therapeutic for me and it is where I feel my son closest to me. He walked beside me every mile of this challenge!”

In 2017, Janeen continued to hike and heal. She completed the Hike 100 Challenge again, this time ending at the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan.

“I wanted to end my Challenge at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge because of the symbolism of it bridging the gap between our 2 beautiful peninsulas. Love is the bridge between my heart and my son's heart…My Hike 100 Challenge has been 100 miles of healing! Nature Therapy along the NCT has been and continues to be an incredible blessing to me!”

 Janeen Wardie at the Mackinac Bridge in 2017

Janeen Wardie at the Mackinac Bridge in 2017