A Unique Take on the All Trails Challenge
We know hiking, riding, or running all 50 miles of trails in the Wissahickon can be a little daunting and sometimes you don’t know where to begin. FOW Trail Ambassador Matthew Kokoszka completed the All Trails Challenge (ATC) in 2018 in a very unique way – every time he visited the Wissahickon for the ATC he traveled by public transit. Read all about his experience and get ready because the 2019 All Trails Challenge opens for everyone this Monday, 5/27! We hope you’ll spend your summer exploring every corner of the Wissahickon while helping raise funds for its continued preservation.
Tell me a little about yourself. What are some of your interests and hobbies?
I work in a tall building in center city. I’m also a singer/songwriter. I love travel, hiking, seeing live music, spending time with friends and family, and napping when I can. I’m a nature lover. A baby rock climber. I’ve been re-learning how important and elemental it is for me to be outside. And I’m a new Trail Ambassador for FOW!
How did you first come to know the Wissahickon Valley Park?
I moved back to the Philadelphia area about 13 years ago and lived the majority of that time in South Philly. I was introduced to the park by friends, but I was only aware of the southernmost parts for a long time. Then others introduced me to other areas, but I never really understood how expansive and special it was until I did the ATC.
How did you get involved with the FOW’s All Trails Challenge?
I guess over the years I ended up on the FOW mailing list, or started following on Facebook, and the year it launched I was really interested in participating. For the first two years, I reached out to friends to see if they’d be interested in joining me, but it never took off. Last year it was still calling to me and I decided to do it on my own, and it was an awesome choice.
You have a unique experience having done the ATC completely by public transit. What surprised you most about having completed the challenge this way?
When I started thinking about how I could do it, I only had a few touch points in my mind of ways to access the park, but there are so many. So I started plotting. Google maps has the majority of the trails, so that was really helpful. So is the cool pocket map you get for becoming an FOW member.
I live in North Philadelphia and work in Center City, and there are so many options to different trailheads via regional rail and the bus system. I didn’t really know where to start, and it felt pretty daunting at first, to be honest. But once I got started and more comfortable, it became part of the fun of the challenge.
Do you have advice for folks who are thinking of taking the challenge and more specifically for those who are interested in doing it by public transit?
As a first timer, I decided to hike all of the main trails first. From tip to tail. And fill in the blanks later. In retrospect, I would probably recommend maybe taking the park in loops, starting and ending at the same point, if that’s an option you have, and take advantage of how many beautiful trajectories there are. Even after doing 52 miles during the challenge, I’ve since learned there’s much I missed. There are great resources on the FOW site and guided hikes throughout the challenge as well to help you along.
Having done all 50 miles of trail which section was your favorite?
There’s so much to love. I remember loving the Cresheim Trails because I was the only one around at the time. It’s a really interesting and beautiful area and I felt like I was discovering it. I love the diversity of the Orange Trail, and the incredible rock formations, and that it winds along the creek. I also had an incredible experience exploring the Andorra Trails.
Was this a fulfilling experience? Were there any moments that stood out to you as special, challenging, or funny?
It was definitely fulfilling. And very meaningful to me. It started as a personal challenge and ended up reminding me how I’d like to move about in the world, and how I can hope to give back.
Not sure if this is funny, or just a hot tip: Doing the challenge solo, it was a mostly meditative experience, but on long hiking days, for the last mile or so it didn’t hurt visualizing the beer and burger I would treat myself with at the end. That happened more than once.
Now that you have completed ATC what is your hiking/fundraising strategy going to be this time around?
I just signed up to do it again! I was thinking of opting out this year and focusing on finding my footing as a new TA, but there’s no reason I can’t do both.
Do you feel like you learned anything about the Wissahickon Valley Park and/or Friends of the Wissahickon?
Absolutely. FOW definitely makes you feel welcome. From the meet ups throughout the challenge to the ATC Facebook group. Even doing the Challenge alone I felt really supported and lifted up by the community. I met so many amazing people and learned so much about what the organization does and stands for, and was so inspired to get more involved. And then I was recruited to become a trail ambassador, which has already been an awesome gift, and new adventure.
What was it like to complete the last mile of the challenge?
I felt really proud, and accomplished, and equal parts tired/energized. I was kind of sad it was over. I’m really excited to do it all again this year!