Burning Daylight on the Wissahickon Trails with Nathan Baird
By Claire Brennan
According to Nathan Baird, a frequent park visitor and FOW Crew Leader, the All Trails Challenge is a series of “unintentional benefits.”
Friends of the Wissahickon designed the ATC to implore park visitors to relish in every last inch of the park. While nobody pays rent to spend time standing in the hallway, sometimes basking in the light of a southern-facing entryway is just as enjoyable as laying out on the couch in the living room.
Forbidden Drive is the heart of our park for many users, and its familiarity, ease, and accessibility keep visitors from opting for the likes of the lesser-used Lavender Trail and the other hallways of the Wissahickon.
Nathan began a quest to conquer all the park trails and found to know the park wholly was a gift that kept on giving. His tendency to attempt to cover as much park ground as possible in an afternoon has transformed into an extremely strategic plan to push the limits of what he thought possible. To hike all 50+ miles of trail in just one day.
“The All Trails Challenge is a great personal goal, and fundraising for FOW is a great opportunity to contribute to the park,” Nathan said of the founding mission of ATC.
“I would call these the unintentional benefits of the challenge: comradery when walking with someone, the peacefulness of walking alone, and physical exertion when working up a sweat. I don’t come out here to exercise. I don’t consider doing ATC to just be about walking all the trails. It’s about the peace that I feel and the comradery,” said Nathan.
Ironically, Nathan hasn’t officially joined ATC until this year. His attempts to trace the trail system, what he refers to as his 20 miler, 30 miler, and his 40 miler, have gone from impromptu walks to pilgrimages that are forged in a Google Doc. Every last detail has been accounted for. They’ve also been in the Spring and early Summer before ATC officially starts.
“Over the Spring, I started to [approach my hikes] very intentionally,” said Nathan. “Normally, I would just come here and wander. I would drive here and say, ‘I don’t know where I’m going to go today. Wherever I park, that’s where I’ll walk.’”
“If I haven’t walked a section in a long time, I don’t remember what it’s like. If I’m really going to try these 50 miles, I really want to be familiar with the park. So, I did 30 miles in March in one day. I found out I need to take way more water and food with me.”
For his April and June attempts, on his Google Doc he slated room in his bag for Cliff Bars, Jelly Bean Extreme Sports (a poppable glucose, caffeine, and salt tablet), oyster crackers, raisins, sunflower seeds, and salt tablets. He admittedly feels as though he overplanned.
Since his first attempt in March, he now takes into account hours of daylight, the forecast, and his work schedule. He found that based on these variables, Father’s Day was the opportune day to attempt the big 5-0. Just days before the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, with moderate weather, on a day dedicated to him and however he’d like to spend it as a father of three. His family took part in his extreme father’s day journey by meeting him with snacks and water throughout the day.
Nathan hiked 41.3 miles in those 16 hours of daylight.
“I could tell by about mile 34 that I wasn’t going to make it to 50,” Nathan said. “The kitschy way to say it is the Wissahickon is my happy place. I feel de-stressed, relieved, I feel like I can breathe, I feel alive when I’m walking the trails.”
“That night when I finished, yeah, I was a little disappointed, but I wasn’t stubborn [about not finishing the 50]. But the next day, I was reflecting on it, and I realized that I’d learned a lot in the Wissahickon on the trails. What it reminded me is that we don’t walk this life alone figuratively. And we don’t have to walk this life alone, literally.”
Even though the sun has set on his closest 50 miler attempt, there is a promise of another solstice that Nathan plans to take advantage of next year.
The next time around, Nathan plans to share the journey with friends, family, and other hikers, for all 50 miles or in shifts.
Until then, Nathan has his first ATC journey ahead of him! This longtime runner turned wanderer, is geared up for the challenge. He’s invested in a backpack with a bladder to stay hydrated on long hikes and walking poles for balance and speed.
Nathan isn’t planning on speed-running the ATC but enjoying the surprise encounter of a small pine grove and the other unintentional benefits of being immersed in the beauty of the Wissahickon.
Want to learn more about the ATC Challenge? Register here for our virtual warm-up event on Tuesday, 8/8.