Trailbound for 339 days
Unofficially, it’s called the Eastern Continental Trail. A Google search will show websites with information on the trail, but not one that is specifically dedicated to the trail system.
The system is a combination of North American long-distance hiking trails that meander 5,400 miles through North America, from Key West, Fla., along the coast, to Belle Isle in Labrador, Canada.
Laporte Township resident Warren Renninger – whose trail name is Lakeland Nidhatak – tackled the trail, taking almost a year to complete it.
He hiked 339 days, beginning Nov. 7, 2011, in Florida and finishing on Oct. 10, 2012, in Canada.
“When I returned to Pennsylvania, because I was early and my house was rented out, I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania for a few weeks, then went to Sullivan County for a weekend, then began the Loyalsock Trail,” he said. “At the end of the trail on Route 220, I walked the final seven miles to my house. From the start to this point, I was away from home 372 days.”
The trip gave Renninger a variety of memorable experiences. He walked through the Everglades, mostly in water, in Native American villages in Florida, and slept with the homeless in the Keys.
He surfed with Montoursville native Colin Boyles in Pensacola and enjoyed fine Southern hospitality when welcomed into homes in Alabama.
“One even surprised me with a birthday cake,” Renninger said.
On Prince Edward Island, he was interviewed by a newspaper reporter.
“I did not know it was in the paper the next morning as I boarded a ferry to Nova Scotia. I was treated like a celebrity for two hours, as I was recognized by the crew and passengers. I was given free passage and free food on the boat,” he said.
In Newfoundland, he found very friendly people. A lighthouse keeper gave him a ride from St. Anthony to the lighthouse. He was fed and then the man helped him find a motel to stay in for the night.
“The next day I dreaded the 200-mile hitch to the airport and changing my ticket to a different city and date. I thought it would take days, or even a week,” Renninger said. “But due to the kindness of many people that day, I arrived at the Harrisburg airport here in Pennsylvania just 25 1/2 hours after beginning the hitch from St. Anthony, Newfoundland.”
Other highlights were hiking the beautiful Appalachian Trail to Maine, as well as exploring a new country – Canada.
“(There were) lots of road walks (and) a whole different culture in French Quebec,” he said.
Through all the wonder, the wildlife and the kindness of others, Renninger did have his hardships.
At one point, he was lost in the Lewis Hills of Newfoundland and was running out of food.
“Two days later, (I was) getting lost and running out of food again. (I was) scraping and rescraping an empty peanut butter jar because I was out of food,” he said. “The first time, I walked two miles in a lake to a roadless hunting camp. The second time, (I) flagged down an ATV (and the driver) took me to his house and fed me. On the way to his house, he slammed on the brakes, pulled the gun off his shoulders, then shot a grouse. He held it up and threw it on the ATV. Made me a bit nervous.”
Renninger traveled light. He said he learned “to use less, and the lightest is the best.”
His gear included a Mountainsmith Maverick backpack, which now has 13,000 miles on it; a Marmot Helium 15-degree sleeping bag; a MSR Hubba tent (a European model); an alcohol stove; headlamp; spork utensil; and clothes, just two shirts, a pair of running shorts and hiking shorts, five pairs of socks, a fleece vest, fleece jacket, rain top and bottom, and two pairs of shoes.
“Most items (were) purchased from Lyon Camping and Supply in Montoursville,” he said.
The weather changed from sunny days, cool, warm and hot. He even experienced a hurricane, but one thing he didn’t come across was snow.
‘At peace with it’
Renninger already has had the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail (CDT) under his boots. He has hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) twice.
In 2007, he lost his job and decided to hike the AT the following year. Renninger tackled the Pacific Crest in 2009 and the Continental Divide in 2010. The three trails are known as the “Triple Crown” of hiking.
His penchant for long-distance hiking started in high school.
“Another student in English class gave a talk about the Loyalsock Trail and then I hiked it that summer,” he said.
That was only 59 miles, but Renninger calls it his first learning hike. He said he was very ill-prepared for it.
In 1998, Renninger first hiked the AT.
“After that, people kept asking if I was going to do the CDT and I said no – not interested in grizzly bears, bushwhacking and using a compass,” Renninger said. “But one day in December 2009, in the snow as I was carrying cut wood up to my house, I realized I have to do it. I was at peace with it.”
Hiking that many miles is a huge accomplishment, but Renninger doesn’t like to boast. He doesn’t consider himself a seasoned hiker.
“People from around the country now are asking me questions as they prepare their various hikes. I do like that. I feel I accomplished something by giving back, by helping others,” Renninger said. “(I’ve) answered questions for someone doing the AT, someone doing the Eastern Continental Trail, and someone doing the Florida Trail. I feel honored to help them.”
Recollections from his hikes can be found online at www.trailjournals.com/lakeland.
Next on the map
Renninger now is plotting his next move.
He’s thinking about hiking from the “Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, via trails and rivers, particularly following parts of Lewis and Clark’s journey.”
He’ll likely use parts of the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide and Appalachian trails.
He wants to do that in 2014 and is counting the days until then.
“I like the solitude. I like the adventure,” Renninger said, and “I love having a goal.”