Whole LOTA Love

Crushing The Ice Age: How Ralph Loberger Conquered Wisconsin’s 1,170-Mile Ice Age Trail One Saturday At A Time

Although we can dream about it, hardly any of us can afford the time or spare the expense of a cross-country bicycle ride, a sail around the world or a 1,000-mile hike. We dream and fantasize, but the sheer magnitude of such a feat starts to put us off and back into our daily lives. Maybe one day, we think. One day…

But there are other ways to attain a goal that at first appears to be overwhelming or unachievable. Just ask Ralph Loberger. Our VP of Business Development recently conquered Wisconsin’s 1,000-mile-plus Ice Age National Scenic trail which meanders throughout the state and along glacial moraines from the last Ice Age. Ralph’s jaw-dropping accomplishment was just certified by the Ice Age Trail Authority; he’s only the 204th hiker to earn its Thousand-Miler patch.

The Winding Way to a Goal

How’d he do it? When Ralph set out on Saturday hikes along portions of the trail close to his home in Oconto, he had no idea that he would end up traversing its entire length. “When I started out, it was strictly to get a sense of what the trail was like,” he says. “It’s not like I saw the Ice Age trail online and thought, ‘Wow, there are people who have hiked the whole thing. I need to do that.” His weekend hikes quickly grew in number and turned into a passion and genuine love for the trail. It wasn’t until he had logged between 600 and 700 miles of the back country stretches that Ralph realized if he went back and completed the road portions of the trail that he had initially skipped, he could conquer the entire Ice Age Trail. From September 5, 2015 when he started out at the eastern terminus of the trail to September 5, 2019 when he completed a backtracked stretch of road walk, Ralph logged 121 hikes and 1,170 miles of often hilly, wet, yet always glorious Wisconsin wilderness and countryside.

Ralph says the logistics of setting up each weekend hike and the discipline and focus required to do it again and again were the hard part. That, along with some fast learning about wearing a head net when the deerflies were out and keeping his socks tucked in his pants to ward off ticks.

“I like when the trails aren’t built for everybody else,” Ralph says, “and by that, I mean bridges that cross every little creek and stream. I like to ford those things. Just bring the trail to the river and let me figure out how to get across,” he says. “I love that stuff”.

Not Your Typical Relaxing Saturday

A typical weekend for Ralph looked like this: he’d get up at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning so he could drive to a segment of the trail for a sunrise start. Later, when the sections of untraversed trail were more than a couple hours away from home, he would leave Friday evenings and spend the night in his kitted-out Ford Excursion. A trail section was an average of 10 very hilly miles, but that was only half of it, since he had to get back to his car. For the times he didn’t just hike back, he would first drive to the end of the trail, tuck his hiking gear into the brush and drive back to the beginning of the trail. From there, he would hop on a mountain bike, ride the trail, change into the gear he had hidden and knock the hike out by heading back to his car. “I learned I was a better hiker when I’m tired than I am a biker when I’m tired,” Ralph says. He’d fetch his bike on the drive home.

People ask Ralph how he could he consistently stick to his schedule of getting up so early and putting himself through such a rigorous routine for 121 Saturdays. “I tell them that that’s exactly what I wanted to be doing”, Ralph says. “I enjoyed it so much that the trail grew on me and I fell in love with it. As long as you’re following your passion and doing what you truly want to be doing, then it’s not hard to get up every Saturday and do it.”

By the Numbers

You want numbers? Ralph’s trek produced some eye-popping ones:

40,563—total miles driven to get to and from each hike, including setting up bike shuttles
2,212—total miles hiked and biked, including backtracking
2,149—total comparison miles of the distance between his home and Online Trading Academy’s Irvine Center

Ralph accomplished a staggering achievement, especially considering he almost lost his leg as a result of a serious hiking accident in 2003 and still suffers pain and loss of range motion in his left knee. “I think the most important thing in accomplishing something like this is making sure that it falls within your passion and the things you want to be doing,” Ralph says.

Ralph figured out what it takes to achieve a goal that at first seems overwhelming, unachievable or even unforeseeable. “If we sit back and truly try to figure out where our passions really lie and where we’d like to be down the road, I think there’s a risk sometimes that those goals might appear to be unachievable if you look at them as a single step from where you are to where you’d like to be.” he says. “But that un-achievability goes away very quickly when you lay a map down, set a course and determine a strategy. You can turn that huge leap into a whole bunch of smaller steps that are absolutely do-able and achieve what Mike Richardson likes to call a BHAG.”

Since passion is never in short supply at OTA, Ralph’s wise words and trail technique can be applied to just about any challenge or problem that at first look seems impossible.

“It’s all about planning appropriately, parceling out the needed work into levels you know you can manage and just keep doing it and doing it—which is not difficult since you should love to be doing it anyway—and all of a sudden you’ll realize, ‘Holy cow! I’ve just accomplished my goal. I’m at the other end of the trail!’”

On the Trail Again

As for Ralph, his sights are now set on the North Country Trail. At 4,600 miles, it’s the longest National Scenic Trail in the country, stretching from eastern New York to central North Dakota. The challenge for Ralph is that much of the trail is more than just a morning’s drive from his home, and the wilderness it encompasses prevents the kind of hiking technique he diligently followed to melt The Ice Age Trail. But he’s already brainstorming how to parcel up the miles so he can get started hiking the sections.

“Well, not the whole trail,” he says, a statement you could almost count on Ralph to backtrack on. “The operational planning is going to be really, really challenging and I’m still trying to crack the code on how I can do that.”

As for that code, Ralph’s hiking boots are just the thing to crack it.

You can follow along and relive much of Ralph’s Ice Age Trail adventure via his blog. Visit the site for a hike-by-hike synopses and hundreds of beautiful, inspiring photos.