Heather Houskeeper, 32, is looking to become the first person to ever hike New York’s Finger Lakes Trail and all of its branches in one fell swoop.
The trek is a grueling 860 miles that will take her over two months, and in the process, she’s hoping to bring hiking back to its roots — more specifically, its edible roots.
“My main reason for doing this hike is to research the edible and medicinal plants that are out here,” Houskeeper, who is known online as The Botanical Hiker, told GrindTV. “I mean I’ve always wanted to do the Finger Lakes Trail, so that just kind of gave me an excuse to do it.”
Houskeeper is so focused on her mission that the fact that she’ll be the first person to hike all of the Finger Lakes trails doesn’t even faze her.
“Eh, I don’t really care about being the first person to do it all at once,” Houskeeper said during a brief rest roughly six weeks into her hike. “Other people have done it in parts, so it’s not a huge deal to me. I’ve always been big into long-distance hiking, and the initial plan was to just do the main trail, which is 560 miles, but that didn’t seem long enough to me. So I decided to make it a bit longer.”
Rather, Houskeeper said, she’s more interested in helping people reconnect with nature.
“I noticed a disparity before between the hiker and naturalist a few years ago,” said Houskeeper. “Hikers on the whole tend to be more interested in the physical pursuit in reaching the goal than they are in the natural world, and I used to be the same way, so I wanted to change that.”
As a result Houskeeper, who grew up working on farms and living in rural areas, developed a deep interest in rare edible plants.
“I knew when I was hiking that I was walking past a whole host of plants I could be using and eating — incredibly nutritious and healthy plants — but I wasn’t doing it,” said Houskeeper.
Houskeeper has twice hiked the Appalachian Trail and in 2011 hiked more than 1,000 miles to complete North Carolina’s Mountain-to-Sea Trail. During her 2011 trek, she decided to research, log and write about edible plants she found during her hike in her first book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail.
She regularly updates her blog The Botanical Hiker and keeps up with her Facebook following to not only spread her love of naturalism, but also the amazing acts of the kindness she’s experienced from strangers along the way.
“The other day, when I arrived in Ithaca I was greeted by two men who were part of a local trail club,” Houskeeper said. “They brought me a vegetarian meal and a six-pack of beers. Later on in my trip, I met one of the men again further down the road and he gave me a new pair of shoes to hike in. It was amazing.”
According to Houskeeper, these interactions are what she’ll take away from the trail as much as anything else.
“You know when I first began long-distance hiking, I didn't know how much I could trust people,” Houskeeper said. “I was weary. I grew up in civilization hearing horrible things in the news. I wouldn't have welcomed a stranger in my home before my hiking journeys. But experiencing people's kindness through hiking has redeemed my faith in humanity.”
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