In June 2019, hiker Rue McKenrick left his home in Bend, Oregon, and headed into the Three Sisters Wilderness to then walk south along the Pacific Crest Trail. When he hit the end of the Sierras, he turned east, walking across the Mojave Desert in California through Death Valley. He’s kept walking and, in the last year, has averaged 20 to 30 miles a day, notching more than 8,000 miles total. But McKenrick isn’t on a casual cross-country hike: He’s scouting and mapping the American Perimeter Trail, informally considered the newest and longest hiking route in the country. Conveniently, he also created it.
McKenrick told Fox 17 he got the idea for the trail a decade ago, after through-hiking the “Triple Crown” of the Appalachian (2,190 miles), Pacific Crest (2,650 miles), and Continental Divide (3,100 miles) Trails. When he couldn’t find any other similar long trails to hike, he sketched out one that connected the Pacific Crest Trail to the Appalachian Trail via the states in between, and the 12,000-mile American Perimeter Trail was born.
Roughly drawn out, the trail circumnavigates the perimeter of the continental United States, but McKenrick told Fox he’s walking both new and existing trails, including parts of the North Country Trail, which runs 4,600 miles from North Dakota to New York; he’s also walking completely undefined areas, where a map, compass, and GPS are required. Dubbing himself a “professional backpacker” who is supported by gear sponsors and “trail angels,” McKenrick is currently in western Michigan and plans to head home by walking west along the U.S.-Canadian border. He hopes to arrive sometime in October.
In the wake of the COVID pandemic, McKenrick has had to alter some of his plans: Instead of resupplying in towns, he has begun to live off of resupply boxes, which are sent to preplanned post offices. He also follows lesser-known trails and maintains social distancing while hiking, according to his blog. (Currently, his Facebook page and blog are managed by volunteer coordinator Leilah Grace.)
On the Out and Back podcast presented by Gaia GPS, McKenrick said this scouting trip was the first step in what is to be the long process of officially formalizing the trail, which he plans to do once he’s back in Oregon and has created a corresponding nonprofit. (Organizing and generating enough official support for the trail, as the history of the Appalachian Trail shows, can take decades.)
“The goal [of the APT] is to create a protected corridor of land and natural resources that will be available for recreational use,” he told host Andrew “Shanty” Baldwin, adding that another aim is to raise awareness of conservation through recreation. “Even if you don’t care about conservation, maybe you care about hiking.”