BEND, Ore. — If you've never heard about the American Perimeter Trail, that's because it is not yet built. But it is the dream of a man from Bend to create the 14,000-mile trail for hikers and backpackers. And he's already gone to amazing lengths to get it started.
With a film crew following his finish, Rue McKenrick returned to Bend on Oct. 8 from a multi-stage, 14,000-mile journey.
"I left my home in Bend, Oregon with used gear and $400 dollars in my pocket, and a dream: the route, the American Perimeter Trail," said McKenrick as he came into town.
The experienced backpacker spent more than two years scouting a 14,000 mile trail he wants to establish. He hiked the entire thing.
McKenrick is a "triple-crown hiker," having hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail as a young man. Now at 42, the pro backpacker can add the "API."
"I don't know if I’m trying to build a resume, but I am certainly building experience," McKenrick joked.
Not long after his return home, KGW spoke to McKenrick about the experience of circumnavigating the United States on foot, sometimes on existing trails but often not.
"I was on trail, off trail, in the middle of nowhere, on road, walking down a stream, walking up a stream, all over the place," McKenrick said.
This was all in an effort to set the path for the American Perimeter Trail.
McKenrick said he is a conservationist first and professional backpacker second. For him, it's about connecting communities and caring for our environment.
"When people are engaged with wilderness areas or even wildland areas for recreation, they also tend to take care of it and to try to protect it," he said. "It brings value into their life."
The American Perimeter Trail would create a huge conservation corridor through at least 25 states. It will rely on some existing trails but thousands of miles of trail will need to be built.
Fortunately, McKenrick is not alone in the effort. Since he hit the trail in July 2019, he's been able to establish a nonprofit organization, the American Perimeter Trail Conference, with a board of directors, and people from around the country and the world becoming members, to help.
"I think that if you have a dream and if you take a large risk and you put your heart out there in a vulnerable position, that people will relate to that, and they want to see you succeed," he said.
That's exactly what McKenrick did for 14,000 miles, through thick and thin. He had some help and made connections along the way but was alone most often. There were many roadblocks and restarts during a pandemic. His physical and mental health were challenged more than ever.
McKenrick is now back in Bend, with the work ahead of making the American Perimeter Trail a reality. It will take years, maybe decades, to fully complete. McKenrick said he's all in.
"This is my life's work," he said. "I don't know how long I'm going to be on this planet but as long as I'm here I'm going to be plugging away at this."
McKenrick said there will be adjustments to the route before it's done, but the current route will be available on hiking apps soon. Click here if you want to learn more and get involved with the American Perimeter Trail.
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