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Nampa man hikes 1,100 miles: 'I was looking to do something big'

Published On: Nov 19 2012 05:36:52 PM CST
South of Hoodoo Pass - Tom Oord

Photo by Tom Oord

NAMPA, Idaho -

Tom Oord loves pushing his body.

He absolutely loves the push.

The professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa also enjoys time to think, periods of reflection and opportunities to ponder all of life's wonders. As a married father of three teen girls, Oord, is no surprise, a busy man.

So, in the spring of 2010, Oord sought out for a challenge. He needed to be tested physically, but he also wanted a period of self reflection - a spiritual journey. He wanted to explore and photograph the state he's grown to love.

"I was looking to do something big," Oord said. "I wanted to know my state. I wanted to feel like I had roots here and see the landscapes."

With that inspiration, Oord found himself in the midst of planning Idaho's Centennial Trail. It's a grueling 900 miles beginning at the Idaho/Nevada border that winds itself through desert, forests, rivers, high mountain lakes and finishes at the Canadian border. Many have hiked sections of the Centennial Trail, but very few have ever hiked the entire distance in a single effort.

It's not exactly a day or weekend hike.

As if 900 miles weren't enough, Oord wanted to visit several of Idaho's top destinations. Many of the Gem State hot spots, including Craters of the Moon, Hells Canyon and Bear Lake in southeastern Idaho, weren't on the route. All and all, the NNU professor calculated his summer hiking at a whopping 1,100 miles.

For two years, Oord planned the hike, mapped his 13 re-supply stations, read numerous hiking books and stocked up on the latest backpacking gear. He talked to fellow hikers and picked their brains for tips and suggestions. When's the best time to leave? Will the mountain passes have snow this time of year? He had a lot to do, including selling the idea to his wife, Cheryl.

"I would love to say she was 100 percent supportive but that's not true," Oord said with a smile. "She was mostly supportive. She was worried about my time away, the cost - she had to gulp a few times."

Cheryl knew her husband could handle the physical aspect of the hike - never a doubt in her mind. It was the not having the husband and father around at home she wasn't exactly thrilled about.

"It was difficult at times because of the sacrifices we made as a family," Cheryl said. "But I knew Tom could do it. He is goal-oriented and has a 'can do' attitude in life."

The NNU professor, along with his personal mission statement, set off on his hike June 3.

"...I want to sweat, ache, strive, and lay my body down exhausted each night. I walk to know - in a personal way - the geography of my state: its valleys, trails, mountains, streams, deserts, dusty roads, lakes, and forests. I want a greater sense of place. I am a pilgrim to discover myself and God anew."

Tom would go multiple days without seeing a soul. He hit a stretch of nine days in the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return where all he saw was Mother Nature. He found himself in such isolation that he even tried some naked backpacking.

It didn't go very well.

"I started worrying about mosquito bites and getting sun-burnt in certain areas," Tom said laughing. "I found that I spent an inordinate amount of mental energy watching for branches that would hit me about waste high. I decided it wasn't worth it."

Idaho's wildlife wasn't shy on Oord's adventure. He found big horn sheep, black bears and wolves in the Lochsa River region. Using a GPS messaging device, Oord was able to send short updates about his travels - the sunset at Born Lake - bumping into a mama bear and her cubs and even seeing three badgers. But the device didn't always work.

"The time I worried most was when he went five days without sending me a message via his GPS," Cheryl said. "He knows me well and that I worry about him."

There were periods of worry on the trip. And Tom knew there would be. For 10 days the professor had to hike with a nasty case of giardia, which attacks the lower intestine and makes for some unpleasant bathroom breaks. He's not sure what happened when he purified his water. Maybe he should have added a second purification tablet to his water, he said.

"It really sucked," Oord said.

The ridge slide near Monumental Creek on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River could have been disastrous. The mountain side opened itself up with hundreds of downed trees. He was so far out in the wilderness and in such isolation that he knew that if anything happened - a sprained ankle or a broken leg - he'd be in some serious trouble.

"I'm in the middle of no where and I thought If I got stuck it would take days to get help," he said.

It was truly one step at a time.

Thankfully, though, Oord had some friendly faces along the way. His three daughters each hiked separate legs of the trail along with dad. Cheryl helped with re-supply locations.

"I saw him several times throughout the summer to re-supply him, and he smelled pretty bad after several days without showers and laundry facilities and no deodorant or toothpaste," Cheryl said.

He had also, not surprisingly, trimmed down. Burning thousands of calories a day, Oord had to switch to smaller backpacking packs to adjust to his slimmer waist. He lost about 40 pounds over the summer on his two pairs of hiking boots.

"He had lost so much weight ... it still shocked me when I looked at him," she said.

Despite the distance, the sickness and brushes with some pesky wildlife, Tom Oord finished the Centennial Trail Aug. 17.

"I never doubted that I wouldn't finish," Oord said. "I knew I was going to outlast it."

Although the numbers aren't terribly official, Oord is said to be only the sixth person to complete the journey in a single hiking session.

"It's nice to say that not many people have done that," he said.

The not so funny thing about the end of the trail on the Canadian border is indeed the finish. Once you reach the end, hikers have to head back south another 27 miles to Priest Lake. By this time, he had lost feeling in his feet and legs.

"It took a couple of months to get the feeling back," he said.

Oord is now high in demand. He's planning to give slide show presentations about his journey to NNU and local hiking and nature groups. A lot of folks ask him about the hike and how he managed to finish. It's the distance and time away that gets most people.

For Oord, however, it wasn't so much just a daunting physical challenge. He appreciates the 900 miles, he certainly does. But it was the personal and spiritual journey he endured, and the moments of photography he captured that get this NNU professor excited. He loves taking photos and hopes others gain a soft spot for Idaho.

Take the time, he said, and you'll understand just how lucky Idaho residents really are.

"I really hope people appreciate the beauty of this state," he said.

Story by Jerry Manter / KBOI2.com Web Producer