The Never-ending Hike

written by: Glen Warchol           photos by: Natalie Simpson

An intrepid trio sets out on an epic, some might say tedious, challenge.

As Bryan, Natalie and Frank round a snowy curve on Millcreek Canyon’s Pipeline Trail, they find themselves facing a startled moose. Without hesitation, Frank charges off into the underbrush to challenge the 600-pound ungulate to a chest-bumping contest.

“Frank just went after this huge moose,” Natalie Simpson recalls of the crisp adrenaline-charged February afternoon. “I was terrified.”

It’s important to point out that Frank is a dog, a Rottweiler-and-Corgi cross, who has the jaws and heart of an attack dog—but unfortunately, stumpy 8-inch legs. “He’s chasing the moose, and I’m screaming at him ‘Frank! Come here!’” Natalie says. But Frank was determined to get a piece of the retreating moose. “Then, the moose stopped and started kicking at Frank,” Nat says. “I was sure he was going to get killed.”

Finally, Frank, deciding his chances of reaching the moose’s throat were slim to none, reluctantly turned back towards the hikers. “Then, the moose headed our way!” says Nat. “And we started running in the other direction down the trail.”

Frank’s brush with death would put the hike on the couple’s list of worst/most-memorable  hikes. Still, it was only a heart-thumping glitch in their long list of daily hikes—295 and counting—during what Simpson and Bryan Richard call the Neverending Hike.

Mountaineering Lite

We need to get some things out of the way up front: Natalie Simpson and Bryan Richard are not adventurers of the epic sort, just a couple of Salt Lakers who started on a quest to get in shape while enjoying the Wasatch Front’s mountainscapes. “I knew some changes had to be made,” says Bryan (“Bry”) of his sedentary lifestyle and love of beer.

“And I was complaining about me, too,” says petite, blonde Natalie. Though she was a runner, Bry, a ginger blot on the landscape, didn’t enjoy jogging with her.

Finally, Frank the Dog was overweight and had a belligerent attitude toward other dogs and some humans. In taking stock of their situation, they decided regular hiking could be the answer for them all.

“We have a unique life—we work primarily from home,” says Bry, an “aspirational entrepreneur.” Natalie is a professional photographer. “Hiking is a low-impact exercise and we’re a 15-minute drive from Millcreek Canyon,” he says. Millcreek and other Wasatch Canyons have no fewer than 50 hiking trails spanning the spectrum of challenges, many of them offering spectacular vistas.

To establish a habit, Bry and Nat set themselves a 30-day challenge to hike every day. No biggie.

They hit the first trail, Burch Hollow to Elbow Fork in Millcreek Canyon, on Sept. 29, 2016. Thirty days later, they could feel a definite improvement in their fitness and decided to keep doing a hike a day indefinitely. “You don’t want to break the chain,” says Bry. “I figure if you take three days off, you break the habit.”

Natalie agrees: “I really didn’t want to break our exercise habit by missing a day.”

The Neverending Hike began. When it will end is an open question.

outdoor fun or grind?

Let me recapitulate: Nat, Bry and Frank aren’t spring-steel-muscled risk junkies—though Frank can become an adrenaline-fueled wolf-like dude when faced with a wild mammal. The trio just wanted to get some exercise and found themselves, they’ll admit, a bit obsessed with taking a hike every day, day after day. But they emphasize it’s not about distance or speed or even checking off a list of trails. Their mission statement says it all: “We hike. Every day.”

“The accomplishment is just the consecutive days,” says Bry. “Not the distance.”

Nat, who Instagrams and Facebooks photos from every hike, says, “sometimes people [on social media] are shocked that we aren’t hiking a different trail every time. If they want to hike every trail in Utah, fine—that can be their thing.”

The bar, in some ways, is low. “We hike at least three miles every day,” Bry explains. But distance varies wildly with the season and weather. “Our thinking is that we’re moving every day, so we’re getting good exercise,” says Nat. It adds up—they have hiked more than 900 miles to date, Bry estimates.

“The hiking itself isn’t hard anymore—it’s making yourself do it every day,” Bry says.

And what about Frank, who has to take a dozen steps for each of Bry’s? “He loves it—can’t wait to go,” says Nat. “Frankie has lost weight, and he’s a lot more socialized in getting along with other dogs.” Amazing what a standoff with a moose can do.

Even when they travel, which they do quite a bit of, they fit in hikes. So far, they’ve laid down tracks in 14 states. “Except New Orleans because it’s so urban,” says Bry. “But we did the equivalent amount of walking.”

Despite their lassez-faire attitude, it isn’t always a sun-dappled stroll in the woods. “It was a long winter,” says Bry.

“I don’t want to do another winter,” groans Natalie with a frown. “You have to prepare yourself. You need poles, ice treads, gloves and layers. And sometimes, your clothes are still wet from the day before.”

“We had to cut short a couple of hikes because of white-outs and wind,” Bryan says. But they cover a few miles of trail, no matter how cold or wet—even when ill.

“Hiking sick is tough,” Bry says.

“I hate hiking sick,” Nat agrees.

Nat, Bry and Frank have many followers on social media and most are cheerleaders, pointing out benefits the trio never thought of. Such as the Japanese concept of “forest bathing.” It’s the idea that hikers benefit physically, mentally and spiritually from being amid the chemicals released by the trees and foliage. (Not to mention being above the valley’s air pollution.) But while they mostly find solid support and fans online, a few of the trio’s social-media followers may be looking forward to the second winter of the Neverending Hike for a dose of schadenfreude.

“A lot of people want us to fail—just miss one day,” says Nat.

“Sometimes, it’s our friends,” Bry says, laughing. The most subversive attacks come from alleged well-wishers who say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself; you can miss a day.”

“That’s the worst,” Nat says.

Now as the end of September looms, the initial informality of the Neverending Hike—the name was initially a joke—has become a problem. An end point—a date or a distance—was never spelled out. “We never said it was for one year,” Bry says. And with the anniversary approaching, that’s an issue.

“We could stop one day short of a year,” Natalie jokes.

Or go just one day more. Then, one day more and one day more …

Worst Experiences

“Almost all were a result of poor planning.” —Bryan

— — — — —

Mt. Olympus
Bry: “It was one of our first hikes. we weren’t in shape, and we started late.”

Mt. Wire-Big Beacon Trail
Bry: “It got dark, and we forgot our headlamps.” Nat: “I fell 20 times, yelling and swearing.”

Desolation Lake (also a best)
(An overnight hike)
Nat: “Our hands were so frozen, we couldn’t even start a fire. We just huddled in the tent with the JetBoil stove.”

PipeLine Trail-Burch Hollow to Church Fork
Frank CHARGEs a moose—terror ensues.

Mount Aire
Bry: “I was breaking trail [in the snow] but FRANK’S legs are so short he was doing faceplants and hurt his leg.” Nat: “Bry had to carry Frank back. Frank doesn’t like being carried.”

Equipment List

Nat and Bry (sadder but wiser) advise you leave it all in a pack in the car so you never forget.

— — — — —

Quality hiking boots with ankle support

Hiking poles
Indispensable in the winter and will reduce downhill stress on your knees and ankles in the summer

You never know when a hike is going to stretch into darkness.

Winter additions:

Over-the-shoe ice cleats

If the snow is deep enough

Hand warmers
Nat recommends getting a family-size box.

Layers of thermalwear

You’ll get sweaty—even in the winter.

A lightweight windbreaker
To break the wind and less-than-torrential rain.

Best Hikes

Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.

Nat: “An amazing hike, and fun to hang out on top of the arch.”

Lower Calf Creek, Grand Staircase-Escalante N.M.
Bry: “It’s longer than you think and a very pretty hike even before the falls.” Nat: “The interpretive check points are fun.”

Desolation Lake, Millcreek Canyon

Bry: “It’s eight miles and it’s really beautiful—with or without snow.”

Little Wild Horse Canyon, Goblin Valley S.P.

Nat: “It’s an incredible slot canyon, and it seems like there’s never anyone there.”

Fifth Water Hot Springs, Diamond Fork Canyon

Nat: “It ends in a hot spring! I want to do it nude.”

See more inside our 2017 September/October Issue.

Andrea Peterson
Andrea Peterson
Salt Lake magazine readers enjoy six issues a year of Utah’s premiere magazine. Subscribe or pick up a copy to find the best of life in Utah.

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