Hiking is, by definition, the act of going for a long walk in the country or woods for pleasure or exercise. Why would anyone want to turn this largely relaxing pastime into a challenge?

Because, sometimes, it feels good to push yourself, see what you’re capable of and tap into that competitive spirit, says Alicia Brehe, who participated in two “challenge hikes” last year with her husband, Scott Hedrick.

Missouri has five challenge hikes on the calendar for 2019, open to everyone from amateur walkers and ultrarunners-in-training. While the rules vary by event, a challenge hike doesn’t differ much from your favorite weekend activity, except you might be completing the distance alongside 20 to 50 other people. The events usually include a night or two of camping, meals and aid stations along the route.

Of the upcoming events, the Devil’s Tollgate – The Race (formerly known as the Taum-A-Hawk Hiking Race) is more of a competition than the others. It also has a strict “no running” policy. The other hikes are more akin to challenge-yourself fundraising events; you can test your abilities against your fellow participants or just push yourself as hard as you want.

Now in its seventh year, the Gateway Xtreme Fall Hike, which benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, has the longest tenure locally. It’s also the longest hike (30.1 miles) and has the highest fundraising requirement ($2,500).

Ozark Trail Challenge Hike

Ozark Trail Challenge Hike

To help participants prepare, volunteer coaches organize practice hikes every weekend for the three months leading up to the event. “The coaches help you on the trails and give you tips on hiking or gear if you’re new,” said Jason Kempen, development manager for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Gateway Chapter.

Kempen is also a fundraising coach and helps participants come up with a plan to raise the necessary money. You don’t just sign up for the race and show up three months later, he says. The foundation is there to support the participants with all of their goals.

Mark Trokey, owner of a real estate appraisal company, has participated in every edition of the Gateway Xtreme Fall Hike.

“I’ve never been part of an event I enjoy more. It brings in all kinds of hikers. These are fabulous people that I never would’ve gotten to know otherwise,” he said.

Trokey estimates that about 40 percent of the participants are endurance athletes and 60 percent are just average Joes who are looking to get involved in a cause. His favorite part is the award ceremony on Sunday: “You get to hear all these wonderful stories about what happened on the trail.”

Brehe and Hendrick have participated in both the Ozark Trail Challenge Hike and the Taum-A-Hawk Hiking Race for two years. Supporting the Ozark Trail seemed like a natural fit to the two, who are parents of four children ages 9 to 14.

“We love to get outdoors with our kids and take them camping,” said Brehe.

And, she adds, it was something for them to do as a couple. Brehe is a trail runner, but Henrick prefers a hiking pace. Together, they comprise the “Dark Hollow Hikers” team.

You’ll meet fellow hikers, form new, awesome friendships and have an amazing weekend

Every other weekend for the month leading up to the race, the pair would hit the Ozark Trail, learning which sections they could push on and which ones to take slower.

“Knowing the trail is really helpful,” Brehe said. “Hiking is different than trail running. There are times when you want to break into a run, but you have to really focus on maintaining a speed. Those hills are killer out there.”

The prize for completing one of the local challenge hikes? More often than not, just bragging rights. That, and a sense of accomplishment.

“When the weekend is over, it has been a lot — between the fundraising, the training and the mileage — and you go home feeling like you’ve been a part of something special,” said Trokey.


 2019 Challenge Hikes in Missouri

April 6
Gateway Xtreme Spring Hike
Distance: 16 miles in Hawn State Park
Fundraiser Requirement: $1,500; benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

May 4
Ozark Trail Challenge Hike
Distance: 18 miles on the Ozark Trail
Fundraiser requirement: $1,250; benefits the Ozark Trail Association

June 1
Green Rock Trail Challenge
Distance: 6.5 miles in Rockwoods Reservation
Fundraiser requirement: None; registration is free but required

June 8
Devil’s Tollgate – The Race
Distance: 13 miles on the Ozark Trail
Fundraiser requirement: None; team registration fee of $75 benefits the Ozark Trail Association

September 7
Gateway Xtreme Fall Hike
Distance: 30.1 miles on the Ozark Trail
Fundraiser requirement: $2,500; benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Author: Kimberley Donoghue is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine
Image: Mark Nettles