At times when Rue McKenrick was walking alone along a road through Arizona, motorists would stop to offer him a ride. He would politely decline, and they would ask him his destination.
“You know that’s 30 miles from here, right?” McKenrick recalled them asking, incredulously.
Not everyone understands McKenrick’s motivations to hike 12,000 miles, loosely tracing the perimeter of the United States to establish a route that would allow others to do the same. He calls it the American Perimeter Trail (APT) Project. He started from Bend last July and hopes to finish in Bend in October, and he is currently just east of the Continental Divide somewhere in New Mexico.
A Bend resident since 2012, the 39-year-old McKenrick completed the Triple Crown of hiking in his 20s — thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (more than 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine), the Continental Divide Trail (more than 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada through the Rocky Mountains), and the Pacific Crest Trail (more than 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges).
McKenrick, who was raised in Pennsylvania, has spent most of his adult life traveling and working for outdoor education nonprofits, including Outward Bound as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Before leaving on his trek around the United States, he worked as an assistant superintendent at River’s Edge Golf Course in Bend.
But he said he felt like he was missing something in his life and he wanted to return to the trail. And more than that, he wanted to create something new.
“I spent a lot of time in meditation over the past two years clearing my mind so that maybe I would be led to a purpose and something greater than myself,” said McKenrick, reached via phone this week while taking a rest day in Duncan, Arizona. “It became clear that all I had to do was identify what I was good at and then just use that talent for something positive in this world. I am good at backpacking, now what?”
McKenrick said he first thought about the perimeter hike years ago shortly after completing the Triple Crown.
“I knew it didn’t exist,” he said. “So it wouldn’t just be something I was doing, but something I was creating. I reached out to some other people.”
McKenrick said he kept picking up the idea and then tabling it. But finally, he set out this past July, backed by several sponsors who are providing gear and supported by donors to his GoFundMe page. He said he hopes to eventually establish partnerships with the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.
McKenrick left on his quest from Bend, connecting with the Pacific Crest Trail. His original plan was to follow the PCT south all the way to Southern California, but he decided to trek through Death Valley instead. From there, he headed east toward the Grand Canyon, then hiked south on the Arizona Trail, which runs 800 miles from Utah to Mexico. Next, he ventured off-trail east toward New Mexico, using a map and compass to find his way.
“There’s been times when it’s just been really hard pounding for weeks,” McKenrick said. “And then there’s been. … This past week I pushed my way through a back injury for a couple hundred miles. It finally just brought me to my knees so I was down for a couple days there.”
Once through New Mexico, he said, he plans to hike southeast through Texas toward the Gulf Coast. The challenge there, he said, will be the lack of public land.
McKenrick admitted that he is piecing this route together as he goes, averaging about 20 to 30 miles per day.
“Part of the project is that I scouted it out and did research as to how that would be possible,” McKenrick said.
“There’s a lot of cross-country (off trail) routes and a lot of map and compass in places where there isn’t any trail. It uses some existing trails and then whatever else I can find in between.”
He plans to eventually reach the Florida Trail and take that through the Florida panhandle before trekking north toward the Appalachian Trail.
From the northern section of the AT, he said, he can connect to the North Country Trail, which runs 4,600 miles from Vermont to North Dakota.
“At that point, I would have to make some decisions …,” McKenrick said. “There’s a bunch of different trails and a bunch of public land. I could take the Pacific Northwest Trail from Glacier (National Park) to the Olympic Peninsula (in Washington), then either come back down the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) or the Pacific Coast Trail back to Bend.”
McKenrick mails packages of food and supplies ahead to himself to post offices along his predicted route. He said he camps most nights under a tarp that weighs a half pound and that he can roll up into the size of his fist.
“I cowboy camped (slept without shelter) for over a hundred nights on this trek,” he said. “This led to conflicts with animals some of the nights. They woke me up, chewed on my gear, and once a fox grabbed my water bag, and another time a deer grabbed my food bag, stored underneath my knees for safe keeping, and ran off with it.”
McKenrick is clear that he knows he is in a unique situation to be able to take on a trek around the United States. But he is also seeking some help along the way through a GoFundMe page. He said that most of his donors thus far are from Bend.
“I wasn’t going to do this if I wasn’t single, or had kids or owned a business or had started a career,” he said. “But this is a deeply spiritual journey for me. There are many layers but my mission is simple and doesn’t include notoriety: Do anything it takes for the trek, my community, and putting the APT on the ground.”