CONWAY, New Hampshire — In 2003, Arlette Laan hiked one of the epic tracks in the United States, the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches more than 2,600 miles from the Mexican border in southern California to the Canadian border in Washington state.
“That’s my first midlife crisis,” she said with a laugh. “I was 31 and I figured that would be my last big adventure before settling down and having a family.”
It turns out that Laan was not cut out for settling down.
Over the next 19 years, she hiked every one of America’s 11 National Scenic Trails.
It's a total of 18,000 miles in all — from the short 60-mile Natchez Trace Trail to the long 4,800-mile North Country Trail, and the obscure Ice Age Trail to the famous Appalachian Trail.
Other women will no doubt follow in Laan’s footsteps, but she now owns a record that will always have her name attached to it: She is the first woman to hike all of the National Scenic Trails.
What drove her to accomplish this feat? She makes it sound simple.
“I really, generally like being outdoors. I love exploring and experiencing new experiences.”
"[There's the] routine of doing the same thing every day,” she said. “But then there is something new every day as well. For me, that’s an ideal combination.”
Laan, who grew up in the Netherlands, lives in Massachusetts and works as a hiking guide in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
She's taking a breather for now, but is planning to stick with hikes closer to home. Laan has already climbed the 100 tallest mountains in New England.
When we talked, she was making plans to hike Katahdin the following week.
“Do you still have some epic hikes in you?” I asked.
Her answer came without hesitation. “Oh, yeah. I just need a little rest.”