Many people have a bucket list, but few ever actualize the items on it. Those traveling Highway 275 alongside the Cowboy Trail the next several days may catch a glimpse of the latter type—Noah Grissett and Ross Kucks, two young men whose aim is to walk from Omaha, Nebraska to Jackson Hole, Wyoming—a 1,000 mile journey.
After fortuitously discovering the Cowboy Trail as they ventured out of Norfolk a couple days earlier, the friends found themselves in Neligh on Wednesday evening and set up to camp overnight. The two plan to stick to the trail all the way to its origin point in Valentine, and are thankful to be away from road traffic—if only for 195 miles.
What is the motivation behind their epic trek? Twenty-seven year old Kucks, originally from New Jersey, is in the process of moving to Pennsylvania to continue his career, teaching the 5th and 6th grade, as well as history and literature to 7th grade students at a Classic Christian school in western PA.
Kucks recalls an earlier road trip that took him across the Great Plains to the Grand Tetons of northwestern Wyoming, and the odd feeling of space and openness that he, as an Easterner, was unused to. After promising himself to one day return to the freeing spaces of the Midwest and the majesty of the Rockies, Kucks felt that the timing was right to fulfill that promise.
His fellow traveler, native Ohioan Noah Grissett, 24, recently earned his Master’s degree in English, and teaches high school English in Pennsylvania. Grissett and Kucks met during their undergraduate study at Grove City College, also in Pennsylvania.
Grissett’s motivation for the journey is largely fueled by his own father, Ron Grissett, who in 1979 hiked from Akron, Ohio to Alaska. At the time, Grissett stated his own aim: “For the sake of the adventure, and certain necessary reforms.”
And while adventure is most certainly on the agenda, both Kucks and Grissett cite the idea of Pilgrimage as central to their passage. They welcome the chance to travel, vulnerable yet in God’s protective hands, and to come into meaningful contact with people they would rarely get to under more normal circumstances. It is an opportunity to undergo a strenuous physical challenge, with its attendant spiritual applications—the need to press on despite hardship, and to trust in God to help them through those hardships.
So far, they haven’t been disappointed. They described the first week of the walk as brutal, especially on their feet, and they have already learned to appreciate the things they might normally dismiss, among them shade, shelter, showers, and the kindness of strangers.
The two remain in very good spirits, and their backpacks are laden with everything they need, including food, water, a water purification device, a small, wood-burning stove, tent, and sleeping bags. Their girlfriends, Ginni and Stephanie, supply them with helpful weather updates and keep in touch via smartphone, which they charge with solar chargers. One of their most important supplies has been their walking canes, which have already been whittled a bit shorter by the first leg of the journey.
After Valentine, the modern-day pilgrims will turn northward and travel through the Black Hills, before heading back south toward Wyoming and their final destination. At approximately 20 miles per day, the pair hope for this to be sometime in August.
Until then, the two are excited to take it all in, and to take it all in literal stride.