During his north-to-south trek spanning the entire United States portion of the Continental Divide, Joey Richie only encountered one grizzly bear.
"But by the time I saw him, he was already running away," Richie said.
The bear may have been downwind of Richie's scent, which was probably more repulsive than tasty.
"Yeah, being exposed to the outdoors for a long time tends to make you a little funky," Richie said. "The few times I stopped in a town I was able to freshen up, but for the most part I camped out in my tent."
Richie, who ran cross-country and track for Lake Central before graduating in 2000, has always loved backpacking and hiking. But for him to traverse the 2,600-mile-plus mountainous trail from State Glacier National Park in British Columbia, Canada, to the New Mexico-Mexico border required a season-and-a-half commitment.
Fortunately — or unfortunately — for Richie, he suddenly had enough time on his hands (and feet).
"The company I had been working for in Iowa downsized and I was one of the victims," he said. "This was something I always wanted to do, and the situation I was in gave me the opportunity to do it."
Though he encountered a smattering of other hikers along the way, Richie mostly traveled alone during the journey that started in June and ended in mid-October. He did maintain periodic contact with his family to assure them he was alright (and hadn't been eaten by a bear).
"But a lot places along the trail you couldn't get a signal with your cell phone," Richie said.
For Richie, the toughest part of the divide was through Colorado.
"You're about 10,000 feet above sea level and you're always hiking up and down," Richie said. "The air is thin, it's exhausting and you have to watch your step. I really had to push myself."
Aside from possibly crossing dangerous predators — "I didn't see any mountain lions," Richie said — and treacherous footing at high elevations, Richie had to contend with the weather.
"I got caught in a couple of lightning storms, which were a little scary," he said. "One time, I was pretty high in the mountains and I had to get to a low tree-line cover in a hurry."
When asked about the one section of his adventure that stands out, Richie refers to the Wind River Range in Wyoming.
"It's just a beautiful mountain range," Richie said. "I took a lot of pictures along the way, but you can never capture the wide expanse of experiencing these places in person."
Whether Richie will hike the Continental Divide again, or achieve the "Triple Crown" of North America hiking by also traversing the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, will depend on whatever opportunities the future offers. Richie does plan to do some hiking in New Zealand some time next year, something he has done before.
Richie kept a journal during his journey.
"I couldn't say it would be a great read for anyone else, but it's good to have a record of what I did on a daily basis," he said. "Whenever I want to look back on this, I'll always have something to help me remember."