By Jim Winnerman
Special to the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, July 30, 2006
ESTES PARK, COLO.- Phebe and Dave Novic had been escorting Americans on inn-to-inn hiking tours throughout Europe for more than 20 years before they realized they could do the same thing in their home out west.
“All the while, it was right there in front of my face,” said Phebe Novic earlier this year. “It has taken two years to arrange, but this summer we will finally begin offering the same type experience through some of the most beautiful scenery Colorado has to offer.”
The overseas trips the Novics arrange and guide, as well as the Colorado hikes, are characterized by walks of six or more miles a day. They use a network of intersecting trails and nearby bed and breakfasts to establish a custom itinerary, depending on the ability and desire of the hikers. Luggage is transferred by car to the next inn, so hikers need only carry a light day pack. Breakfast and dinner are provided by each inn or nearby restaurant.
“It is a type of hiking generally not available in the United States,” Novic says, noting that most American long-distance trails are one continuous route. “Inn to Inn walks, however, are unbeatable for someone who enjoys walking but does not want to camp or cannot carry the food and supplies needed for back-to-back overnight trips.”
In Colorado, hikers can go on a self-guided walk, or on a guided trip with six to 12 people.
The 42-mile route the Novics use has been designated the Walter Tishma Way by the community in honor of a former St.Louisian who retired to the Estes Park area and is well-known for his hiking accomplishments.
Tishma has hiked 14,255-foot Longs Peak outside Estes Park 113 times, after beginning his ascents in his early 50′s. In St. Louis, he worked for 35 years in quality control at Anheuser-Busch Co. Inc.
Now 82, Tishma walks fewer miles and less strenuous trails, but still volunteers at the Longs Peak Ranger station, giving advice to hikers.
One of the first two people to hike the trail is from St. Louis. Before the route was officially opened, Jeannine Liebich of Florrisant read a three-line notice about the new trail last fall and immediately booked the first trip in October. Accompanying her was Mary Jane Sievers of Indiana.
Liebich and Sievers had considerable hiking expertise and decided on a self-guided hike, but Novic realizes most Americans are unfamiliar with an inn-to-inn hike and she has already solved issues that might be problematic. Because the hike involed a myriad of trails that were not laid out to be followed from start to finish, she provides topographical maps and detailed instructions. In fact, in addition to the scenery and exercise, part of the adventure is navigating the route.
Wildlife encounters of course, annot be planned, but can be exciting. The first day Liebich and Sievers heard elk bugling in the distance. They eventually passed through a herd of about 30 elk about 30 feet away, grazing on both sides of the trail, before they encountered another herd of more than 100 blocking the path and forcing them to detour.
“It was obviously very exciting for two Midwestern ladies,” Liebich says.
The hike has also been laid out to cover the widest variety of scenery. While mountain ranges, babbling creeks, beautiful mountain meadows and ponds are the main attraction, at one point the trail diverges to the shoulder of a well-traveled road so hikers can visit the historic 1917 Eagle Plume Trading Post, which specializes in Native American jewelry, basketry and textiles. Before heading back to wilderness, the trail also passes St. Malo, a small chapel built atop a mammoth rock.
Novic has added several enhancements that make the walk particularly memorable. A massage one evening along the way, a “hiker repair kit” packed with energy bars and other surprises, and trekking poles are all included. The poles take pressure off hikers’ knees, she says.
Walkers also carry along the knowledge that the Novics and their workers are ready to assist hikers on self-guided trips if need be. When Liebich and Sievers encountered unexpected snowfall that delayed their arrival at one inn, one of the Novics’ employees surprised the women a mile before the trail ended. He was coming to see why they were late.
On the last night, hikers finish up their trek at the Allenspark Lodge in Allenspark, Colorado. Dinner is a few final steps away at The Fawn Brook Inn.
“It is an unexpected treat to have a five-star, five-course gourmet meal in a tiny town of 200 people,” Novic says, referring to the celebration dinner served to each hiker.
“The service and food was like Tony’s here in St. Louis,” Liebich remembers, “except we were greeted at the door by a dog that eventually retreated to the fireplace while we ate.”
At some point, what is now the final night meal may be a midpoint treat. Novic is working to add two more days to the Walter Tishma Way Hike. If she doesn, Liebich may be back.
“The blue sky was incredible, the scenery was magnificent and we ended with a great sense of accomplishment,” she says. “And we saw three times as many elk as people.”