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News / Northwest

It’s OK to tell these Idaho grandmas to take a hike

Friends tackle trail system near Boise to fill time during virus

By Nicole Blanchard, The Idaho Statesman
Published: May 31, 2020, 6:02am
2 Photos
Blythe Fortin and Angie Diggs begin May 15 hiking Veterans Trail into the Dry Creek area of the Boise Foothills.
Blythe Fortin and Angie Diggs begin May 15 hiking Veterans Trail into the Dry Creek area of the Boise Foothills. (Photos by Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman) Photo Gallery

BOISE, Idaho — When the coronavirus upended life in Idaho this spring, Boiseans Blythe Fortin and Angie Diggs were like so many others who found themselves isolated.

Fortin, 67, and Diggs, 68, said at their age they couldn’t risk coming in contact with the virus and contracting COVID-19, the disease it causes. As normal life screeched to a halt, they found themselves unable to see their children and grandchildren — Fortin and Diggs each have two young granddaughters — except from a distance. Bored with quarantine monotony, the two friends decided to take on an ambitious project, one they’d be able to tell their granddaughters about when the threat of the pandemic subsided.

“We were hiking on one of the trails, and we were both discussing how we missed being able to see our granddaughters during this pandemic,” Diggs said in a phone interview. “We thought, ‘Gee, we need a project. We need something to do.’

“So Blythe said, ‘Why don’t we hike every inch of these Ridge to Rivers trails?’ ” Diggs said.

140 miles in two months

Diggs and Fortin started their challenge April 3, hiking 5.4 miles across Highlands, Urban Connector and Bob’s trails. By Memorial Day, they’d covered about 140 miles — 70 percent of the roughly 200-mile system — in about two months.

“For me it was a surprise to find that we had Bob’s Trail so close to us,” said Diggs of the trail that starts near Hidden Springs. “You’re in Boise and then all of a sudden you’re in the Foothills.”

Since starting the challenge, Diggs and Fortin meet up to hike about three times a week. Though both women had spent some time hiking on Boise’s trails in the past, Fortin said she didn’t realize the magnitude of the system until she began planning their weekly hikes.

“I had done a number of the trails but when I got a map of Ridge to Rivers, I saw just the extent of the trail system,” Fortin said.

Diggs keeps track of their hiking stats thanks to her smartwatch, while Fortin plans the treks on a map that has become increasingly covered in red ink. By end of their project, they’ll have covered more than the trail system’s 200 miles as they crisscross main trails to hit every single spur, loop and ridge that meanders through the Foothills.

“We’re being very meticulous,” Fortin said.

Most days they add several miles to their overall total.

“If we’re doing less than 7 miles, we just think, ‘Oh this is a piece of cake. We have to do more,’ ” Fortin said.

Both women already had a history of being active. They first met at an exercise class before Diggs had even moved to Boise from Wisconsin a few years ago. Diggs taught fitness classes for 35 years and continues to ski, bike and play tennis and golf. Fortin is a fan of many of the same activities and has been hiking seriously for about 15 years after her husband surprised her with a trip to hike Mount Blanc in the Alps.

But that doesn’t mean this challenge has been easy.

“We both have had issues,” Fortin said. “I am legally blind in one eye, so I have no depth perception and my vision is severely compromised. … So when we hike, Angie is in front of me and she’s telling me when there’s a rough spot or a slippery spot or a rock.”

Diggs had a hip replacement about two years ago, which she said has eased the journey.

They’re also being careful. The women said they try to maintain social distance as they hike, and they drive separately to each trailhead to avoid spending time in close quarters. Though they’ve been joined by the occasional “guest hiker” (often Fortin’s “granddog,” Bodhi), each hike must be completed by Fortin and Diggs together to count toward their goal.

Learning as they go

Though Diggs and Fortin are eager to reach their goal, the 200-mile challenge has a much deeper meaning for the friends. Much of the time they’ve spent hiking together is time that they would’ve been spent with their granddaughters were it not for the pandemic. So Diggs has snapped photos along the trails, which the women plan to include in a book about their project that’s dedicated to their granddaughters.

Both women said they’ve learned a great deal about Idaho as they’ve hiked — from the history of the trails to the geology and flora of the region.

“I’ve just so thoroughly enjoyed the experience getting to know Idaho and what makes it unique,” Diggs said. “I’ve lived all over … and I’ve just never been in a place that provided such wonderful outdoor life with the trails.”

They’re also learning about themselves.

“I have always been somewhat competitive about my athletic pursuits, and I think finally we are just in this to experience this beautiful place and the beautiful views and flowers,” Fortin said. “If people pass us, it’s OK. A few years ago I would’ve been pissed off if somebody my age passed us. It’s a change of attitude.”

The positive outlook has been crucial as they navigate the emotional ups and downs of the pandemic and separation from their families.

“It is so easy for Angie and for me to go into a really sad place (right now),” Fortin said. “For me this is a lifesaver, otherwise I’m not sure how I would get out of bed.”

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